Hurrah, we've found an asteroid that might kill us all in 2032

2013 TV135 is meant to be a 410m space rock of death, but it's OK - there's a 99.998% chance it'll miss us.

Doomsayers, rejoice! Ukrainian astronomers have discovered Earth's new most dangerous space threat - a 410m-wide asteroid that will skim through our region of space twice between on 2032 and 2047.

To keep track of dangerous so-called Near-Earth Objects (or NEOs) there's a standardised ranking system known as the Torino scale. Zero means something isn't a threat, ten means a definite impact is expected. 2013 TV135 - as this terrifying new asteroid has been dubbed - has been bumped up to a whopping one out of ten, making it the joint-most dangerous threat to Earth that we know of. The other asteroid ranked at a danger level of one out of ten (as you can see on Nasa's Near-Earth Object Program site) is 2007 VK184. That one will pass near to Earth four times between 2048 and 2057.

However, before you start shopping for bomb shelters, it's always worth putting discoveries like this in context, especially since the Chelyabinsk meteor last year. That really was a scary event, a once-in-a-few-decades object that, this time, exploded over a heavily-populated area instead of the more usual oceans, deserts and other empty parts of this world where we don't notice.

That meteor is estimated to have been between 17 and 20 metres in diameter, and weighed about 10,000 tonnes. Compared to that, 410 metres sounds absolutely massive, and if it is that big - there's every chance that further readings will reduce that - it will post a serious risk to humanity's existence.

But, consider that its current chance of hitting us is somewhere in the region of one in 63,000. That's not very good. 2007 VK184 has a better shot of of an impact, at one in 1,750, but those are still, quite literally, astronomical odds.

It's very similar to the one in roughly 2,000 chance that the 5km-wide comet ISON had of hitting Mars (as estimated earlier this year), a possibility that left some scientists very excited. The chance to see an enormous bit of ice and rock smash into another planet - one that we have cameras and sensors trained on thanks to rovers and satellites - would have been extremely useful to observe. Even if it missed, a close pass by a comet that big should have looked pretty spectacular, and scientists expected ISON to put on quite a glorious show.

In the end, though, this is what ISON looked like:

See that white speck in the middle of those panels? That's ISON, as it flew past Mars this month. One of the most anticipated comets in years turned out to brighten a lot less than we thought, and the result was, well, that. A speck.

This is all to show that predicting asteroids and comets is a tricky business, but it's something we're getting a lot better at. We tend to spot the really big ones a long way in advance, and the organisations around the world which work to track them - which, along with Nasa, includes everything from the European Space Agency's Gaia mission to the work of the non-profit B612 Foundation and its Sentinel project - are pretty sure that we won't get caught out by anything like the asteroid that is presumed to have killed off the dinosaurs.

The problem is the smaller ones, the ones smaller than 100m. Those ones can knock out cities and towns out of nowhere (see: Chelyabinsk), and we think there are probably around 4,700 of those still out there that we haven't found. Compared to that risk, 2013 TV135 is almost small-fry - and it's a good sign that we've found it so early.

 

The impact site of last year's Chelyabinsk meteor. (Photo: Getty)

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

Photo: Getty/New Statesman
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The mother lode: how mums became the ultimate viral fodder

The internet’s favourite joke used to be "your mum". Now it's "my mum".

“I was like: oh my.”

Terri Squires is describing her reaction to the news that she had gone viral. Last month, more than 213,000 people shared a tweet about Terri – but it wasn’t sent from her account. The 50-year-old Ohioan was propelled to internet stardom by her son, Jeff, who had tweeted about his mother.

“I didn’t really realise what it meant at first until he was like: ‘Mum, you do realise that millions of people have looked at this?’ … When I started seeing those numbers I was like: ‘Oh boy’.”

It’s a funny story – and Terri laughs heartily all she tells it. After coming out of a meeting, she checked her phone and noticed a picture of a missing – white – dog on Facebook. She quickly texted 17-year-old Jeff to check that the family dog, Duey, was safe. “That’s not Duey… Duey’s face is brown,” replied her son. “OK – just checking,” replied Terri.

More than 600,000 people “liked” Terri’s mistake after Jeff shared screenshots of the text message exchange on Twitter. But Terri is just one of hundreds of mums who have gone viral via their sons and daughters. Texts mums send, mistakes they make, things they fail to notice – these have all become the ultimate viral fodder.

In the last three months alone, Gerald’s mum went viral for a microphone mishap, Adam’s mum shot to Twitter fame for failing to understand WhatsApp, Lois’ mum got tricked by her daughter, Harry’s mum was hit in the head with a football, Hanna’s mum misunderstood a hairstyle, and Jake’s mum failed to notice her son had swapped a photo in her home for a portrait of Kim Jong-un.

But how do the mothers behind these viral tweets feel?

“I'm pretty much a mum that everybody wants to talk to these days,” says Terri, with another warm laugh. The mum of three says going viral “is not that big of a deal” to her, but she is happy that her son can enjoy being a “local superstar”. But is she embarrassed at being the punchline of Jeff’s joke?

“Believe me, I have thick skin,” she says. “I kinda look at what it is, and it’s actually him and his fame. I’m just the mum behind it, the butt of the joke, but I don't mind.”

Not all mums feel the same. A handful of similar viral tweets have since been deleted, indicating the mothers featured in them weren’t best pleased. A few people I reach out to haven’t actually told their mums that they’re the subject of viral tweets, and other mums simply don’t want any more attention.

“I think I’ve put my mum through enough with that tweet already,” says Jacko, when I ask if his mum would be willing to be interviewed. In 2014, Jacko tweeted out a picture of his family writing the word “cock” in the air with sparklers. “This is still my favourite ever family photo,” he captioned the tweet, “My mum did the ‘O’. We told her we were going to write ‘Love’.”

“No one ever expects to call home and say ‘Mum, have you heard of something called LADbible? No, you shouldn’t have, it’s just that a quarter of a million of its fans have just liked a photo of you writing the word ‘cock’ with a sparkler’,” Jacko explains.

Although Jacko feels his mum’s been through enough with the tweet, he does say she was “ace” about her new found fame. “She’s probably cooler about it all than I am”. Apart from the odd deletion, then, it seems most mums are happy to become viral Twitter stars.

Yet why are mums so mocked and maligned in this way? Although dads are often the subject of viral tweets, this is usually because of jokes the dads themselves make (here’s the most notable example from this week). Mums, on the other hand, tend to be mocked for doing something “wrong” (though there are obviously a few examples of them going viral for their clever and cunning). On the whole: dads make jokes, mums are the butt of them.

“We all think our mums are so clueless, you know. They don’t know what’s going on. And the fun thing is, one day we come to realise that they knew way more of what was going on than we thought,” says Patricia Wood, a 56-year-old mum from Texas. “People always kind of make fun of their mums, but love them.”

Last year, Patricia went viral when her daughter Christina tweeted out screenshots of her mum’s Facebook posts. In them, Patricia had forgotten the names of Christina’s friends and had candidly written Facebook captions like: “My gorgeous daughter and her date for formal, sorry I forgot his name”. Christina captioned her tweet “I really can't with my mom” and went on to get more than 1,000 likes.

“I felt, like, wow, it was like we’re famous, you know. I thought it was really cool,” says Patricia, of going viral. Her experiences have been largely positive, and as a part-time Uber driver she enjoys telling her customers about the tweet. “But I did have one bad experience,” she explains. A drunken passenger in her car saw the tweet and called Patricia an “asshole”.

Another aspect of viral fame also worried Patricia. She and her daughter were invited on a reality show, TD Jakes, with the production company offering to pay for flights and hotels for the pair. “I have too many skeletons in my closet and I didn't want them to come dancing out,” says Patricia, of her decision not to go. “By the time I got off it, it would be the Jerry Springer show, you know. I’m kind of a strange bird.”

On the whole, then, mothers are often amused by going viral via their offspring – and perhaps this is the real beauty of tweeting about our mums. Since the moment they earn the title, mums can’t afford to be fragile. There is a joy and relatability in “my mum” tweets – because really, the mum in question could be anyone’s. Still, from now on, mums might be more careful about what they tell their sons and daughters.

“When I send Jeff a text now I make sure I’m like: ‘Is my spelling correct? Is what I’m saying grammatically correct?’,” says Terri, “Because who knows where the words are gonna end up?”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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