back to article Deadly planet-smash asteroid was actually Euro probe

Asteroid-apocalypse experts were struck by a shower of eggs last week, as they prepared to sound the alarm over an incoming space boulder potentially capable of wiping out life on Earth - only to find that the object was a well-known European space probe on a planned flyby. The Minor Planet Centre (MPC) - which is to asteroids …


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  1. Ash

    Patrick Moore

    Should go back to co-hosting Games Master.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Calling Bulldog Drummond.....

    So Patrick Moore was put on high alert was he? All kitted out in his spacesuit ready to shoot up and boot the thing off course?

  3. Ross


    I can understand that ppl would be upset by a lack of information sharing, but it smacks of face saving really.

    Ok, they might not know that the object is man made and intended to come by that close, but surely they can tell how big it is?! I'm guessing it ain't the size of Indo China and so we can all breathe easy. In fact if it were to smack right into us I reckon the headlines would be more along the lines of "ESA blows up *another* satellite" rather than "OMG we're all gonna dieeeeeeeeeee!".

    Surely the real story here is that some boffins can shoot a satellite a few million (?) miles out and miss the planet by less than half its width! I'd love to know the (Paris Hilton) angle on that one.

  4. Chris Miller
    Thumb Up

    Cut them some slack, people

    OK so it's a good laugh and certainly an 'egg on face' moment for the MPC, but on the other hand:

    (a) it's difficult to estimate sizes for these objects. All you've really got to go by is the brightness, so a shiny spacecraft a few metres across could be misinterpreted as a dull space boulder tens of metres across. If it entered the atmosphere, such an object might well cause a Tunguska-sized explosion - not a dinosaur killer, but definitely enough to ruin your day if you were underneath it.

    (b) I find it reassuring that we're able to detect such small objects that have the potential for significant damage.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well this is cheery news

    Not news - the whereabouts of the trillions of blacker-than-coal bits of junk whirling around over our heads is a complete mystery.

    News - we're not even able to pinpoint the position of stuff we've fired up in accordance to Newton and Kepler's laws.

  6. Simon Riley

    Re: Size

    "These are small. Those are far away"

  7. Drew

    Maybe Patrick Moore is loosing it....

    He told Metro: "It certainly wasn't an asteroid. And the last comet to hit us was about 65 million years ago, when the theory is it wiped out the dinosaurs."

    Wasn't the last comet to hit was the Tunguska one in 1908??

  8. anthony bingham

    A big sling indeed!

    This supposed satelite was none other than Patrick Moore on one of his rare space "flings" requiring major "acceleration" for orbital stability and to maintain his cover over a Massive group of "Slingons"

  9. Brian Miller

    Its... its... no, wait...

    "Hear that? Its an invading army! Its the French!" "No, wait, its just a bunch of bloody peasant with coconut shells." "Right, let's go oppress them, shall we?"

    Lucky for that pesky Russian peasant astronomer they don't have any horses to mount, and ride him down.

  10. Taskis

    Not so bad

    I'm with Chris Miller on this one. All right, you can argue they should've known it was coming, and maybe that's true. But even without knowing it was coming, they still detected it. That's firmly in the Good Thing category - it shows the system works.

  11. Ian Stimpson

    Er ... no

    ....would pass within 5,600km of Earth, ...

    That's less than half the Earth's diameter, or to put it another way some of the human race would have been closer to the murderous meteor than to the Earth's core

    Er ... no. The top of the Earth's core is only 2900km down

  12. Anonymous John

    The Martians are coming!

    Well that was my first thought when I read the headline "Near-Miss Asteroid Found to be Artificial" at


    Do I get the credit for telling El Reg about this?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Size

    Well, I guess if they are picking up objects the size of satellites then they're doing something right (notwithstanding that it would have been nice had they worked out it was an aritifcial object).

    Or maybe they were just lucky, and they miss rocks the size of England all the time.

  14. Morely Dotes

    Press: [bgcolor="yellow"]

    "The MPC passed the word among astronomers that a deadly celestial object"

    Liar. The MPC did NOT use the word "deadly."

    I thought this was The Register, not The Weekly World News. Where's the story about Bat Boy?

  15. Captain DaFt

    @ Chris Miller

    Actually, with the resolution of the optics used, they have a pretty good idea of the size and albedo (brightness) of the objects they're tracking. It's just in this case, the object unintentionally fit the parameters of an asteroid:

    "The main spacecraft measures 2.8 x 2.1 x 2.0 metres, on which all subsystems and payload equipment are mounted. There are two 14-metre solar panels with a total area of 64 square metres. At launch, the vehicle weighs approximately 3000 kilograms (fully fuelled) including 1670 kilograms of propellant, 165 kilograms of scientific payload for the orbiter, and 100 kilograms for the lander."*

    So that gives a width of about 30 metres, plus the solar panels had "Hundreds of thousands of specially developed non-reflective silicon cells"* which gave it a low albedo profile.

    So a 30 metre, low albedo object streaking at high speed toward a near Earth fly-by. Not actually Earth shattering, but if it was an asteroid that size instead of a controlled probe, you definitely wouldn't want to chance it impacting the Earth.

    *Quotes taken from

  16. Charles Manning
    Thumb Down

    Cutting slack?

    Astronomy is based on a bunch of whacky assumptions - like "brighter==bigger" from which roaring extrapolations are made. This cock up just goes to show how silly and unscientific many of those assumtions are.

    As for being able to detect tiny things... well they only seem to be able to do that when approached from certain angles and at the right speeds. Five years back happened. It was only detected **after** it had flown past. It was coming from the wrong angle and too fast.

  17. Dazed and Confused

    If they can cause that much trouble with just 1

    satellite, just think wot those god damn pinko europeens will do with a whole swarm of them. We'll have alarms going off every few minutes!

  18. paulc

    65 million years ago...

    Patrick should know then... he was there... :)

  19. Shun Fukuda

    65 million, 100, what's the difference

    Actually, I think you'll find that Patrick Moore used the new version of Excel to arrive at his figures. (There's the IT angle).

    He may have been alive 100 years ago, for all I know.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patrick Moore

    Surely the truly remarkable thing about all this is that PM is still alive!!!

  21. Curtis W. Rendon


    They should consider subscribing to

    They send out nice weekly and even daily bits about what is going on in the sky, including Rosetta flybys, launches of landers to Mars, comets lighting up explosively, and all sorts of things one wouldn't want to confuse with *an incoming space rock!*.


  22. Brett

    @ Ross

    I read your head line and all I could think of was.

    "Were all going to diiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Details at 6."

  23. David Haworth

    Patrick M oore quote

    Patrick Moore was misquoted. What he actually said was:


  24. Adam White

    Wing span of the space probe

    What it only has a 32m wing span? Surely it would have much better aerodynamic properties if the wings were bigger.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Er no - the Tunguska didn't actually hit. It was an airburst.

  26. Ian R

    Comets and PH and @Drew

    As has been said, Tunguska didn't hit. But neither was it likely a comet, rather a lump of asteroid belt, so PH's statement is sound.

    Sad to see the old fella maligned so much. Sure, he is getting somewhat past it, but what an incredible man in his day and how he advanced space and astronomy to the masses,especially during the days of 1, 2 and 3 TV channels only.

    Life is wierd and I had the chance to bump into him on 3 occasions. The first was a guest lecture at QMC in '77. He spoke for an hour with no notes, at breakneck speed and totally coherently, the only piece of paper used was a tiny scrap which listed his slideshow - brilliant. The second was on the tube from Heathrow to central London in about '79. At first we were the only ones in the carriage, so I sat and talked with him, as you can imagine, he talked back - profusely. By Picadilly circus the carriage was crowded, people standing, staring in bewilderment at this unexpected scene. By then he was showing me slides of Venus just in from a russian lander. The third at an astro fair/event in about '90 where we had a passing acknowledgement and recall of previous meetings.

    PH is ok by me, and I'm sure that any tiny quote from a jostling reporter cannot be indicative of his real opinions on the matter, he is much more likely to be sceptical of such things.

    [perhaps we can have a comet or astroid icon? ;-)]

  27. Nick Rutland

    Tunguska - Scientists rethjink ...

    ... in our own El Reg:

  28. Ian R
    Paris Hilton

    Ooops PM I course

    All this PH talk made me make a typo... I meant PM of course.

    But I guess PH travelling at an Angle equating to a collision course with tunguska might result in a Bulgarian Airbug Burst.

  29. Chris Cheale


    ... now I've got images of Patrick Moore playing the xylophone and that really irritating song in my head...

  30. Paul

    I have the MPEC email here

    TITLE=(Fwd) MPEC V69: 2007 VN84 [a=1.19,e=0.34,i=1.9,H=26.3] [28805-]

    Date sent: Thu, 08 Nov 2007 19:06:04 -0500 (EST)

    Snip a bunch of observation stuff

    Orbital elements:

    2007 VN84 Earth MOID = 0.0001 AU

    Epoch 2007 Oct. 27.0 TT = JDT 2454400.5 MPC

    M 302.66563 (2000.0) P Q

    n 0.76181070 Peri. 79.69236 -0.65353221 -0.75645089

    a 1.1873297 Node 51.14851 +0.68070296 -0.60243373

    e 0.3412776 Incl. 1.91562 +0.33096698 -0.25466771

    P 1.29 H 26.3 G 0.15 U 9

    (Snip the observations and such of which there are many)

    Observer notes:

    The minimum distance from the geocenter is 0.000081 AU (1.89 Earth radii)

    on Nov 13.844 UT.This object passes 5000 km from Earth's surface on Nov. 13 at 20 hours UT (Nov.

    14 at 9 a.m. NZDT). From the H magnitude its diameter is in the 10-35 metres


    There may be some news media interest. Note that the prediction is based on

    only 1.6 days of observation.

    My note:

    Many hours of telescope and observer time was waisted because the

    European Space Agency did not communicate with the minor planet center.

  31. Taskis

    @ Ian R

    << Sad to see the old fella maligned so much. Sure, he is getting somewhat past it, but what an incredible man in his day and how he advanced space and astronomy to the masses,especially during the days of 1, 2 and 3 TV channels only. >>

    Agreed. He's a great man and a great mind, and not only that but - like Hawking (in this sense) - he's the sort of rare intellect whose affection and enthusiasm for his subject can be surprisingly infectious.

    It is a shame he gets such a casual hammering from the media these days, and of course the sadly growing number of people who rely purely on the media for their opinions. Yes, he's said one or two things that don't quite fit into our modern political framework, but with the best will in the world he's been around a pretty long time, and when one focuses so keenly on one area it's only to be expected that one might not spend so much effort on the fads and fashions of expression.

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