Not a dinosaur-killer, OK?
July 27, 2019 12:12 PM   Subscribe

A barely-detected asteroid just buzzed the Earth. First glimpsed by Brazil's SONEAR Observatory just before it arrived, 2019 OK (JPL, Wikipedia, The Sky Live) raced by "at a speed of nearly 55,000 miles (88,500 kilometers) per hour. The closest it came to Earth was just under 45,000 miles (72,500 km), a safe distance, but still much less than the distance between the Earth and Moon."

Its size is "between 187 and 426 feet (57 to 130 m)," so it's smaller than the rock that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Maybe it was a city-killer. Maybe the thing is a goad to keep exploring space. Or maybe we shouldn't get too freaked out about it.

Asteroid and asteroids, previously.
posted by doctornemo (42 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is why we need a quality space program. We need to develop a ship -- once it's in space it won't have to be fancy, maybe mostly just a triangle -- that we can have someone in which can fly around and shoot these things out of space. Like, just watching for them to come near and then shoot them. And if shooting them leaves big pieces, then shooting those too, until they're all gone.
posted by hippybear at 12:17 PM on July 27, 2019 [98 favorites]


So somewhere in the universe something took those giant meteor 2020 jokes a little too seriously.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:26 PM on July 27, 2019 [12 favorites]


So that's what woke me up this morning at 7:22 AM MST!
posted by kozad at 12:30 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


We need to develop a ship -- once it's in space it won't have to be fancy, maybe mostly just a triangle -- that we can have someone in which can fly around and shoot these things out of space.

The 1980-1982 me would like to submit a resume...
posted by darkstar at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


People! We have got to get more accurate in our asteroid summoning spells!
posted by The Whelk at 12:39 PM on July 27, 2019 [8 favorites]


hippybear: "once it's in space it won't have to be fancy, maybe mostly just a triangle -- that we can have someone in which can fly around and shoot these things out of space"

so you're saying the dinosaurs died because they ran out of quarters? or was it because T. Rex's arms were too short to hit the hyperspace button?
posted by chavenet at 12:46 PM on July 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


So somewhere in the universe something took those giant meteor 2020 jokes

Jokes?
posted by jzb at 12:48 PM on July 27, 2019 [15 favorites]


This was just an advance team for the Giant Meteor 2020 campaign.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:50 PM on July 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


Some folks know, why do you think SpaceX and bezos are building their own rockets?
posted by sammyo at 12:54 PM on July 27, 2019


If we shoot down the asteroids, they'll just send hexagons.
posted by delfin at 1:07 PM on July 27, 2019 [11 favorites]


45k miles is just about twice that of geostationary satellite orbits, which is really uncomfortably close for an object that size.

You know what would be really fun? If we hit a thick meteor shower or debris field and it busted up a few too many satellites and kicked off a Kessler Syndrome event and chain reaction.

While I have my dark futurist hat on, if we did have a city-busting event with an asteroid strike, what are the chances that it might trigger war? Either as a knee-jerk reaction or an excuse to instigate one, or even just instability? A large strike in the wrong place could conceivably behead or destabilize two opposing superpower countries. I bet there's already a RAND Corp study on this one locked away somewhere.

Anyway, yeah, vote Giant Meteor and Butt Stuff 2020!
posted by loquacious at 1:10 PM on July 27, 2019 [11 favorites]


Not a dinosaur-killer, OK?
No, just something that could turn a fairly large city to rubbish. Whew, that's a relief!

Then again, I'm in camp “shouldn't get too freaked out about it“ because unlike the movies, it'll probably go unnoticed until impact.
posted by farlukar at 1:23 PM on July 27, 2019


People! We have got to get more accurate in our asteroid summoning spells!

Please note that this is just a joke. No one should attempt to cast Meteor without the proper training. The effort has brought down even experienced mages.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


it won't have to be fancy, maybe mostly just a triangle -- that we can have someone in which can fly around and shoot these things out of space.

Well, you need some sort of teleporting capability, to get out of trouble, which seems pretty fancy to me
posted by thelonius at 1:44 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Here's news of a smaller one landing in India this week.
posted by biffa at 1:45 PM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Melancholia made it look so easy to attract a planet-killer with only the power of your own depression
posted by Rust Moranis at 1:55 PM on July 27, 2019 [10 favorites]


Let me get this straight, the Brazilian observatory looking for asteroids getting too close is called SO NEAR?
posted by Eleven at 2:03 PM on July 27, 2019 [10 favorites]


everyone please sign my change.org petition to have the asteroid try again
posted by poffin boffin at 2:04 PM on July 27, 2019 [29 favorites]


Anything that turns a large city to rubbish is going to throw the climate into a tailspin through high altitude dust and/or water vapour. It's probably not the giant tsunami or state-wide firestorm that will kill you, it's the terminal greenhouse effect.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:26 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


While I have my dark futurist hat on, if we did have a city-busting event with an asteroid strike, what are the chances that it might trigger war?

I had a very interesting airport bar conversation once with a think-tank person, who argued that one of the dangers of nuclear cruise missiles--as opposed to ballistic ones--is that the cruise missiles don't have a distinctive infrared launch/boost signature that can be detected by satellites, and that this could cause natural phenomena to be mistakenly attributed to an attack, which would necessitate a decision on whether to launch in response. Because you'd have one fewer feature to use to confirm an attack as opposed to, say, a volcanic eruption, earthquake, communications failure, or, I suppose, asteroid/meteor impact, it makes everything just that much more dangerous.

It was interesting food for thought.

He was focused on US/USSR stuff, where both sides have (I presume) about equivalent early-warning capabilities. I'm not sure how the strategic mutually-assured-destruction balance of, say, India/Pakistan would deal with an unanticipated meteor strike in Kashmir or something. Probably not well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:38 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm less worried about an asteroid strike, and I'm more worried about an asteroid strike being interpreted as a nuclear strike by a country with nuclear retaliatory capability. We just don't have the command and control procedures in place in the US that are needed to defend against an idiot in charge.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:42 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think the people who keep making giant meteor jokes are tedious, not-funny assholes.
posted by Reverend John at 3:04 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Giant Meteor and Butt Stuff 2020!

I was really skeptical of the Giant Meteor campaign, but with Butt Stuff on the bottom (heh) of the ticket, I'm in (heh)!
posted by 256 at 3:37 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


As I understand it, a big impact would have the opposite of a greenhouse effect and be strongly cooling — a so called impact winter.

Which makes a big strike a potential one shot geoengineering solution to Global Warming.

There would be terrible short and long term consequences for Northern and far Southern countries, and bad short term consequences for everybody else, but it could save the very habitability of countries in the tropics.

I can imagine India, for example, with its burgeoning space program, saying to hell with Europe, the US, Russia, and Canada, and deciding to nudge an asteroid into a strike on a remote part of the Sahara.

It would have to be planned and executed in secret though, and they'd only get one shot, because as soon as Russia, the US and China realized what was going on, India's space program would be obliterated.
posted by jamjam at 3:58 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


A large strike in the wrong place could conceivably behead or destabilize two opposing superpower countries.

Even a relatively modest strike at the wrong/right place could be devastating; even if it didn't kill anyone directly. Say this rock took out the Old River Control Structure.
posted by Mitheral at 4:23 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


But if all the space capable countries got together and produced a series of smaller impacts, waiting between each one to see what happened, maybe we could mitigate global warming in the long term.
posted by jamjam at 4:31 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


We don't even understand climate sufficiently to know what the localised effects of global warming are going to be. There's no way we can know enough to say what the localised effects of global warming moderated by meteoric dust would be like.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:56 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I hate the idea of geoengineering, but we are on track to a situation where it will be the only option left. So I would like to see more science and some small-scale pilot projects aimed at reducing albedo--and because we know that isn't enough--reducing ocean acidification. Not an ideal solution by any means but one we need to be prepared for.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:22 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that's true, Joe in Australia, we are beginning to know quite a lot about effects of previous strikes by looking at contemporary mineral and carbon layers in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, thicknesses of fossilized annual tree rings from around the world, thicknesses and composition of layers of mud at the bottoms of lakes around the world, redistribution of sensitive species in the fossil record around the world in the immediate aftermath of strikes, and etc.
posted by jamjam at 5:53 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


And we need to clone Steve Buscemi. Not just for his asteroid destroying skills but for future Coen Brothers movies.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:23 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


"Nudge an asteroid into slamming into the earth" as a solution to rising global temperatures actually seems even less realistic than "end capitalism".

I mean what happens when the dust settles, so to speak? We'll still have all the same polluters and terrible policies as before. Are we really so married to capitalism that we would sooner take seriously the idea of orchestrating an asteroid impact than even consider a new economic model?
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 6:32 PM on July 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


"Nudge an asteroid into slamming into the earth" as a solution to rising global temperatures actually seems even less realistic than "end capitalism".

"It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism"
posted by Rust Moranis at 6:46 PM on July 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


Are we really so married to capitalism that we would sooner take seriously the idea of orchestrating an asteroid impact than even consider a new economic model?

Is there evidence to the contrary?
posted by sjswitzer at 6:48 PM on July 27, 2019


Well, actually, I take that back. People say "capitalism" but they mean something else. (The secret sauce of capitalism is that it uses the idea of fair play to defend unjust power ratchets.) But in any case, yeah, people today do find it hard to imagine an alternative.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:54 PM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Are we really so married to capitalism that we would sooner take seriously the idea of orchestrating an asteroid impact than even consider a new economic model?

Yes. And orchestrating an asteroid impact would be literally easier. It's a tractable problem. It's probably an Apollo program level of effort, but it's certainly not unimaginable. The way such a program would be structured and executed is a straightforward extrapolation from things already done. It requires no major changes or discontinuities to the global power structure. The number of people you'd need to convince that it's a good idea probably numbers in the hundreds, and the number of people required to execute would probably be in the thousands or tens of thousands. As a percentage of global population, it's probably way less involved than building the Great Wall.

I can easily imagine projects like induced asteroid impacts or volcanoes, weather modification by dragging icebergs into the tropics, microreflector clouds at Lagrange points, or stratospheric sulfur dioxide spraying. Which isn't to say that any of them would necessarily be a good idea, but they don't exactly beggar the imagination in terms of organization or execution. Humans are pretty good at executing large projects via top-down hierarchical organizations, delegation of authority, chains of command, etc.

There's a certain shortage of blueprints for wholesale, more or less instantaneous replacement of the global economic order, and some of what does exist, that might be extrapolated from... is bloody enough that the asteroid starts to look like a pleasant alternative.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:44 PM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


[We can probably move on from capitalism vs. asteroid!]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:49 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


I am in the, " they don't travel alone camp." I think larger sized chunks have fellow travelers that might get picked off by gravity, and they might not be conveniently small.
Rice paddy strike a few days ago.
posted by Oyéah at 7:55 PM on July 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


I had a asteroid mining SF thinktank (fantasy). Once we find the ice asteroid and are able to have cheap reaction mass refilling stations in low earth orbit, it allows trips to Mars in weeks rather than months, changes everything. But it's as huge as imagined there's a lot of extra water in orbit for marginal cost of free, then why not craft a reentry orbit that places millions of liters in a large new lake in the middle of the Sahara?
posted by sammyo at 8:05 PM on July 27, 2019


These "closer than the moon" ones are the ones which really strike me (pardon the expression).

A little while back Something/Nothing threw up and out all of Creation, since when Everything's been pinging round like some multi-multi-multiball on a cosmic pinball table that's expanding forever. A universe-wide, zero-player game where Nobody missed out on up to 7 Billion Points by one of the closest of margins.

Am seriously hepped up on dodging galactic goofballs right now.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 8:11 PM on July 27, 2019


Am seriously hepped up on dodging galactic goofballs right now.

It's, like... physics, man. Physics made my hand. This hand right here. Physics.
posted by hippybear at 8:15 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


why has the giant meteor forsaken us
posted by entropicamericana at 8:02 AM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


You will never hear the sound of that one hand clapping.
posted by Oyéah at 1:31 PM on July 28, 2019


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