PALOMAR, CA --- NASA intern Sam Croydon claims he has discovered a new killer asteroid that missed the Earth by a hair's breadth a few weeks ago. Designated A-554073, it came as close as 250,000 miles to our home planet, Croydon said. Had he been allowed to announce this discovery via official channels, it would have likely caused a worldwide stir. But that's not what has his boss, Palomar observatory's director Dr. Ellis Richardson, fuming. Richardson says the alleged photograph of the celestial object is a crude hoax, calling it a "puerile, rather tasteless practical joke."
But Croydon insists his discovery is genuine and ought to be taken seriously.
"I can't help that the object looks like it does," he said. "It looks like, uhm, like part of the human -- well, it looks like a large derriere. There's really no polite way of putting it. A-554073 looks like a one kilometer long, two million ton -- uhm -- behind that happens to be barreling through space at nearly seven times the speed of sound."
Had the object struck the planet, Croydon said, the effect would have been devastating.
"It would have been a real stinker for life on earth. Kinetic energy is calculated as follows: E = (mv^2)/2. Two million tons of this big, bad asteroid striking the Earth at Mach 7 releases 882 * 10 ^ 24 joules. By contrast, the atom bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki released only 8.37 * 10 ^ 3 joules. We're talking twenty-one zeros more than what was enough destruction to end Word War II."
But Richardson was not impressed.
"First of all, let's take a look at this picture. How does Sam explain that the shadows are on the inside of both cheeks? Furthermore, the craters on both cheeks are identical and exactly opposite one another," he explained. "Secondly, A-554073 is not a designation for an asteroid; it's a calculator joke. Simply flip some of the digits over. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out."
Croydon is the one who is fuming now. He has been directed to stay away from any observatory laptop. He has further been informed that his university e-mail account has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.
He remains unapologetic.
"Hell, as long as a global threat is G-rated, let's tell the world. But there's nothing G-rated about worldwide devastation," he said.