The Truth About the “September 2015 Asteroid Impact”

Maybe you have seen one of the alarming videos and emails circulating around the internet claiming that the End is Nigh. The claim is that an enormous dinosaur-killer of an asteroid is going to smash into the Earth sometime between 15-28 September 2015. The scary predictions say that the asteroid will come down in the Atlantic Ocean near Puerto Rico, causing a “300ft tsunami” and a “Magnitude 12” earthquake which will devastate the eastern seaboards of the USA, Mexico and central and southern American nations (presumably Africa and Europe would be devastated too, but who cares?) Thirty million lives will be lost in the month after the impact, and 40 million more will die in plagues and civil disorder in the following seven months. Is this terrifying vision of the future going to happen? Unsurprisingly the answer is no.

This prediction is not based on science. No known asteroid or comet is on a collision course with Earth. I am only writing about this nonsensical claim because over the years I have learned that there are people who become genuinely distressed and anxious by predictions of disaster like this.

The claim that this doomsday asteroid is heading our way apparently originated from one Reverend Efrain Rodriguez who has since 2010 promoted in videos and interviews his belief that this forthcoming disaster has been divinely revealed to him. He sent NASA a letter in November 2012 outlining his view of the future. I imagine it was filed under “G” for Garbage. Rodriguez says that world governments are aware of the approaching menace but are cynically going to allow it to happen without warning the populace because of their political agenda. Rodriguez seems to preach a grim gospel of despair, offering no future but misery to his congregations.

To be fair to Rodriguez, he has disassociated himself from the September 2015 date, claiming that the impact is coming but he cannot say exactly when. Rodriguez has in the past stated precise dates for his apocalypse (in 2013 and 2014) but these have passed without incident. Despite his hopeless message and failed prophesies, Rodriguez has many followers who have proclaimed him to be a prophet and compare him to Noah and Abraham.

Rev. Rodriguez makes no secret of his strong political opinions (he intensely dislikes President Obama) which are heavily featured in his proclamations. Thanks to the remarkably toxic and irrational current US political climate this has meant his views have been even more widely circulated by people who may not believe in his apocalyptic visions but want to promote his paranoid-seeming current affairs agenda.

Among many unusual declarations from Rodriguez are his claims that guillotines have been procured for executing critics of President Obama and that thousands of French, German, Russian and Chinese soldiers are stationed in Puerto Rico with the intention of seizing control from the local authorities after the disaster (surely if Rodriguez is correct about the impact zone, Puerto Rico would be among the worst places to base this invasion force…) Ridiculous as these may sound, unfortunately thousands of people seem to take these seriously. Adding to the confusion are other supporting emails of the “I heard from a friend of friend who works for the government…” type which are being circulated.

Of course there is a very, very small chance that in the near future a dangerous impact could occur. Astronomers around the world know of 1593 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) at the time of writing. This may sound an alarming large number but the criteria to be put on the list is very wide. PHAs are broadly defined as all asteroids 150 m (500 ft) in diameter which could come within 0.05 au (about 7.5 million km or 4.65 million miles) of Earth. This distance is about twenty times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Objects on the PHA list are monitored and the details of their orbits refined to predict the possibility of close approaches to Earth. No comets or asteroids are currently known to be on orbits which will ever cause them to collide with Earth.

Reverend Rodriguez has no known scientific qualifications or connections. His prophesy of disaster is nonsense. Science has not predicted that a giant asteroid is going to devastate Earth this September. If anyone sends you an email or a link to a video about this foolishness you can read or watch them if you really want but please do not take them seriously. The people who spread this sort of stuff ought to be ashamed of themselves.

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