Asteroid vs. Earth: When Worlds Don't Collide

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WASHINGTON: Brian Marsden, the man who issued the asteroid alert that set a million hearts beating faster Thursday, looks pretty foolish today. New information from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory suggests that the mile-wide rock of doom, known as 1997 XF11, will pass a comfortable 600,000 miles, or more than two moon orbits, from the earth -- not the tight and potentially catastrophic 30,000-mile squeeze that Marsden suggested. “It’s all in a day’s work,” said JPL scientist Don Yeomans -- who also stopped just short of accusing Marsden and the International Astronomical Union of scaremongering. “Why did they put out a press release before putting out the data and consulting with our colleagues?” chided Yeomans. “I don’t know.”

Why indeed. Just one day after the asteroid slammed into the media maelstron, the ripple effect was astonishing. John Walvoord, chancellor of the Dallas Theological Seminary, said the asteroid “may be a foreshadowing of the second coming of Christ.” Dr. Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb, advocated planting a nuclear device on its rocky surface. And -- surprise, surprise -- Marsden himself smiled meekly from the front page of Friday’s New York Times. Which could go a long way toward answering Don Yeomans’ question.