After dismally failing to deliver the much-anticipated apocalypse provoked by the impact of a giant meteorite/asteroid/comet upon our fragile sphere, scientists have decided to "tone down" the wording of the original ten-step Torino Scale - designed to assign a appropriate threat level to any approaching galactic body of death.
The moves comes amid concerns that old-school phrases such as "A collision capable of causing a global climatic catastrophe [which might] occur once per 100,000 years, or less often" could have an unerving effect on the public. The author of the new wording is MIT planetary science prof Richard Binzel, who says: "This has been an ongoing effort to try to come up with reasonable ways to communicate discoveries when we find an object that's going to pass close to the Earth."
So, how is this Torino Scale maximum threat now rendered so that screaming people do not flee cities like headless chickens at its utterance? Well, rather marvellously, we don't think Bruce Willis need step down from his highest state of alert just yet, because it has become:
A collision is certain, capable of causing global climatic catastrophe that may threaten the future of civilization as we know it, whether impacting land or ocean. Such events occur on average once per 100,000 years, or less often.
In summary: whereas previously we had to concern ourselves only with a global climatic catastrophe, we must now consider the possibility that this will be coupled to the collapse of civilisation as we know it. Well, that's put our minds at rest, make no mistake.
To be fair, though, a level 4 threat goes from:
A close encounter, with 1% or greater chance of a collision capable of causing regional devastation.
A close encounter, meriting attention by astronomers. Current calculations give a 1% or greater chance of collision capable of regional devastation. Most likely, new telescopic observations will lead to re-assignment to Level 0. Attention by public and by public officials is merited if the encounter is less than a decade away.
That's more like it. Ok, Bruce, you can take off the space suit and grab yourself a beer... ®