In the past, US space agency Nasa has come under fire for its dizzying array of social media feeds. The agency sends out photos, videos and information daily via a number of of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and even Google Plus accounts; the sheer volume of which prompted Wired to describe NASA’s engagement strategy as “genuis” but “maddening” in a piece earlier this summer. And to be fair, the number of “follow” buttons on the space agency’s social media page is enough to make any normal human need a lie down.
The counter to this, however, is that Nasa should be doing everything in its power to inform us about its work. Nasa, and space science in general, exists to expand our horizons – it’s not like they’re directing resources to social media instead of curing cancer. If Nasa weren’t bothering to publicise the work of its probes, robots and astronauts, the whole thing would seem a little pointless.
This week, Nasa’s public relations arm further demonstrated its usefulness when it issued a press release titled simply: “NASA: There is No Asteroid Threatening Earth”, after rumours of an asteroid strike sparked by such authorities as the Bible, self-appointed prophets and something called the Blood Moon Prophecy reached fever pitch on the internet.
The Nasa press release denies these rumours in the same world-weary tones it used to refute similar rumours back in 2012, when the supsertition-strewn 21/12/2012 passed without upset. This time round, Paul Chodas, manager of Nasa’s Near-Earth Object office, kicks things off:
There is no scientific basis – not one shred of evidence – that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth on those dates.”
He goes on to assure readers that, in fact, we shouldn’t see any asteroid collision with earth for at least another century.
The press release also, interestingly, acknowledges that the Near-Earth Object office is as responsible for monitoring internet rumours as it is cosmic objects:
Another thing Chodas and his team do know – this isn’t the first time a wild, unsubstantiated claim of a celestial object about to impact Earth has been made, and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last. It seems to be a perennial favorite of the World Wide Web.
In 2011 there were rumors about the so-called “doomsday” comet Elenin, which never posed any danger of harming Earth and broke up into a stream of small debris out in space. Then there were Internet assertions surrounding the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, insisting the world would end with a large asteroid impact. And just this year, asteroids 2004 BL86 and 2014 YB35 were said to be on dangerous near-Earth trajectories, but their flybys of our planet in January and March went without incident — just as NASA said they would.”
Nasa is our best (and sometimes only) source of information on space, the apocalpyse, and everything in between – we should be glad that it’s willing to wade in on even the silliest of internet scare stories.