Heard about the newly discovered, potentially dangerous asteroid headed Earth’s way? Few months go by without ominous tabloid headlines about scary-sounding space rocks zipping through Earth’s orbit. Spoiler alert: There’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
In the past week, news outlets around the world have been reviving a clickbait trope yet again about a skyscraper-size asteroid “hurtling towards Earth.” Most of these refer to newfound asteroid 2022 RM4, a big space rock coming closer to our planet on Halloween than other asteroids its size. But it will never come anywhere near our planet in any practical sense.
It’s been the same story plenty of other times, including coverage of a different asteroid in January 2020, when headlines screamed of a “gigantic” asteroid the size of the Empire State Building speeding “towards Earth.”
At least that’s how it was reported at the time by Sputnik, the news site funded by the Russian government. The reality, as the article said after the scary headline, was that asteroid 2019 UO would pass us safely at a distance of 2,808,194 miles (4,519,351 kilometers). That’s almost 12 times farther away than the moon. I scarcely think of the moon, let alone something 12 times more distant, as speeding toward my house every night.
But this is the type of language you find regularly in certain outlets that really love scary asteroid stories. The misleading headlines and stories take advantage of the words scientists use to talk about space obj