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  • Jan Flynn

What Are You Worried About?

Whatever it is, it’s the wrong thing

You had a lot on your mind this week

That’s an assumption on my part, but I feel safe in making it. These days, how can any thinking person over the age of 18 months not have a pile of heavy stuff weighing on their noggin?

There’s just so much to worry about. The climate behaves like it’s suffering from bipolar disorder, which is all our fault, but now you’re out of eggs, and the only way to get more is to enlarge your carbon footprint by going to the store and paying, like, eighteen bucks for another dozen.

Just when you’d resigned yourself to California’s never-ending drought, it’s inundated by a series of atmospheric rivers. As though the mighty Mississippi and the St. Lawrence Seaway decided to take turns ascending into the sky, heading west, and dumping their loads on the Golden State. Meanwhile, people in Buffalo are probably still trying to tunnel out of their snow-blocked driveways.

Any exposure to the news media is an invitation to whiplash. The economy is getting better, except we’re headed for a recession. The Ukrainians are beating the Russians, except the Russians don’t know that so they keep extending the agony. Inflation is coming down, including gas prices, which is great, except that it means we’ll keep driving our gas-guzzling cars every time we run out of eggs.

Then there’s the mind-bending exercise of trying to understand how a single individual could simultaneously be a Wall Street maven with a fake Goldman Sachs pedigree and a former Brazilian drag queen with questionable citizenship status — and get elected as a congressman from a New York district that went for Joe Biden by 8% in 2020. If George Santos doesn’t make your head spin, you’re Yoda. Or maybe Kevin McCarthy.

Instead, you should have been looking up

If you haven’t seen Don’t Look Up, the star-studded film from 2021, I recommend it. Critics carped that its parody was a bit heavy-handed, with its storyline about a comet heading on a collision course toward Earth.

But last week, that almost happened. While you and I were worrying about other things.

Okay, I may be exaggerating a tiny bit. But unless NASA, the New York Times, and NPR were all pulling our collective leg, the fact is that an asteroid named 2023 BU whizzed past our home planet at a distance of 2200 miles.

In space terms, that’s close enough to tickle the whiskers on a cockroach. Which, if that cosmic skipping stone had been any bigger or any closer, might be all that would be left of recognizable life on Earth.

NASA scientists are blithe about the near-miss. The asteroid, they point out, was only about the size of a moving van. Even if it had somehow wobbled out of its expected course and hit us, it would have burned up in the atmosphere in an entertaining fireball, with its remaining bits falling as little bitty sparkly meteorites. All good.

Pardon me if I’m less than reassured

BU 2023, the aforementioned, close-shave asteroid, was only discovered the previous Saturday by an amateur astronomer from Crimea, Gennadiy Borisov. The same guy, according to the NPR story,

“has previously been credited with discovering a number of comets and asteroids, including the first confirmed interstellar comet.”

Why nobody is paying him for his expertise is a head-scratcher. The point is, who knows what else is up there, hurtling toward us?

NASA’s Scout system (who knew?) got right to work and within days figured out that BU 2023, as Scout’s developer Davide Farnocchia said, would make ” . . . one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

Here’s how close: according to the NPR article, BU 2023 came about ten times nearer to Earth’s surface than our own cloud of geosynchronous satellites.

So, what if?

“What if” is the mantra of every worrywart worth their salt, and upon discovering the above, what this very salty worrywart immediately wanted to know was: what if BU 2023 had been of more average girth for an asteroid (around 600 miles in diameter), and what if it had wobbled off its course just a teensy bit, enough to send it crashing into Earth?

What would NASA do about that?

Not to worry: NASA has a plan. The agency has recently been putting more resources toward planetary defense for just such an eventuality. As NPR’s piece says, “Last year, it (NASA) even tested a just-in-case plan to ram an asteroid, if it someday becomes necessary to redirect an object away from Earth.”

I’m worrying anyway

I mean, what’s the point of fretting about climate change and George Santos and the price of eggs and if I’ll ever get a novel published or whether the dress I bought for the black tie event we’re going next week to looks okay from the back, I mean, my husband says it does, but what’s he supposed to do, you get what I’m saying — if an asteroid is just going to come along and blow us all to space dust?

How do I know our friend the amateur astronomer in Crimea won’t, any day now, notice another and much bigger space rock headed directly toward Earth? Will he do so in time to wake up the folks at Nasa so they can activate their Acme Space Ram to nudge the thing out of our way? If so, how can I assume that everything will go nicely to plan so I can go back to worrying about how to keep my false eyelashes from peeling off at the corners of my eyelids in the middle of the gala?

It is often said that 99% of the things we worry about never happen. I call that one hell of a success rate. Based on that estimation, it’s clear that worrying is a supremely effective activity, one to which I intend to continue devoting myself.

In the interests of the greater good, I propose to stop worrying about how my backside looks in that evening dress and focus my fears instead on approaching asteroids. I invite you to join me.

When the world wakes up one morning and realizes that a giant space rock still hasn’t hit us, the world will have us to thank.

You’re welcome.

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