Astronomy club, faculty host viewing of “doomsday” asteroid

Sarah Stukenborg

People have been speculating about the end of the world for centuries. The Mayan calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012, and many think the world will end on that day. But another popular theory on how the world will end involves the asteroid Toutatis, which some believed would strike the earth on Dec. 12.

The Hilltoppers Astronomy Club and faculty from WKU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy gave students and the public a chance to view the asteroid through a telescope from the top of the Thompson Complex Central Wing on Wednesday.

Richard Gelderman, a physics and astronomy professor at WKU, explained that Toutatis and earth are currently orbiting around the sun, and every few years they must pass each other. The last passing occurred in 2003 and was proclaimed across the Internet as the one that would kill humankind.

Clearly, this did not happen, and Gelderman said the current asteroid’s passing is a similar situation.

“It is yet another false alarm,” Gelderman said.

The peanut-shaped, roughly 3-mile asteroid received its name after a famous Celtic god. Gelderman said if the asteroid were to collide with earth, it would wreak havoc.

“Anything that big would be serious trouble if it ran into earth,” Gelderman said.

Telescope viewings are held at Thompson Complex on the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. and are free and open to anyone. This month the viewing just happened to land on the same date Toutatis was projected to pass.

Steven Gibson, an astronomy professor at WKU, agreed that the asteroid poses no serious threat in the near future.

“It really isn’t the doomsday asteroid, or at least not yet,” Gibson said. “There may be some time in the future when it will.”

According to Gibson, the distance between earth and the asteroid is 18 times the distance between earth and the moon.

As it passes, astronomers will be studying it closely to try and better predict its course, Gibson said.

Gelderman said astronomers are quite certain that there is a one in a billion chance that Toutatis will ever make contact with earth. So everyone can breathe easy. At least for now.