The Asteroid

24 February 2018 | Diary

On nights when I can’t sleep — nights like tonight — I find myself thinking about asteroids. There’s over 150 million of the fuckers up there, just hanging around and, so far as I can tell, waiting to fall on our heads.

(In case you’re curious, this doesn’t help me get to sleep. It’s just the sort of thing that drifts in while I’m counting sheep.)

In particular, I’ve been thinking lately about our old friend (35396) 1997 XF₁₁.

Remember (35396) 1997 XF₁₁? What a crazy summer! We were all chanting its name in the playground and chatting about it at the water cooler.

Wasn’t there a novelty record about it too? I rather think there was. “Oh baby, you’re sky high,” it went, “brushing against our atmosphere like a pervert on a bus. Oh, (35396) 1997 XF₁₁, usher in the sixth extinction of my heart, blacken the skies with the dusty fallout of your love.”

Or something. It wasn’t a very good song but we liked it at the time. I preferred the Mike Flowers Pops verison.

Anyway, the reason I found myself thinking about this particular asteroid is because YouTube recently nudged me into watching a news-based magazine programme from 1998 in which a comedian spoke briefly of “that asteroid that will hit the Earth in 2028”.

Hmm, I thought, it’s 2018 now so we’re almost exactly halfway through the available prep time for saving everybody’s lives.

I wondered how the project was getting along so I googled it. Imagine my dismay when the only news and science items I could find about it (once I’d waded through all the nostalgia stuff, I mean) were from 1998.

Is it possible we’ve all just forgotten about this threat to our entire planetary existence? How could this happen?

You know when you’re studying for an exam with a couple of months to spare and you keep thinking “oh, I’ve got ages to go, I’ll not worry about that yet” and then before you know it the exam’s tomorrow and all of the useful books on the subject have been taken from the library by other people? Well, do you think it’s possible that all of the scientists and astronomers and world leaders have done exactly that and put off coming up with a solution to the problem of (35396) 1997 XF₁₁ until, say, December 31st, 2027?

I think that’s exactly what’s happened.

In order to raise some awareness our pending extinction through procrastination, I think the first step is to rebrand the asteroid, perhaps changing the name to something more catchy. I mean “(35396) 1997 XF₁₁” is so 1998 and is not the sort of thing that would win the attention of the social media generation.

We may all have been doing the (35396) 1997 XF₁₁ dance in the playground and the offices in 1998 — raising the arms to signify the brackets, stretching the index fingers to the ground in celebration of the subscript ₁₁, everyone’s favourite part — but that sort of thing is just embarrassing now.

Traditionally, if not named for a string of letters and numbers, an asteroid is named after a person. The comedian who spoke about the asteroid on TV in 1998 was Stewart Lee. Luckily, he is still popular. Do you think he would consent to having a potentially Earth-ending asteroid named after him?

Frankly, time is running out and we cannot take the risk that he’ll decline the honor or coolly not show up to the naming ceremony. Someone please set up the requisite Change.org petition to have (35396) 1997 XF₁₁ renamed “Stewart Lee” and we can get on with building the necessary laser cannons. Ta.

I am writing this entry on no sleep at all. I hope it doesn’t show.