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July 29, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

In the year 2182 -- 172 years time -- there's a 1 in 1000 chance that we might be hit by a very large asteroid. With two centuries advance notice, will we be able to develop effective asteroid deflection techniques?

Asteroid '(101955) 1999 RQ36' is part of the Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA), which have the possibility of hitting the Earth due to the closeness of their orbits, and they may cause damages. This PHA was discovered in 1999 and has around 560 meters in diameter.

In practice, its orbit is well determined thanks to 290 optical observations and 13 radar measurements, but there is a significant "orbital uncertainty" because, besides gravity, its path is influenced by the Yarkovsky effect. Such disturbance slightly modifies the orbits of the Solar System's small objects because, when rotating, they radiate from one side the radiation they take from the sun through the other side.

The research, which has been published in Icarus journal, predicts what could happen in the upcoming years considering this effect. Up to 2060, divergence of the impacting orbits is moderate; between 2060 and 2080 it increases 4 orders of magnitude because the asteroid will approach the Earth in those years; then, it increases again on a slight basis until another approach in 2162, it then decreases, and 2182 is the most likely year for the collision.
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posted by zarq (53 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obligatory.
posted by zarq at 12:30 PM on July 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Can we just freeze Bruce Willis and thaw him out in 172 years? That seems like the logical thing to do.
posted by HumanComplex at 12:39 PM on July 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


Hey hey hey, if we're freezing celebrities, why don't we start with Mel Gibson?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:42 PM on July 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Paper: Long-term impact risk for (101955) 1999 RQ36

Also see: The Sky Is Falling (article from The Atlantic, from 2008)
posted by zarq at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2010


Is it time again already for the biennial "an asteroid's going to catastrophically hit the Earth" frenzy in the popular media? How time flies.
posted by aught at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man. That would piss me off if we were done in by a plot device from one of the four worst movies in history.

At the same time, it's probably my favorite doomsday scenario. No moral judgment to be had, no blame to assign. Arbitrary, pointless, and beyond our control. Sort of like death itself.

I'd be alright with that.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can't we freeze Bruce Willis and thaw him out in two years? Just to mess with him.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


BRING IT ON!
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2010


Fuckin' Asteroid '(101955) 1999 RQ36'. There was something I didn't like about that planetoid from day one.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:47 PM on July 29, 2010


I'm going to build domes over all 6 of Earth's cities, create 3 bases with anti-asteroid missiles and start training children to use trackballs.
posted by GuyZero at 12:48 PM on July 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


What I've always wondered is: As one of these predicted near-encounters draws nigh, how far out is the PHA before astronomers decide the odds have dropped from 1 in 1000 to 1 in oh-my-god-we're-doomed?

"Let's go burn down the observatory so this will never happen again!"
posted by usonian at 12:48 PM on July 29, 2010


If movies have taught me anything it's that if the government knows for a fact that we are doomed, DOOMED!, a gruff but straight shooting military guy will convince the pres that the public can't be informed because it'll just cause panic.
posted by Babblesort at 12:51 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, as the comic trope goes, we do have a black president, so clearly a planet-threatening asteroid impact is only a matter of time. Just figured it would be sooner than 172 years out - like, say, in time for the midterm elections.
posted by mosk at 12:52 PM on July 29, 2010


That would piss me off if we were done in by a plot device from one of the four worst movies in history.

Deep Impact?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:55 PM on July 29, 2010


Deep Impact?

Among others.
posted by zarq at 12:57 PM on July 29, 2010


At the same time, it's probably my favorite doomsday scenario.

No question. It would be--beyond the general incomprehensibility of death--unimaginably cool to see the Earth struck and its human habitability mortally wounded by an asteroid. Just fuckin-A rad.

Also, I know that the right thing to do in the event of a probable asteroid strike is to start an awesome doomsday sex cult, but I don't think I'd have the heart.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:59 PM on July 29, 2010


"Life will go on, we will prevail."
posted by Fizz at 1:01 PM on July 29, 2010


Kabloooieeeeee!
posted by infini at 1:03 PM on July 29, 2010


Thanks. This is a one-in-a-thousand shot and I and everyone I know will be long dead anyway, so the only impact this has on me is that now I have Yakety Sax in my head for the rest of the day.

and now, so do you.
posted by longsleeves at 1:03 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


All they need is to convince Congress they need $500 million and the international community to agree on which direction to go to push a hurtling asteroid off its path of fiery Earth annihilation.

According to one of the commentary tracks in the Criterion Collection edition of Armageddon (the one with the NASA consultant and asteroid consultant), this is precisely the reason why we will die. No one wants the responsibility of stepping up and then possibly informing the world that they tried at the expense of taxpayer money and failed.

Seriously, the guy mentions FEMA. When my husband and I heard that, we had to pause the DVD to find out when it came out. 1999.

Honestly, totally worth the $10 I spent getting this DVD and I only got it for that commentary thanks to this blog post from this previous MeFi thread.
posted by zix at 1:11 PM on July 29, 2010


(...) a plot device from one of the four worst movies in history.

Yeah, but this is in fact (almost certainly) a near miss which is a plot device from one of the four best movies in history.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:16 PM on July 29, 2010


I'm going to build domes over all 6 of Earth's cities, create 3 bases with anti-asteroid missiles and start training children to use trackballs.
posted by GuyZero


Uhhh. I think that skill set would serve them well at defeating ICBM's with upper atmosphere nuclear blast damage to the incoming warheads, but would be completely ineffective defending against asteroids. For that you want the kids to learn to pilot triangular spacecraft, and have a good grasp of Newtons three laws. Particularly the third.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Can't we just politely ask the asteroids not to hit us? Did we ever think of that? A peaceful solution? No, because the military-industrial complex is hellbent on selling anti-asteroid armaments and encouraging anti-asteroid prejudices among the nations of the world. This is just yet another example of Thantos addicted corporate propaganda winning over the masses in their bloodlust hunger for profit and destruction. Wake up people, asteroids are our friend and I among many will stand with arms outstretched to greet our asteroid friends once them come. We will tell them our ways, and they will tell us theirs. Until then, we must alert the asteroids of our presence, every morning I shout into a telescope that we are a peaceful race but that we are not yet ready. I shout into the telescope and tell them, do not come here yet, but once they come we will welcome them we will be ready to live in peace with them and they, with us.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:30 PM on July 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


The only good Bug asteroid is a dead Bug asteroid!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:37 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


For that you want the kids to learn to pilot triangular spacecraft, and have a good grasp of Newtons three laws. Particularly the third.

And God be with us all if you choose to hyperspace.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:38 PM on July 29, 2010


Hey hey hey, if we're freezing celebrities, why don't we start with Mel Gibson?

Hmm, an interesting idea, but we're going to have to fire him pretty hard at any asteroid to get it to deflect.

Still, worth a try.
posted by quin at 1:42 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there any way we can encourage the asteroid to hit us?
posted by swift at 1:48 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Keep broadcasting syndicated television.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:51 PM on July 29, 2010


Can we just freeze Bruce Willis and thaw him out in 172 years?

Nah, he'd just wander the streets blabbering incoherently about Cybill Shepherd, talking babies, a monkey army, killer viruses, dead people, ball gags, and Ashton Kutcher.
posted by prinado at 2:02 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


If trends continue, in 187 years the surface temperature of the planet will be about 40C, and that's if there isn't a total greenhouse runaway. By then, if we haven't all converted our souls to computronium or been eaten by grey goo or wiped out by an Ebola/HIV cross or been zapped by the reality-shattering instantiation of a Higgs boson or had some terrorist and/or insane person unleash a planet-busting bomb or been demolished for a hyperspace bypass, we'll either have total control of the environment, be living off world, or have just a few subterranean communities sustained by massive air-conditioning systems.

So, basically, I'm rooting for the asteroid.

Really I have no idea why I'm still writing software for telephones. I should just go buy a motorcycle and tour the world with whatever time we have left. This is bullshit.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:10 PM on July 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ironically the world ending events will be triggered by a missed call due to some buggy telephone software that was delivered late after the lead developer chucked it all and went for a motorcycle joy ride. Thanks a lot seanmpuckett.
posted by Babblesort at 2:28 PM on July 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm hoping the asteroid will bring, not destruction, but life-giving phytoplankton back to a dying world.

That, or space chocolate.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:42 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am honing my withering sarcasm. That should help some, at least.
posted by Danf at 2:44 PM on July 29, 2010


Really I have no idea why I'm still writing software for telephones.

WE NEED THE PHONES TO SAY GOODBYE. God bless you.
posted by longsleeves at 2:57 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Luckily, Phil Plait's new show on Discovery is going to tell us what to do.
posted by mahershalal at 3:26 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


dances_with_sneetches: "Can't we freeze Bruce Willis and thaw him out in two years? Just to mess with him."

Actually, Hollywood pretty much does that already.
posted by bwg at 4:29 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hereby re-favourite carsonb's previous comment on this matter.
posted by bwg at 4:36 PM on July 29, 2010


GuyZero: "I'm going to build domes over all 6 of Earth's cities, create 3 bases with anti-asteroid missiles and start training children to use trackballs."

Well, looks like we might have a movie for that scenario, too...
posted by symbioid at 4:49 PM on July 29, 2010


That, or space chocolate.

Don't eat the space chocolate.
posted by XMLicious at 6:37 PM on July 29, 2010


There's a Criterion Collection edition of Armageddon?

The bar has fallen onto the floor.

Surely, there have been better disaster movies made since 1998. Just about everything Emmerich has done has been garbage. Often elegant SFX, but garbage just the same when it comes to the writing chores.
posted by vhsiv at 6:38 PM on July 29, 2010


They don't tell you what the criterion for the collection is: they're presenting all of the films with budgets and years of release that end in the same number.
posted by XMLicious at 6:41 PM on July 29, 2010


CORRECTION: Armageddon was directed by Michael Bay, not Andre Emmerich, which makes the Criterion flattery even worse.
posted by vhsiv at 6:46 PM on July 29, 2010


With two centuries advance notice, will we be able to develop effective asteroid deflection techniques?

Sheesh, all we need to do is have everyone in China jump simultaneously. Now.

No, no, wait -- the other way!

Crap.
posted by dhartung at 7:35 PM on July 29, 2010


CORRECTION: Armageddon was directed by Michael Bay, not Andre Emmerich, which makes the Criterion flattery even worse.

Hence the title of the post.... :)
posted by zarq at 7:42 PM on July 29, 2010


The Criterion Armageddon was actually one of their earlier DVDs—it came out just a couple of months after the initial video release. (There was even a laserdisc version.)

Honestly, I don't think it's any more out of place than Ghostbusters, RoboCop or Tootsie—all of which predate it in the Collection.
posted by Lazlo at 8:04 PM on July 29, 2010


Two centuries (okay, plus a month and a half) is the length of time between "we suspect a planet might exist between Mars and Jupiter, but we've never seen it" and "we estimate a million kilometer-or-larger asteroids exist, and we just landed a probe on one." It will be sad if, in two more centuries, Earth-crossing asteroids are still a source of "how can we deflect this projectile" fear rather than "how easily can we capture and refine these resources" excitement.

Sort of like seeing a kid get thrown a soft ball, then instead of trying to catch it he flinches and throws his arms over his face...
posted by roystgnr at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2010


we estimate a million kilometer-or-larger asteroids exist ... how easily can we capture and refine these resources

Nickel and iron, though? Why would we want that, much less want to expend the energy to bring it down the gravity well? Nickel is a by-product of mining silver and a bunch of other metals, we have to figure out how to get rid of it like putting it in coins. And iron is the most abundant element in the Earth, fourth most in the Earth's crust according to Wikipedia; we aren't running out of it and we're using it in fewer applications all the time. I was looking at pultruded fiberglass concrete rebar the other day - never rusts! And lightweight enough to substantially lower shipping costs. ("Pultruded" means "made like a tube sock - without a seam", which I didn't know.)

Naw, what we want to do is set up gas mining facilities on Jupiter (which I realize involves overcoming some formidable technical problems) and get a fleet of Arcturan Mega-tankers shipping light sweet H₂ back here pronto, maybe even some of that exotic H₃﹢if it burns better (no idea, not a chemist) so we can just replace the tanks-and-pipelines petroleum distribution system with a slightly-upgraded hydrogen distribution system instead of the coal and nuclear power plants and crazy superconducting electrical grid with battery storage stations we would need for electric cars.
posted by XMLicious at 8:59 PM on July 29, 2010


Well, looks like we might have a movie for that scenario, too...

Even Baskin-Robbins doesn't have that many flavours of wrong.
posted by GuyZero at 9:09 PM on July 29, 2010


There's a Criterion Collection edition of Armageddon?

YES! It's right up there with the CC edition of The Rock in terms of awesomely important Shit Blows Up film making.

One important distinction to make between other DVD releases and the Criterion ed. of Armageddon is that the latter changed the title of the movie. Well... not the title, but the pronunciation: It's arrr-MEGA-don, you know, like a space pirate would say.
posted by carsonb at 9:31 PM on July 29, 2010


Color me unimpressed. Not only is this so far out in the future as to not matter to present-day Earthlings, a 1 in 1000 chance of impact is literally a 99.9% chance that this object will not impact Earth. This is all media sensationalism, nothing else.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:11 AM on July 30, 2010


It's arrr-MEGA-don, you know, like a space pirate would say.

Or, you know, what'd you call a TRANSFORMER.
posted by zix at 7:36 AM on July 30, 2010


After that Apophis thing, I think I'll wait 20 or 50 years until the prediction settles down a little to worry. No rush.
posted by Twang at 8:24 AM on July 30, 2010


If Neil deGrasse Tyson only taught me one thing, it's that gravity tractors are the answer to asteroids.
posted by garlic at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2010


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