Two asteroids are set to zip past the Earth at relatively close distances over the next couple of months. Despite what you might read in the usual tabloid sites and weird YouTube channels with terrible audio, both are extremely unlikely to hit us.
One is getting a lot of buzz on social media because it may pass us on Nov. 2, the eve of the US election. To me, the cool thing is that the asteroid’s designation is 2018 VP1, so at least that’s mildly appropriate.
2018 VP1 is tiny, probably only about 2 meters across, which makes it very hard to observe unless it’s very close because it’s so faint. It was discovered in 2018, and was only seen for about 13 days. That’s not very long, which means it’s hard to get a good orbit calculation for it. An analogy I like makes this clear:
As I've written before, when an asteroid is first discovered, the orbit calculated for it is pretty fuzzy, because we don't have a long enough arc to really be able to predict where it will be in the future. Small uncertainties in the position early on add up to big ones later. The ...