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Introducing Asteroid 2004 MN4 633

Posted by michael
from the hopefully-you'll-hear-nothing-more-about-it dept.
Numerous readers wrote in with bits about a potential asteroid collision: "The recently discovered asteroid 2004 MN4 is currently listed as having a 1/233 chance of hitting the Earth. It is 420 m across and if it strikes the Earth it will release an energy of 1,900 Megatons of TNT (the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, Tsar Bomba had a yield of only 50 Megatons). It is also the only asteroid that currently has a Torino scale value of 2." So, in summary, there's a 1-in-233 chance of the worst disaster in recorded history happening on April 13, 2029, and a 232-in-233 chance of nothing happening. Have a nice day! Update: 12/24 22:14 GMT by M : The rock is now rated a 4 on the Torino scale, or a 1-in-62 chance of impact.
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Introducing Asteroid 2004 MN4

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  • by Castaa (458419) * on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:31PM (#11177037) Homepage Journal
    Not to alarm people further, but April 13, 2029 is also a Friday the 13th!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:32PM (#11177040)
    The Machines will have to worry about it.
    • by sessamoid (165542) * on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:10PM (#11177292)
      It sounds like we (or the machines) will need a huge bomb to alter its course. I propose that Ben Affleck and J-Lo make just one more movie together. Then we can launch that at the asteroid. I'm guessing it explodes with enough force to vaporize the asteroid completely.

      Gigli was almost enough to destroy the U.S. by itself. An asteroid should be no problem.

      • You plan to have Ben Affleck and J-Lo make another movie has been found out be the Galactic council of goodness.
        If such plan is continued with, you will be destroyed as an example to other civilizations.

        That is all.
        qngduor3kfgh
  • Lets start (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nemesis099 (60955) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:33PM (#11177047)
    Well its close enough time to start looting!
  • Maybe (Score:2, Funny)

    by b00tleg (603482)
    Hopefully Bruce Willis will still be around...
    • Re:Maybe (Score:2, Funny)

      by Samus (1382)
      He'll probably be president, so won't be available to save us.
    • Hey, even if he's not with us, we'll probably still have Ben Affleck!
  • by Richie1984 (841487) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:36PM (#11177068)
    I don't really think there's too much point in getting concerned just yet. There are many asteroids that we can't track until they've already passed us, so worrying about a 1 in roughly 300 chance of an asteroid hitting us in 30 years time isn't really a major problem yet. Personally, I'd like to see some sort of government funding for machinery to detect a greater number of asteroids which are potentially on a course for us. Otherwise, our fate is just in the hands of luck.
    • >Otherwise, our fate is just in the hands of luck.

      Just like the previous thousands of years?
      • Just like the previous thousands of years?

        Yes, but we're entering an age where we have, or will probably soon have, the technology to not only detect these threats, but also to destroy them. Just because it hasn't happened before in the course of recorded human history, doesn't mean we can be complacent.
    • Also, isn't this estimation based on the "perfect" scenario? Ie. No outside forces being exerted on the rock before it hits us? Even though 30 years is a drop in the universe's bucket in terms of time, there is a lot that could possibly alter the course.

      Oh, and Frankly, I welcome our new Rock Based over lords.
      • by ajs (35943)
        Even though 30 years is a drop in the universe's bucket in terms of time, there is a lot that could possibly alter the course.

        Other than human interference? No, not really. The chances of its running into some other body are probably far less than its running into the earth, and it's not like there's a lot of commuter traffic to get in the way. Space is rather empty -- pardon the cliché.
      • by m50d (797211)
        Any other forces are just as likely to redirect it away from us as towards us
    • by temojen (678985) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:02PM (#11177243) Journal
      If we start now, we have 24 years to figgure out how to deflect it's orbit. If it's not on a collision course after all, then we still have learned how to deflect a large asteroid.
    • I don't really think there's too much point in getting concerned just yet.

      In other words, you can expect the UN to start work on a treaty and the United States to refuse to sign it.

  • by Cytlid (95255) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:38PM (#11177075)
    ...maybe if we all lean to the left...
  • by Ralconte (599174) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:39PM (#11177088)
    Thanks for all the numbers, but using this page is more fun ... (no HTML, it's short enough to cut and paste)
    http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/impacteffects/
    • by Phrogman (80473) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:16PM (#11177322) Homepage
      Oh thats great fun. I calculated the results for a 1320m asteriod made of dense rock arriving at 17m/s on a 45 degree angle and impacting on land for someone standing 100km (62.5 miles) away:

      ----
      Your Inputs:
      Distance from Impact: 100.00 km = 62.10 miles
      Projectile Diameter: 1320.00 m = 4329.60 ft = 0.82 miles
      Projectile Density: 3000 kg/m3
      Impact Velocity: 17.00 km/s = 10.56 miles/s
      Impact Angle: 45 degrees
      Target Density: 2500 kg/m3
      Target Type: Sedimentary Rock

      Energy:
      Energy before atmospheric entry: 5.22 x 1020 Joules = 1.25 x 105 MegaTons TNT
      The average interval between impacts of this size somewhere on Earth during the last 4 billion years is 9.2 x 105years

      Major Global Changes:
      The Earth is not strongly disturbed by the impact and loses negligible mass.
      The impact does not make a noticeable change in the Earth's rotation period or the tilt of its axis.
      The impact does not shift the Earth's orbit noticeably.

      Crater Dimensions:
      What does this mean?

      Transient Crater Diameter: 13.1 km = 8.12 miles
      Transient Crater Depth: 4.63 km = 2.87 miles

      Final Crater Diameter: 18.4 km = 11.4 miles
      Final Crater Depth: 0.711 km = 0.441 miles

      The crater formed is a complex crater.
      The volume of the target melted or vaporized is 3.22 km3 = 0.772 miles3
      Roughly half the melt remains in the crater , where its average thickness is 24 meters = 78.6 feet

      Thermal Radiation:
      What does this mean?

      Time for maximum radiation: 0.95 seconds after impact

      Visible fireball radius: 15.2 km = 9.45 miles
      The fireball appears 34.6 times larger than the sun
      Thermal Exposure: 2.29 x 106 Joules/m2
      Duration of Irradiation: 20.8 seconds
      Radiant flux (relative to the sun): 110

      Effects of Thermal Radiation:

      Much of the body suffers second degree burns

      Deciduous trees ignite

      Seismic Effects:
      What does this mean?

      The major seismic shaking will arrive at approximately 20 seconds.
      Richter Scale Magnitude: 8.0
      Mercalli Scale Intensity at a distance of 100 km:

      VII. Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken.

      VIII. Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable damage in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly built structures. Fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy furniture overturned.

      Ejecta:
      What does this mean?

      The ejecta will arrive approximately 144 seconds after the impact.
      Average Ejecta Thickness: 26.1 cm = 10.3 inches
      Mean Fragment Diameter: 11.8 cm = 4.65 inches

      Air Blast:
      What does this mean?

      The air blast will arrive at approximately 303 seconds.
      Peak Overpressure: 157000 Pa = 1.57 bars = 22.3 psi
      Max wind velocity: 242 m/s = 540 mph
      Sound Intensity: 104 dB (May cause ear pain)
      Damage Description:

      Multistory wall-bearing buildings will collapse.

      Wood frame buildings will almost completely collapse.

      Highway truss bridges will collapse.

      Glass windows will shatter.

      Up to 90 percent of trees blown down; remainder stripped of branches and leaves.
      • Asteroid 2004 MN4 is a 440m diameter, ~3500kg/m^3 (unless I've got my maths wrong), 12.59km/s impact velocity asteroid. Impacting on a 45? angle on a continental shelf, at 100km away buildings would shake, glass windows would shatter, chimneys shanty towns would collapse, ejecta would arrive in scattered fragments.

        At 10km away, everything gets blown up by the earthquake, ejecta and blast wave. So, if it DOES hit, you'll probably be ok unless you happen to live close to the impact site.
      • by brassman (112558) on Friday December 24, 2004 @09:16PM (#11179185) Homepage
        I ran the calculation at the same site, but using the size of the one we're supposedly talking about, porous rock instead of dense rock or iron, and I dropped it into the mid-Atlantic, the earth being 74% covered by water after all.

        It broke up, there was no fireball, and I could make more impact overpressure (I chose to be 1,800 km from the impact site) by clapping my hands real hard.

        Then again, an impact like "mine" happens every 4,000 years or so.

      • too fast (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geekoid (135745)
        "Impact Velocity: 17.00 km/s = 10.56 miles/s"

        from the JPL link:

        Vimpact 12.59 km/s

  • by Castaa (458419) * on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:40PM (#11177097) Homepage Journal
    To put these odds in terms us slashdotters will understand, the odds that this asteroid will hit earth are better than the odds of rolling a '20' with a twenty-sided die 2 times in a row.
  • We have to wait 24 years ... damn I'll be 54 !!
    • And I'll be 55. That's the perfect age for a giant humanity-ending disaster. It's all downhill after that, so why not go out with a bang? Personally, I'm hoping it hits! Now where are those cigarettes?
  • Not a Chance! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 6800 (643075)
    Nothing happens by chance. Chance is simply a statiscal tool to rate probability of things observable. If you disagree, please explain to me by what power comes chances causation?
    • Nothing happens by chance. Chance is simply a statiscal tool to rate probability of things observable. If you disagree, please explain to me by what power comes chances causation?

      Um, none? Having quantum effects is quite enough.

      That won't preclude causation in the normal sense for macroscopic objects, of course.
    • And if you RTFA, you'd realize that no one is saying that chance will determine whether the rock slams into the planet or not.

      They're saying that based on the current data they have, they've plotted out the 'cloud of possible locations' as the object passes by the earth, and some percentage of them (1 in 300) involves a direct collision with the third rock.

      What's even funnier about this is the article [cnn.com] at CNN.com about this (go ahead, I'll wait):

      "This is not a problem for anyone and it shouldn't be a conc

    • Nothing happens by chance. Chance is simply a statiscal tool
      OK, then you go and analyze all the forces acting on the asteroid, and every other piece of dust it interacts with on its orbit, then we'll ditch probabilities.

      In the mean time, probability/chance provides an estimate when not all inputs can be considered.
  • by jabex (320163) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:41PM (#11177111) Homepage
    Well, John Young (from a previous story about the risks of being a single planet species) is going to have a field day with this.
    http://space.balettie.com/Young.html [balettie.com]

    Guess it's time to update those "how likely we are to die" stats.

    Although maybe not, considering this isn't of the 1km and above weight class.
  • by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:43PM (#11177120) Journal
    Any moment now, Michael will be receiving a request/subpoena from Apple legal, asking him to divulge the identities of the "numerous readers" that leaked this highly confidential information about "Asteroid".
  • by spywarearcata.com (841806) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:46PM (#11177143)
    Clearly we need to start now to develop deep habitable mines to ensure the survival of our way of life. We must carefully select a few hundred thousand of those who should be protected at all costs.

    A special committee would have to be appointed to study and recommend the criteria to be employed, but off-hand, I should say that in addition to the factors of youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross-section of necessary skills, it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included, to impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.

    Naturally, they would breed prodigiously. There would be much time and little to do. With the proper breeding techniques, and starting with a ratio of, say, ten women to each man, I should estimate the progeny of the original group of 200,000 would emerge a hundred years later as well over a hundred million. Naturally the group would have to continually engage in enlarging the original living space.
    • Muffley: But look here doctor, wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

      Strangelove: No sir... [right arm rolls his wheelchair backwards.] Excuse me. [struggles with wayward right arm, ultimately subduing it with a beating from his left.] Also when... when they go down into the mine everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be ne of nostalgia for those left b
    • by node 3 (115640) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:07PM (#11177270)
      Well now what happened is, one of the asteroids, it had a sort of, well it went a little funny in the head. You know. Just a little... funny. And uh, it went and did a silly thing. Well, I'll tell you what it did, it took a trajectory... to hit the planet. Well let me finish, Dimitri...
    • At least give the reference: this is from Dr. Strangelove [wikipedia.org]. I guess space is today's nuclear war?

    • Despite the humorous tone (regardless, you were modded Humorous), this is a good idea at its core. Humanity has made NO preparations to survive a Chixculub-sized event. Picking out 1 million people from the world's 6100 million, and then making some preparations to move all those people quickly to secured sites, is a better move for preserving the Human race than just doing nothing. The sites could be put to dual-usage to not waste resources (since they could be otherwise sitting unused but maintained, f
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:51PM (#11177536)
      Actually I think this is a great idea. Here's what we do:

      1) Tell the White House that an asteroid may hit the earth imminently. Ask them to produce a list of everyone who's survival is essential to the future of mankind.

      2) Build a giant cave/fallout shelter for them.

      3) Announce that the asteroid is about to hit.

      4) When everyone on the list is in...seal the door.

    • way of life? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DreadSpoon (653424)
      How will putting people in deep habitable mines protect our "way of life" ?

      Last I checked, my way of life definitely does *not* include deep habitable mines. It doesn't even have any shallow habitable mines. I can't remember any kind of mine, actually. Pretty mine-free over here.
  • uhm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dorothy 86 (677356)
    anyone else notice how many times they made sure to say it was not of public concern?

    /me puts on tinfoil hat

    a 1/233 chance of it hitting earth sounds like fairly good odds to me, considering odds of other asteroids... I want to be concerend for another 24 (close enough) years...

  • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:47PM (#11177145) Homepage Journal
    what a relief at least we wont have to go thru the year of "the end of unix time".
  • That's the day I was going to retire.
    Stupid, stupid asteroid.
  • Call Bruce Willis and tell him to start the preparations.
    Seriously tough 1/233 chances should not be too much of a concern right now. As we monitor this object we as it gets closer we should get a better idea of the chances and in 30 years we will have new technology to hopefully deflect this thing...Happy Holidays Slashdot by the way :)
  • Darwin Awards, 2029 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by node 3 (115640) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:50PM (#11177165)
    Yes! I now have a 1/233 chance of predicting the Darwin Awards for 2029.

    You see, the smart will evacuate the target impact area, and the "Award Winners" will flock to the area for the event.

    Damn, I just hope *I* can resist going... after all, it *will* be an impressive show. We're talking 1.9 gigatons!
  • The important thing about this asteroid is value as construction material. It should be possible to mine it for everything from raw reaction mass to oxygen to space habitat construction materials [aol.com].

    It is a lot better than lunar materials because of the low gravity hold on its own mass. It is also a lot better than asteroidal belt material because of the short round-trip times possible, which goes straight to the bottom line in terms of rate of return.

    • For once, total consumption of a non-renewable resource will be a *good* thing ...
      • For once, total consumption of a non-renewable resource will be a *good* thing ...

        And it won't be the only time. From the Disperse Life [geocities.com] scenario:

        Earth Shield

        Before growing far toward being heliocentric, the first biorb will need to begin the defense of Earth against celestial attacks.

        Kinetic energy asteroidal weapons are the most likely technology to represent the greatest threat to Earth as a result of the growing solar biorb. Once asteroid mining begins in earnest, as it will once life becomes h

  • You know they ALWAYS make it sound less probably to avoid widespread panic.... damnit, I wonder if my iPod will survive the apocolypse?
  • If you look at the animation, it shows the one possible earth hit position, but to me, it looks like 2 or 3 of those very near earth positions have the potential to hit the moon (then factor a gravitational swing around the earth...)

    Pool anybody? Off the moon, bank off North America, left ocean!

  • by cmburns69 (169686) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:55PM (#11177205) Homepage Journal
    "This is not a problem for anyone and it shouldn't be a concern to anyone, but whenever we post one of these things and ... somebody gets ahold of it, it just gets crazy" ...From the CNN version [cnn.com]

    Along with the obligatory Simpsons quote..

    Kent Brockman: Professor, without knowing precisely what the danger is, would you say it's time for our viewers to crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo inside?
    Professor: Yes I would, Kent.
  • welcome our 1900 megaton overlords.....

  • China, where asteroids are always positive
  • Ever Wonder... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arakon (97351) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:06PM (#11177260) Homepage
    about where and how they come up with these 'odds'?

    Would this be one of those instances of '95% of all statistics are made up'?

    I mean, it seeams if he could get a somewhat reasonable graps at the trajectory and distance of the asteroid thy could get a fair guess about probability of impact and location of impact, but how do they arbitrarily convert a guess into a number ratio?

    I guess I'd just like to see the math on how they come up with these numbers.

    • Re:Ever Wonder... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jerf (17166) on Friday December 24, 2004 @03:18PM (#11177676) Journal
      I guess I'd just like to see the math on how they come up with these numbers.

      Nobody's stopping you; it's not a secret. Go get it.

      But get ready for some heavy lifting; as you dig into it you'll very quickly realize why they didn't try to put any in a popular news article.

      I'm not too up on it myself but you can start with phase spaces [wolfram.com], I think, though that hardly touches the real fun, which is the probabilistic aspect of determining the path of an object through all of the influences of the solar system... while I'm not up on the details I do know they don't use naive formulations of that problem, they've got some powerful and brain-bending tricks to prevent the estimate from diffusing too quickly.
  • The problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eclectro (227083) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:08PM (#11177277)

    The problem is that there are at least 232 OTHER asteroids that have only a 1/233 chance of hitting earth.
    • Re:The problem (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vaevictis666 (680137)
      Bah, given that they are independant, and each has a 232/233 chance of missing earth, that gives a (232/233)^233 or 36.7% chance of all of them missing.
  • 1 in 233 is 0.004 and some change. That's a .4% chance of us getting hit.

    Honestly, if that was in the post's title would any of us be reading this right now?
  • Merry Christmas from Slashdot. Don't forget to check your bed for horse heads in the morning!
  • Taking a contrary view, a strike (in an unpopulated area!) could be the best thing possible.

    The media has focused exclusively on major strikes, but they're so rare that no politican or bureaucrat can spend serious money studying them without ridicule.

    What's forgotten are the far smaller - and far more frequent - minor strikes. Think about strikes that happen once every 5000 years or so. No government will take a serious look at an event that happens once every 5000 years... unless it causes significant
  • Bruce Willis - aka: "Harry S. Stamper" in "Armageddon", and "Corben Dallas" in "The Fifth Element" - The man who defeated a world ending asteroid by blowing it up in space, and the man who defeated a huge ball of ultimate evil from colliding with the earth and taking over the universe... will be 74 in 2029.
    [TOO OLD]

    Mark Hamil - aka: "Luke Skywalker" - One of the people responsible for defeating the evil emperor and destroying not one but TWO death stars... will be 78 years old in 2029
    [TOO MARK HAMIL--I mea
  • by mnmn (145599) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:33PM (#11177404) Homepage
    Which part of the earth will it hit anyway. I dont think it will directly affect the whole world, beside the atmospheric affects, which can be dealt with, as opposed to dealing with the asteroid directly.. for example starting growing mushrooms...

    I'd wanna emigrate to the country directly opposite of the impact, start a business and buy farms (critical for survival). Also important will be buying of important real estate, for example if its hitting the oceans, buy higher land areas in Bangladesh and start building apartments. Heck just buy the land, let others build apartments close to doomsday.

    Shares of companies researching food sources that do not require sunlight, or low light will jump...
  • by mikeophile (647318) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:35PM (#11177414)
    Use the info from this [nasa.gov] site over here [arizona.edu] to make your own doomsday scenario with this chunk of happy fun rock.
  • by danshapiro (529921) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:52PM (#11177539) Homepage
    We are clearly capable of tracking things through space with very, very low margins of error. For example, we predict the trajectories of space probes through space decades in advance with very tiny margins of error.

    Now, I realize that it's one thing to track an object from earth, and another to track something that's a light year or farther away. But it would still appear to be a straightforward task: get enough pictures that you can tell where it is and where it's going, and interpolate.

    So what's the bottleneck here? Poor imaging? Not enough photos? Bad angles? Something else?

    • We are clearly capable of tracking things through space with very, very low margins of error.

      To know where something is now doesn't mean you can predict where it will be in the future. Not within a "space is big" margin of error.

      So what's the bottleneck here?

      The very thing that makes it want to hit us: gravity. That is, the Three-Body Problem [wolfram.com], an 3 is at the lower end of influences that come into play over the next 25 years.

    • by at_18 (224304) on Friday December 24, 2004 @04:02PM (#11177916) Journal
      So what's the bottleneck here? Poor imaging?

      Yes. The image on the telescope is not a theoretical point, but has a certain diameter depending on the telescope diameter, atmospheric distortion, ccd resolution, etc. So you cannot pinpoint the asteroid position precisely, but only give a bounding box.

      Combining multiple observations will give you more data, and you can start narrowing down the estimate. Right now the error on the position, projected to year 2029, is about 200 times bigger than the diameter of Earth, so we say that there's a 1/200 probability of impact. A planet is a very tiny target.

      When the precision is sufficient to say that, for example, the asteroid will pass by the left side, it will suddenly drop to zero. If it is actually going to impact the Earth, the probability will slowly going up until it will reach 1.

  • I don't know about anybody else but I've missed the impending doom and sense of anticipation since we've missed all our other dates at an apocalypse. The various dooms from the Millenium were very entertaining. Now I have another date to circle on the calendar. Yeah.
  • by LittleGuy (267282) * on Friday December 24, 2004 @03:06PM (#11177615)
    So, in summary, there's a 1-in-233 chance of the worst disaster in recorded history happening on April 13, 2029, and a 232-in-233 chance of nothing happening. Have a nice day!

    I'll be on the moon, gesturing, "Missed it by *that* much...."
  • by genixia (220387) on Friday December 24, 2004 @03:08PM (#11177626)
    From the NASA page linked...

    Impact Probability

    The probability that the tabulated impact will occur. The probability computation is complex and depends on a number of assumptions that are difficult to verify. For these reasons the stated probability can easily be inaccurate by a factor of a few, and occasionally by a factor of ten or more.


    So the odds of disaster could be as high as 1 in 23. Fortunately they could also be as low as 1 in 2320.

    Along those lines, the estimated mass could be out by a factor of three too. And the size by a factor of 2.
  • by mc6809e (214243) on Friday December 24, 2004 @03:16PM (#11177672)
    Am I seeing this [nasa.gov] right?

    It looks like it's up to a 4, now.
  • torino is now at 4 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Johnny Mnemonic (176043) <mdinsmore@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Friday December 24, 2004 @04:12PM (#11177965) Homepage Journal
    The Torino scale for this impact is now rated [nasa.gov] as a "4"--about 1% chance of hitting us, an upgrade from previous estimations. Still not likely, but now more likely.
  • Capture? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rob Carr (780861) on Friday December 24, 2004 @06:39PM (#11178596) Homepage Journal
    I wonder what kind of asteroid this is. If it's not a pile of rubble and if it's high in metals, it might actually be worth manuvering it into Earth orbit. The bulk of it would provide shelter during solar storms, with mines providing both living space and manufacturing materials. Even non-metalics would be useful - there's got to be some way to use them as reaction mass.

    Now, there would be some problems. First, as you change the orbit, there's the chance that you'll chage the target country from Outer Bleen to Inner Bleen, upsetting the inhabitants. Then, as you manuver the rock, you're going to probably annoy someone else. The ability to direct such a rock would constitute a "weapon of mass destruction."

    I'm guessing positioning the thing for "aerobraking" in the Earth's atmosphere would make some folks nervous, too.

    Ok, so this wouldn't be a project where you'd want to mix up your feet and meters or have someone say "oopsie!"

    The shame is, humans don't have the brains or organization to take advantage of this opportunity. If this hunk of space junk is going to hit the Earth, I'm not sure we will move it in time. We certainly can move it. I just don't think we'll get our act together.

    I wonder who'll be the first to suggest that an impact will be a good thing since the dust may greatly reduce global warming?

  • by ikluft (1284) <ik-slash.thunder@sbay@org> on Saturday December 25, 2004 @03:54AM (#11180178) Homepage
    One thing seems odd about this to me... If a 420m-wide asteroid is in an orbit that crosses Earth's orbit twice a year, ranging from near Venus' orbit at perigee to just past Earth's at apogee, why wasn't 2004 MN4 noticed by astronomers at least 20-30 years ago?

    Does anyone remember the concern in Sept 2002 when an object dubbed "J002E3" was initially believed to be an Earth-crossing asteroid or previously-unknown moon was discovered? [ref: Slashdot [slashdot.org], Planetary Society [planetary.org], CNN [cnn.com]] It turned out to be the Apollo 12 3rd stage rocket body. The mistake was made because an object as bright as it was, if as reflective as a rock, would have been huge. But it wasn't a dark rock - it was a shiny metal cylinder. It had been re-captured into Earth orbit after decades in solar orbit.

    Probably every lunar probe and manned mission has sent a rocket booster into solar orbit as space junk. While probabilities of a 2004 MN4 collision in the future are computed, astronomers with the proper data should also try to project it back to see where it was during the Apollo era. Check if it may have come from Earth.

    Actually, I'm pretty sure astronomers are already projecting 2004 MN4's orbit back in time to see if there were any other observations of the object before. So this is something else for them to check.

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