Duck!
January 6, 2002 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Duck! An asteroid large enough to wipe out a country that was discovered a month ago will pass less than twice the Moon's distance from the earth. Meanwhile the British have selected a site for their near Earth object information centre. Hopefully they will have a direct line to Bruce Willis, just in case.
posted by homunculus (23 comments total)
 
I'm calling the grammar police.
posted by fakenamex at 8:43 PM on January 6, 2002


I couldnt find anything about seeing it.... Will we be able to see it naked? And without a telescope?
posted by Espoo2 at 8:44 PM on January 6, 2002


I know this sounds alarmist, but I really do hope that we as a species do start to take the threat of being wiped out via space-borne rock seriously. The way our leaders are acting now is kind of like living on a flood plain and saying "why would the river ever rise?". The chances of us getting smacked by an asteroid are very small, but if we expect the human race to populate this planet for a while, it's eventually going to happen - just the law of averages.
posted by GriffX at 8:46 PM on January 6, 2002


Uh hasn't it already happened (or just about to happen) in England? I don't think we'll be able to see it on this side of the world. It's so hard to see things through our sweet free sky of freedom.
posted by geoff. at 8:53 PM on January 6, 2002


I'm calling the grammar police.

They never take alive me.
posted by homunculus at 9:09 PM on January 6, 2002


Hopefully they will have a direct line to Bruce Willis, just in case.

Considering how Armageddon ended, this is a wishful thought indeed.
posted by y2karl at 9:42 PM on January 6, 2002


You need a decent telescope to see any of these objects, and even then, it can be hard to find them and they are so small that there isn't much to see.

You might want to check somewhere like the NEO Program for updated info, since these things are flying by us all the time. Some are coming much closer than two lunar distances.
posted by yupislyr at 9:47 PM on January 6, 2002


We'd be just as screwed if the moon got hit. Did anyone see that special on the Discovery Channel (or was it TLC?) called "If There Was No Moon"? It was very interesting. Basically, if the moon gets moved or otherwise perverted, our 24-hour day and stable climate go away, which is REALLY bad. Did you know that the earth had 6 hour days when the moon was originally formed by some space rock collision with Earth? There is so much we take for granted...
posted by hitsman at 10:31 PM on January 6, 2002


Hey, I don't understand. What country was discovered last month?
posted by fleener at 11:05 PM on January 6, 2002


Yes, I saw, "If the Earth Had No Moon" on The Discovery Channel. This made me think of it, too. It was one of the coolest documentaries I have ever seen. The renderings of what the Earth would look like if we had no moon, if it was farther away or if there were two are incredible. Basically, if we didn't have the exact moon that we have, we are squid. No tides, water everywhere and no consistent landmass upon which life could form. It was fascinating.

So, which country was discovered a month ago? I must have missed that. Do they make wine?
posted by colt45 at 11:06 PM on January 6, 2002


That's what I get for taking time with my preview. Word to fleener.
posted by colt45 at 11:10 PM on January 6, 2002


I know this sounds alarmist, but I really do hope that we as a species do start to take the threat of being wiped out via space-borne rock seriously.

I can see some protocols and such written up but our track record with managing our own end-of-the-world weapons isn't so hot, why would I expect the survival instinct to kick in globally when we've been under the umbrella of self-created armageddon for fifty years?

Right now, our largest boosters couldn't carry enough mass for a nuclear weapon to disperse mass enough to even nudge an inbound asteroid. At this point it would take a project on a world-wide scale we've never witnessed to deisgn, build, and test to have an anti-armageddon weapon ready in the next 20 or so years. And that's being optimistic.

Its probably a lot smarter in the long run just to move deep underground into the earth and leaving the surface for just solar and wind generators along with our flora and fauna. Sure a good sized hit will collapse any underground cities, but if we're self-sufficient or semi-self-sufficient enough the tides, climate change, and nuclear winter scenarios won't be too much of a problem. I'm sure crazy ideas like these would make a lot more sense after we've lost a nation or 20% of shoreline land to a decent size collision. In the meantime, lets hope the big one doesn't hit first.

"UN Citizen 432-ZX32, plan your surface safari today!"
posted by skallas at 1:58 AM on January 7, 2002


I'm calling the grammar police.

Tough and honest words written by someone who has never posted to the front page.
posted by skallas at 2:00 AM on January 7, 2002


The fact that this object was discovered less than a month ago leads to the question of if we would have had enough time to do anything about it had it been on a collision course with us.
"Of course the answer is no, there is nothing we could have done about it."


I liked that part.
posted by XiBe at 5:45 AM on January 7, 2002


Will we be able to see it naked?
Why, you saucy little so and so.
posted by RokkitNite at 6:16 AM on January 7, 2002


Hey, I don't understand. What country was discovered last month?
Fantastimerica! You weren't supposed to know.
posted by thirteen at 8:16 AM on January 7, 2002


I saw another show about the history of the Earth on the Discovery Channel a month or two ago. I wish I could remember the name of it, the graphics were outstanding. It gave me the chills when it showed a giant planet size collision with Earth a loooong time ago that is the likely explanation for the moon's existence.

As for space junk hitting earth.. somehow I think we will manage to destroy ourselves before a planet killer smashes into earth.
posted by xyzzy at 10:25 AM on January 7, 2002


Of course, it would take an absolutely enormous asteroid to really affect the moon's orbit, let alone smash it up or knock it away Space:1999 style. We could certainly, however, have a problem with ejecta as a lot of comparatively small moon rocks fell to earth over the next million years.

In truth, the technology for safely altering the orbit of an asteroid is pretty much within reach. The importance, skallas, of power is diminished immeasurably by reaching the rock as early as possible and giving it just enough of a nudge. Something on the last leg of a collision course is a little less likely to be easily handled, but even so, Armageddon was exaggerating the danger with an asteroid "the size of Texas". Most of the dangerous ones aren't even the size of cities -- they're the size range of Volkswagens and small houses. More rarely, we might see an object the size of a sports stadium. Remember, we don't need to blow them up; we just need to change their orbit. (If possible, they should be directed away from the plane of the ecliptic, to reduce the danger of future impacts.) Physics works in our favor. If we detect and track as many NEOs as possible, we should be able to determine which ones will be dangerous before the next time they swing past the sun. Just prior to perigee would be the most advantageous point to affect the object (although certain objects might have an apogee closer to our orbit, they seem to be fewer in number). It really wouldn't be that hard, if we knew in advance.

Impact Cratering on Earth is a good resource.

I don't think we'll "destroy ourselves" though I wouldn't be surprised if there were a real nuclear war in my lifetime. My take on this is simply that we now have both the knowledge of the risk (however small the probability, the devastation could be immense), and the technology to do something about it. If we're not at least marginally prepared to deal with a discovery, we should be considered pretty darned dumb
posted by dhartung at 11:24 AM on January 7, 2002


Cool link, dhartung, I've bookmarked it.
posted by y2karl at 2:15 PM on January 7, 2002


The importance, skallas, of power is diminished immeasurably by reaching the rock as early as possible and giving it just enough of a nudge. Something on the last leg of a collision course is a little less likely to be easily handled

I really don't think this type of asteroid pushing is within reach. Its one thing to send a probe or some other lightweight device into the far reaches of space and its totally another thing to send up a billion gallons of water (or whatever mass you need) targeted on a distant object and be able to hit it in the correct way. The tests alone in doing this, not to mention the outcry of launching nukes for these tests, would start in the billions and make the NMD look like a $40 toilet seat.

Then you'll need to develop hundreds if not thousands of these projectiles and have them ready at a weeks notice. It may take many hits to even nudge an asteroid and you'll have to account for misses or hits that went bad, possibly even making the situation worse.

Considering no space agency is persuing these kinds of tests I'm not going to assume that all its going to take is a mild modification of some already existing equipment. This is some serious R&D here.
posted by skallas at 6:06 PM on January 7, 2002


skallas: 20 years is nothing, astronomically speaking. If it happens in that time, we're all dead. But why refuse to wear a seatbelt just because you don't think you'll need it on your driveway?

Also, any cost expended is like having insurance. It's not necessarily cheap but you're damn glad you're covered when Something Bad happens. And I'm betting deflection technology would be cheaper than moving underground.
posted by walrus at 9:23 AM on January 8, 2002


Heh, I wasn't too serious about moving everything underground, its just an extreme and a lot more expensive and crazier than producing asteroid pushers. My real beef is that successfully pushing asteroids may be a long ways away and unless there's a decent amount of warning, like Y2K was, the doomsday scenario might play out.
posted by skallas at 10:42 AM on January 8, 2002


Fair enough. I still think it's a good thing to want. Agreed, we probably can't do it now, but whenever we have the technology and resources it sounds like a wise move.
posted by walrus at 11:10 AM on January 8, 2002


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