Your response to science news depends on your sensibility. I, for one, am delighted by the discovery of 1989FC, a cosmic jaywalker. That asteroid may or may not smash lots of us to smithereens. However, it certainly teaches an always timely, because chastening, lesson about the irreducible disorderliness of everything. 1989FC (why do we give better names to Buicks -- Electra, Riviera -- than to really important things?) was recently discovered from a Mount Palomar Observatory photograph after the asteroid made one of its annual passes near Earth. It is big -- perhaps more than half a mile in diameter -- and fast (46,000 mph). When two objects are in overlapping orbits, the bigger one inevitably pulls the smaller into its path. So a scientist says, ''Sooner or later it should collide with the Earth, the moon or Mars.'' It would be nice to know which one and how soon. Should we paint the house or are we going to get smooshed? 1989FC would bump with the force of 20,000 one-megaton hydrogen bombs. The cosmos is not crowded. If there were just three bees in America, the air would be more congested with bees than space is with stars. But there is a lot of stuff besides stars whizzing around. Earth is constantly pelted by small bits of matter, and some not so small: In 1908, passengers on the trans-Siberian express were startled by a bright blue ball of fire as a small comet leveled a 70-mile strip of Siberian forest. A hotly disputed hypothesis is that the evolution of life on Earth has been marked by radical disjunctions because of collisions with extraterrestrial material. Some scientists say one such collision occurred 65 million years ago and caused climatic changes that led to the rapid extinction of dinosaurs. It is estimated that asteroids of more than half a mile in diameter hit Earth once every 40 million years or so. A few weeks ago 1989FC came within half a million miles of (let's look on the bright side) Congress. That counts as a near-miss. (Why do we say ''near-miss'' when what we are describing, with an airplane or an asteroid, is a near-hit?) If 1989FC hits Earth, the odds are it will hit an ocean, raising (depending on its angle of entry) waves several hundred yards high, inundating coastal areas. (New York City? Every cloud has its. . . .) Striking land, it would dig a crater a mile deep and five to 10 miles across. There goes the neighborhood. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was enough to cause people to question the idea of progress and to doubt a divinely ordained orderliness of the universe. That earthquake was an intellectually improving event. Imagine what a collision with a big asteroid could do for the moral and intellectual climate. In 1610, Galileo discovered moons around Jupiter. The discovery convulsed Europe's religious and (hence) political passions. It proved something deflating about the nature of our solar system: Earth is not the center of the universe. Ever since we were evicted from where we think we belong, science has delivered a series of affronts to our sense of dignity and autonomy. Darwin, by saying mankind is continuous with the slime from which mankind has only recently crept, imbedded mankind in the mud of the planet that has itself been revealed to be peripheral. Then Freud said there are within us uncharted depths with their own turbulences. Early astronomy may have displaced our planet from the place of honor in the cosmos, but at least Newton said the universe was intelligible, even decorous. He was the great orderer. His clockwork theory of the universe gave rise, through the seepage of science into the wider culture, to an arid deism in theology: God was envisioned as the winder of the clock-like mechanism of the cosmos. There even was clockwork political theory, the clearest expression of which is the U.S. Constitution with its tidy (on paper) system of checks and balances -- politics as physics Neither Newton's universe nor our Constitution works as clock-like as we had hoped. And now we have 1989FC to worry about. Before Darwin, many people believed that no living thing could become extinct because extinction would suggest that there had been imperfection in God's original plan. What will people think if one of 1989FC's big brothers comes crashing along and makes everything extinct all at once? If 1989FC itself hits Earth, causing localized catastrophe, one result will probably be a religious revival. The catastrophe will be construed as evidence that a caring God exists and is not amused.