The asteroid in question is designated 2018 LF16, and it was last observed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on June 16. The ever-vigilant writers at The Express report that 2018 LF16 is nearly 700 feet in diameter, carries 50 megatons of force, and that is currently moving at nearly 34,000MPH. The UK-based tabloid also says that “based on NASA’s calculations there is a one in 30,000,000 chance of LF16 slamming into our home planet – a 99.9999967 percent chance of a miss.” For some perspective, the chances of winning a 6/49 lottery drawing are 1/13,983,816.
None of the “facts” included in the Express article (with the exception of one that proves the asteroid exists) is hyperlinked to an official NASA report, and it looks like all other stories on the internet about the potential danger link back to that one source. With a chance of impact that incredible low, we question whether NASA would bother to share that information at all. Yet, if you Google 2018 LF16 after reading this, you’ll see several juicy headlines designed to whip the large section of the world’s population who only reads headlines into a sharing frenzy.
If we had to guess, someone probably dug really deep into JPL’s Small-Body Database Browser, found an asteroid, pulled out a calculator, and made the data fit a narrative so that they would have a story to tell. The orbit diagram on the JPL site even has the disclaimer that it was “implemented using two-body methods, and hence should not be used for determining accurate long-term trajectories (over several years or decades) or planetary encounter circumstances,” but that’s less exciting than the threat of a fiery death in less than five years.