Today I Learned: On Friday the 13th, an Asteroid Will Pass Terrifyingly Close to Earth

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Don’t worry. It’s not this Friday the 13th. You have until April 2029 to contemplate the ramifications of this fact.

Yes, another Friday the 13th is upon us, and this one in October, the spookiest of all months. So, if you’re the kind of person who avoids taking flights, climbing ladders, or wagering on sporting events during this particular day of the calendar year, we don’t blame you.

Of course, as academically minded folks, we aren’t necessarily superstitious. Then again, bad stuff does happen on Friday the 13th.

Tragic. Just tragic.

Artist's Concept of Rocky Asteroid Ring Around Star (Vega)
These aren't the asteroids you're looking for.

But what does the future of this date hold? Well, back in 2004, while dozens of Americans were half-filling bargain theaters to see Sandler’s rom-com, a couple of guys at NASA were coming to a disturbing conclusion. Asteroid 2004 MN4 — at roughly 320 meters wide — stood a one in sixty chance of hitting the Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029. (If you like those odds, I’ll just remind you that the Cubs won the World Series last year.)

Fortunately for us, that isn’t the end of the story.

Actually, the next part of the story is even scarier. After discovering the asteroid in June of 2004, astronomers lost it for about six months. (I know. How do you misplace something that’s 320 meters wide and capable of punching a Texas-sized hole into the Earth?)

The good news is that they did eventually find it and, along with it, a few random space pics from March 2004 with unmistakable Asteroid 2004 MN4 photobombs. This additional data regarding its orbital path revealed that the odds of it hitting the earth were, in reality, roughly zero percent.

Still, if you’re the superstitious type, you’re probably not in love with the fact that a flaming space rock will hurtle by the Earth so closely on that particular Friday 13, it will be visible to the naked eye for observers in parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe.

On the other hand, how many people get the chance to see an asteroid up-close and personal? You might even consider it a lucky turn of events. That said, let’s all hope NASA doesn’t discover a missing remainder and change its math again.

And with that chilling thought, Happy Friday the 13th!

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