Chabot College - Astronomy Worksheet- Scott Hildreth

Good Science vs. Bad Science: Asteroid 1997-XF11

Whenever science makes a discovery, the devil grabs it while the angels are debating
the best way to use it.  ~Alan Valentine

Missing or Incomplete Citations receives zero credit.

In late 1997,  an asteroid was detected that, upon initial review of the data in early 1998, held the potential for colliding with our planet in the year thirty years later. Its designation was Asteroid 1997-XF11. Yet, when researchers reviewed earlier pictures of the sky that also included the asteroid, its actual orbital path was recalculated and found to miss our planet in 2028 (and even farther into the future) by a wide margin.

1) Please read FIRST:

2) Then read SECOND:

After reading the articles, discuss them with your friends, family, or co-workers, and then write a brief  a short essay of about 250-500 words, spell-checked and including a fully-formatted and complete bibliography of these articles, with your thoughts about:

a) Was it incorrect for scientists to originally broadcast of the possibilities for a collision in 2028, based on the data they had at the time?

b) Did the media, and public, over-react to the initial news? Did you, your friends, or family ask questions based on what you heard, regarding how the data was collected, or what other data were required to confirm or rule out the possible collision?

c) Was the overall experience, from initial observations, analysis, review, publishing, and subsequent re-examination of other data, an example of "good science" or "bad science"? Explain why you feel that way. Did others not in our class feel different from you? Why?

Please remember to type your answers, and print a copy double-spaced and spell-checked; aim for at least 250 words (about 1 page is fine), with citations for all references used.

On-line classes: Please POST your assignment on Canvas in the discussion forum directly, not as an attachment.

On-campus classes
  Please POST your assignment on Canvas if you are absent from class by the due date/time, but please then bring your work on paper to the next class so that I can grade it!  I won't grade the work submitted on Canvas.  Remember too that being in class to discuss the assignment together is part of the grade - missing the class will affect your score.

Additional Resources to check out; you can actually see images at the Sky Projects site, and see more about the data at the site authored by Chamberlin and Chodas.

Chapman, C. (1998) HAZARD FROM THE SKIES? The Asteroid Impact Scare of Mid-March 1998. Southwest Research Institute.Last updated 22 April 1998.

Marsden, B. (1998) ONE-MILE-WIDE ASTEROID TO PASS CLOSE TO THE EARTH IN 2028. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Updated 3/12/98.

Note that this site originally held the actual press release on 3/11, and then a revision on 3/12.  These have been deleted and the combination is the only official record being offered by the CfA to the public about the event.

Marsden, B. (1998) HOW THE ASTEROID STORY HIT: AN ASTRONOMER REVEALS HOW A DISCOVERY SPUN OUT OF CONTROL.  Updated 3/28/98. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Note that this site originally held the actual excerpt through May 2007.  This has been deleted and the article now seems be only available online at Scroll down to find the article.

 Agle, DC. (21 October 2015) NASA Spots the �Great Pumpkin�: Halloween Asteroid a Treat for Radar Astronomers  Jet Propulsion Lab. NASA.

NASA Near-Earth Object Program. JPL Solar System Dynamics.  Last updated 4/2017


Extra Credit Suggestion

Search for other articles about near-miss or "Near-Earth-Orbiting" objects that have been printed in the last 10 years.  Use Chabot College Library's Lexis-Nexis Academic Online Database: (Search for "Asteroid" or "Earth Impact") .  Include a summary of the article, and your thoughts.  And as always, include a properly formatted bibliographic citation. If you haven't used the online databases before, they are wonderfully rich and fairly easy to use.  If you are on-campus, you can access them directly; the connection to the source is automatic.  If you are off-campus, you can still access the source but you must first enter your Chabot Student Number.  Instructions for off-campus access are available at the Chabot Library website.


10/17 - SH

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