Partner and I saw something interesting the other night. A near-earth asteroid, Apophis, was making a near approach to Earth, and we watched it in real time, on a British website called, which operates a powerful telescope in the Canary Islands off Africa.

The images were peaceful enough: a tiny bright spot moving slowly against a background of stars.

Apophis will not trouble us this time; it’s too far away.

But Apophis is coming back. It will make another near-Earth approach in 2029, and again in 2036. There is a vanishingly small chance that, in 2036, Apophis will actually hit the Earth.

If it does, it would not be quite as bad as the dinosaur-killing asteroid that hit Earth sixty million years ago. It would be very bad, however.

But, as I said, the chances are very small.

Makes you feel uncertain, doesn’t it?

I don’t much care. In 2036, I’ll be 79 years old, if I’m not already dead.

But it makes me think of all the odd things that can happen, and the random horrible accidents that can really ruin your day.

And I used to like the asteroids.  I thought of them as a remote peaceful place, a planetary archipelago, kind of like the British West Indies.

I prefer them that way.

Here’s Diane Ackerman’s poem from the 1970s:

We imagine them


cheek to jowl,

these driftrocks

of cosmic ash

thousandfold afloat

between Jupiter and Mars.





Names to conjure with,

Dakotan black hills,

A light-opera

Staged on a barrier reef.

And swarm they may have,

Crumbly as blue-cheese,

That ur-moment

when the solar system

broke wind.

But now

they lumber

so wide apart

from each

to its neighbor’s


slant millions

and millions

of watertight miles.

Only in the longest view

do they graze

like one herd

on a breathless tundra.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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