back to article New pics of giant black sphere hurtling toward Earth

A vast, inky black sphere approximately the size of a nuclear aircraft carrier is plunging through the void of space towards planet Earth, though NASA rather panickily insists that it will definitely not smash into our planet with devastating force. Radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 obtained on Nov 7, 2011, at 19:45 GMT, when …


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  1. jai


    i'm just saying, it looks like the big bad sphere of evil from the Fifth Element

    we're all doomed!! doomed i say!!!

    1. Ian Ferguson

      Mr Shadow

      You told me not to interrupt me unless it was Mr Shadow and, um, it's Mr Shadow

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Mr Shadow

        (In deep unearthly voice)

        Am I disturbing you?....Not long now....

  2. Nev Silver badge

    Forget the Earth...

    It almost clipped the moon!!!

    1. Bassey

      Re: It almost clipped the moon

      Bloody good point. Everyone goes on about earth impacts but what about a serious moon impact? After all, this object is going to pass a lot closer to the moon than it will to us. And a serious smash on the moon will be far more serious for us, long term, than a 400 kilo-tonne bomb going off (the estimated impact of this thing if it ever hit).

      Is anyone tracking potential strikes on the moon?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        "And a serious smash on the moon will be far more serious for us"

        Because dusty moonface?

        1. Grease Monkey

          Almost clipped the moon? Watch the animation again, it barely gets any closer to the moon than it does the earth.

        2. Charles Manning

          No more moon would be a big friggin deal

          If the moon was destroyed the tides would change a lot.

          Tidal flows drive many of the nutrient cycles in the sea. No moon = no more inshore fishing.

          The tides also clean out estuaries. In many parts of the world that essentially flushes the lav. No tides and many cities would turn into pits of disease overnight.

          Of course even if this thing hit the moon it would be little to the moon's mass so the tides would still function. The moon would still provide the same fuction if it had a huge hole in it.

          1. Tim Starling

            No more moon!

            @Charles Manning: the asteroid is only one trillionth of the mass of the moon, so it would probably not destroy the moon entirely even if it did collide.

          2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

            Just look at the surface of the moon with a telescope

            You will see it has been hit by FAR worse that a poxy little 300m pebble. There are several craters more than a hundred km in diameter (Bailly at 287 km for example).

  3. jai

    old skool asteroids graphics

    all that graphic needs is a small white triangle, pew-pew'ing the asteroid as it gets near

    1. Jimbo 6

      What we really need...

      .. is to fit the Earth with a big red Hyperspace button. That should avert any future asteroid-related problems.

      Aaaargh we're in the path of VENUS now noooooooooooooo....

  4. mt1

    How come

    We didnt try and land on this thing?

    They did it in the movies!

  5. Tom 260

    Not going to see it coming..

    Because it's cloudy, obviously!

    If the weather was going to be better I'd have wanted to know just what magnitude it was expected to reach on close approach; even with its low albedo, it might have been worth trying to spot with a telescope (maybe it'll block the light from a few stars briefly).

    1. Zaphod.Beeblebrox

      Supposed to reach 11th magnitude, which is far dimmer than the 6th magnitude generally accepted as being required to see with the unaided eye. A 15cm or larger telescope and a moderately high magnification eyepiece ought to be able to resolve it, given good viewing conditions of course.

      1. Alan Firminger


        A large telescope will not track to pick up this fast moving object.

        Just hope that it hits a bit of junk of enough relative speed and mass to raise sparks.

      2. Grease Monkey

        "A 15cm or larger telescope and a moderately high magnification eyepiece ought to be able to resolve it, given good viewing conditions of course."

        Even with good viewing conditions you're not going to see it, because it's black. If you were lucky you might just see it black out a star.

        1. DanDanDan


          Somebody doesn't understand apparent magnitudes...

    2. swampdog

      @Tom 260

      It said on local radio you need at least six inches to see it. Come to think of it, precisely the same thing junk emails say. Perhaps our Spam Overlords have been announcing their arrival for many years!

  6. flearider

    huh ??

    ok so we have this rock as big as an aircraft carrier comming within the distance of our moon ..

    then can someone tell me why it will fly a straight path ?? with the gravity of the earth pulling on it wont this bend the course of the rock ? and you even have the small but still a bit of gravity of the moon ?

    1. Trevor 3

      Judging by its speed on that graphic, it won't be in the Earth's influence for that long at all really. And it's mass is comparatively tiny. the gravitational effect on its path will be negligible.

      I would love to stand on the Moon and get a look at it.

      It'll be deflected just enough to swing by next year and kill us all though. (Hopefully before the Olympic Games start and cock up traffic for the whole of South-East England)

      1. Chris Miller


        The change in its path is independent of its mass (assuming it to be negligible compared to the Earth) - G.M.m/d^2 = m.a and the m can be cancelled. The acceleration due to Earth's gravity at its closest approach is ~1/2500 of g at the Earth's surface, or about 4mm/s^2, hence little change in trajectory. The Moon's trajectory is (of course) significantly changed by Earth's gravity - but the Moon is only doing a couple of thousand miles an hour, this rock is more than an order of magnitude faster.

      2. Amonynous

        Deja vu deja vu... per replies to the previous story, no it won't 'kill us all', it' is too small. The best you could hope for is that it would come down smack bang in the middle of Stratford during the opening ceremony. It would excavate a crater about a mile wide and a third of a mile deep, nicely obliterating the Olympic park.

        Localised seismic event, about 5.6 on the Richter Scale, broken windows for some fair distance. If you were in Manchester (or better Scotland), you'd be watching it on the TV and feel no noticeable effects other than a smug sense of satisfaction.

      3. Northern Fop


        "it's mass is comparatively tiny. the gravitational effect on its path will be negligible."

        tsk. back 2 skool for you! force proportional to the mass, so the path deviation will be same for a grain of sand or a small moon.

        (note for pedants & actual physicists - this assumes the object's mass is much smaller than the Earth's, and uses Newton's approximation to general relativity. so nur.)

    2. Amonynous

      Deja vu...

      It's like it was two days ago or something, when the first article prompted a slew of posts lacking even the most basic understanding of physics. Nonetheless (deep sigh):

      a) It is not travelling in a straight line, it is travelling in an elliptical orbit around the sun. The reason it looks like a straight line is simply a matter of scale. If you expanded the diagram to include the whole solar system, that would be obvious, but if you zoom in to the scale of the Earth-Moon system, the tiny portion of the asteroid's path you can see looks like a straight line.

      b) The reason it doesn't take a sharp turn to the left (from the point of view in the diagram) when it passes by the Earth and moon is due to principles that Newton discovered (or nicked from his contemporaries if you prefer) the best part of 400 years ago and were taught in schools up to the 1980's, but no longer it appears:

      - Intertia/Momentum: A body at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an external force. A body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force.

      The object is going at a fair old lick, as you can see it pings past the whole Earth-Moon system and then some in about a day. It would take a lot of force to alter its path visibly at the scale of the diagram. Conversely, a tiny amount of force acting over a long time (years), i.e. the gravitational forces of the various bodies in the solar system, will alter its path by a small amount during each orbit.

      - Gravity: Gravity obeys the inverse square law, so if you assumed that at a distance of 1 unit from the Earth, the gravitational attraction was also 1 unit, and then moved to a distance of 2 units, the gravitational attraction would be 1/4 unit, and at a distance of 8 units, it would be 1/64th of a unit. (Substitute whatever units you like and calibrate accordingly). In other words, you don't have to go very far away from the planet for the effect of gravity to become so small that it is almost imperceptable at these kind of speeds.

      Not only that, but gravity is an incredibly weak force. Think about it, you can jump a good couple of feet in the air from a standing start; your puny legs pushing one way, a whole planet pulling the other. Compare it to magnetism, - you can pick up an iron nail up off the ground using a fridge magnet, and it will stay stuck. Tiny square of magnetised material pulling one way, whole planet pulling the other - which is the weaker force?

      The upshot is that even at the distance of the moon, the Earth's gravitational attraction amounts to a gnat's fart for something travelling this fast. If it wasn't moving (relative to the Earth), then it would slowly accelerate towards the planet and eventually come crashing down, but at this speed it's not going to change orbit by a noticeable amount on the scale of the diagram given.

  7. SirDigalot

    this is the trial run...

    gravity will adjust it and it will orbit the sun and get us next december ;)

    <== the one with the mayan calendar in the pocket...

  8. TRT Silver badge

    Top left corner pocket...

  9. Kurt 5

    Now entering orbit

    I welcome our new galactic overlords.

  10. Dan Price

    It's the excession!

    oGCU Grey Area

    xMSV Not Invented Here

    We're fucked.

  11. Ged T

    Not just *any* aircraft carrier...

    ...its the size of a NUCLEAR aircraft carrier...

    .....Oh Wow, Oh Wow, Oh Wow...

    ...Good Job...!

    1. oldredlion

      Tsk! I don't like these new fancy modern units.

      I think 1 nuclear aircraft carrier is nearly equal to 6 and a half Nelson's Columns.

      We're doomed.

      1. Simon Hurr

        SI Units

        I think you'll find that Nelson's Columns (NCs) is an Imperial unit.

        If you want an SI equivalent, 1 Nelson Column = 17, 112, 539 ham, cheese and branston pickle sandwiches.

        Of course, the sandwiches must be prepared in a frictionless vacuum. Stupid Physicists.

  12. schotness

    Damage ?

    Surely if its the same size as an aircraft carrier it will do less damage than a mushy pea by the time its burns its way through the atmosphere?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Damage, well that depends

      as to whether or not it is the size of one including useful aircraft or, MOD style, not.

    2. Antony Riley

      I think I'd rather be more than 100km away from the impact point if there was a snowballs chance in hell of it actually hitting the earth.

      Even if it's made of ice and impacts at only 30 degrees, it'll still make a substantial crater according to that site. Meteroids < 10m in diameter sometimes survive the atmosphere, so you can be pretty sure one which is 400m in diameter (that's 1600 times as massive) is gonna make a pretty big dent.

      1. Grease Monkey

        Your mentioning snowballs prompts me to mention that you can't predict what size it would be on impact, even if you knew the speed and angle it was to enter the atmosphere. How much of it burned away would depend on its composition and we don't know much about that.

  13. agentgonzo



    I looked at this a while ago. I can't remember exactly, but I think that was going to be either mag 9 or 11. Either way, not visible without a decent telescope and even then not easy. Shame, but if it's clear this evening I'm going to give it a go. I saw the supernova recently at mag 10 and it took me over an hour to find!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can for see few games and movies coming out because of this!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What you cannot do, however, is spell!

      1. Grease Monkey

        The spelling looks OK to me. It's the grammar that appears to be faulty.

      2. perlcat

        Spelling? I think not.

        The words are all spelled correctly. It is their usage that offends.

  15. Ye Gads

    It's big, it's round, the earth it won't quite pound... it's yu55!

  16. hugo tyson
    Black Helicopters

    Radar images?

    So how come the Radar images appear to be illuminated from above? Surely our ping comes from right here on Earth so we would see it illuminated full-face?

    Or do you mean radio-frequency images, so the illumination is from the Sun's RF output?

    Or is it all faked, like the pretend Russian mars-mission that just finished? ;-)

  17. Bluenose
    IT Angle

    Its been googled

    I take it the pixelation of the picture as been applied by Google to make sure it remains anonymous from Google Earth?

  18. FredScummer
    Paris Hilton

    Thank Goodness!

    It's a good job we put the clocks back last weekend otherwise this space rock would have hit the earth plumb center.

    I'm using Paris-onian theory to make this claim.

  19. Edward Clarke

    Doesn't anybody check their facts anymore?

    "It's the size of a nuclear aircraft carrier.".

    USS Gerald R Ford is 333 meters long by 41 meters wide. The asteroid is 400 meters in diameter. There's a big difference between a 333 meter long needle and a 400 meter sphere.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Yeah, but with the good people of 2011 seriously challenged to understand how gravity works or taking their daily news from News of the World or the Washington Post, we shan't be too picky, right?

      Be happy that they are still able to focus on numbers THREE FRACKING DIGITS LONG.

      1. TheOtherHobbbes

        What's that

        in football pitches?

  20. Beachrider

    Soooo NASA was panicky?

    Maybe you guys should start storing a bunch of your seed in your refrigerators...

    Just in case...

  21. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    OK, that thing looks like one of the eggs from "Alien"

    I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure!

  22. Anonymous John

    Is that an American aircraft carrier, or a British one with no planes?

  23. Bunker_Monkey

    Would be very interesting if it suddenly slllloooooowwwwwssssssss down!

  24. Richard Pennington 1

    But why is it round?

    Among the asteroids, Ceres is a sphere (and has now been redesignated as a dwarf planet), and the next largest are Pallas and Vesta, which are marginally too small to pull themselves into spheres through their own gravity. But their diameters (however defined) are about 1000 times that of 2005 YU55. So 2005 YU55 is much too small to pull itself into a sphere.

    1. I understand now

      space rabbits


      Perfectly round. And dark.

      Go figure.

    2. Grease Monkey

      It isn't all that round. Look at the pictures again.

  25. TeeCee Gold badge

    "..described as being blacker than charcoal..."

    Now I know how the Romans felt when *they* were invaded by Goths.....

  26. J. Cook Silver badge


    There goes the neighborhood.

    Mine's the one with the logo on the back.

    1. sisk Silver badge

      Merchandising Merchandising Merchandising

      It's where all money made by the movie comes from. Anyone got a Yogurt doll?

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Famous last words...

    And then all of a 'sudden' the black ball of doom did impact Earth causing a massive devastation...

    "But the computers said it would be ok?!?!! Dam you Windows!".

  28. Stuart Halliday

    Should we be worried?

    Phew, nothing to worry about then. It's far too small to be Mondas!

  29. Stevie Silver badge



  30. 45RPM Silver badge

    Run aground

    Size of an aircraft carrier? Let's just hope that Andy Coles isn't captain!

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just in case

    NASA decided to cancel their planned test of their new tractor beam .

    For everyone really worried about this hitting earth I am selling Meteorite insurance. Just wire me $100 and you are covered for any and all damage from this meteorite. Including if the impact ends all life on the planet.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    shame we can't stick a probe on it and let the rock do the work of moving around for us.

  33. KrisMac

    Excuse me but...

    ...shouldn't the astronomers be thinking things through in the right order?

    surely "The gravitational influence of the asteroid will have no detectable effect on Earth" should really be "The gravitational influence of EARTH will have significant and detectable effect THE ASTEROID"...

    Ass about backwards thinking is why important factors get missed...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      No, right the first time. "The gravitational influence of the asteroid will have no detectable effect on Earth" is 100% true as stated.

      What's barse ackwards about that?

  34. thatguywiththepc
    IT Angle

    The slight problem is that it will have small astroids orbiting it.

  35. This post has been deleted by its author

  36. Inachu
    IT Angle


    I am on the east coast with best viewing.

    I'll upload any pics I might take and share them with ya'll

  37. Z80

    Blacker than charcoal

    How much more black could this be?

    1. Nick 10


      It won't be as black as priests' socks. It's probably just very very very dark blue.

  38. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  39. Random Yayhoo

    Bad if it ever hit

    If this hit land mortality would be greater than half at 30 mile radius, like a nuke of >400 megatons without the radiation. Yeah, that's a ~7.5-magnitude earthquake except it dissipates RIGHT AT THE SURFACE. This makes it more like a 9+ scale quake at average depth. Bad for tribe:

    From Wikipedia:

    "...According to Jay Melosh, if an asteroid the size of 2005 YU55 (~400 m across) were to hit land, it would create a crater 6.3 km (4 miles) across, 518 m (1,700 ft) deep and generate a seven-magnitude-equivalent-earthquake.[11] ..."

    1. Grease Monkey

      Actually that doesn't seem to take into account the amount of mass that would be lost to gravitational friction. That would depend on the angle that the object entered the atmospher along with it's velocity, and more importantly its composition. As indeed would it's velocity at impact. Since they're not quite sure what it's made of nobody can say exactly what it's mass is to start with.

      So there's no way anybody could predict what the damage would be were it to hit the earth.

      Even if it were to hit the earth it's obviously more likely that it would land at sea than on land.

      1. Random Yayhoo

        @GM: "Actually that doesn't seem to take into account the amount of mass that would be lost to gravitational friction."

        Essentially zero, forget it.

        "...That would depend on the angle that the object entered the atmospher along with it's velocity..."

        At a relative velocity of over 20km/s, as long as the entire object strikes the earth, the angle makes almost no difference. The kinetic energy transfer is over 90% and the momentum transfer is well over 50%. The object becomes effectively plasma and generates a succession of pressure waves that propagate inward and along the surface of the the Earth, with a small proportion of ejecta.

        "...and more importantly its composition."

        That will be pretty well known at flyby.

        "As indeed would it's velocity at impact."

        Yes, I heard over 20km/s.

        "Since they're not quite sure what it's made of nobody can say exactly what it's mass is to start with."

        Yes, but most asteroids fall within a moderate density range. Since this has no jets and is small, it's not a pile of rocks but probably a big rock, i.e. reasonably dense. Certainly moreso than water, so its mass should exceed 25 megatons for r > 300m.

        So there's no way anybody could predict what the damage would be were it to hit the earth.

        "...Even if it were to hit the earth it's obviously more likely that it would land at sea than on land."

        If by sea, worse (waves)!

  40. Winkypop Silver badge

    On an astronomical scale....

    ...that was an extremely close shave.

    Cheese, Gromit?

  41. Scoobydoobry

    Aircraft Carrier as a unit of measurement

    I thought that aircraft carrier as a unit of measurement was de-commisioned along with anything else with 'aircraft carrier' in the title for us Brits?

  42. adnim Silver badge

    Nice animation

    I didn't realise that we had such a clever moon, notice how it scuttles out of the asteroids path?

  43. Mips

    Looks like a cricket ball to me

    Now where is my bat.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have some fun with this...

    1. Colin Mountford

      Thank you....

      for the most useful link since the "how to make an origami tin foil hat".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Have you still got the link?

  45. Glenn Charles

    so who says it isn't

    a black hole?

    And on a secondary note wth can't your signin manager figure out that "coom" is "com"? dumb AI's. Omigod it just took my computer offline for tha

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