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2004 MN4, Even Higher Probability 524

Posted by timothy
from the keep-your-will-in-order dept.
phreakuencies writes "Worried since the recent post about the MN4 2004 asteroid, I added a bookmark to its 'impact risk' section at NASA. The asteroid started as having a 1/233 probability of hitting earth. Later it raised to 1/63. Daily computations made on 25 Dec raised its chances up to 1/45. Optimists can now say it has a 97.8% probability of missing earth." And Veteran writes " NeoDys offers the 'Orbfit' software package (source code released under the GPL) which can be used to get a pre-release view of the situation with Asteroid 2004MN4."
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2004 MN4, Even Higher Probability

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  • amazing. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Roachgod (589171) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @06:34PM (#11182201)
    Watch how all the end of the world loonies start going crazy and selling all their stuff. Anyone looking to get into the real estate market? Now is the time! first post?
  • by DumbSwede (521261) <> on Saturday December 25, 2004 @06:49PM (#11182268) Journal
    I have to confess I have been googling on this matter the last 24 hours and am surprised by how many news sites picked up on the 1/233 1/300 chance when at 2 on the Torino scale, but a full day later, no major news sites are mentioning the move to a 4 (currently a 1/45 chance).

    I don't see a conspiracy here, and do think we will be missed, but given how much they hyped previous possible events with less statistical support it is curious they aren't doing follow ups. Could just be that it's Christmas, and things in the science departments are on autopilot.

    If this thing stays greater than 1/100 by Monday, expect the papers and television to start picking up on it again. There was a close encounter today with 2004-vw14 (something like 5 lunar orbit distance), and the kooks where on the net prophesizing doom (even though it wasn't all that big a rock). It may take some years to really get a bead on where this thing is going, likely going up and down in probability.

    Expect no fewer than a dozen Death-Cults if it stays in double-digit probabilities. Do the Darwin Awards cover Death-Cults?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 25, 2004 @06:55PM (#11182294)
    Incoming asteroids are not really much of a problem. There are, at least, 2 solutions. One is to load a Delta 4 rocket with gallons of white paint and then to smash the rocket into the asteroid. The newly painted asteroid will change course ever so slightly as the sun's rays will nudge it away from the earth.

    The second solution is to load a hydrogen bomb onto a Delta 4 rocket and to send the contraption to the asteroid. Within a mile from impact, explode the hydrogen bomb. The explosion will nudge the asteroid slightly and send it in a direction that avoids earth.

    The catch here is that if we utilize a hydrogren bomb in this way, we must quickly replace it. The Chinese military is eagerly looking for any weakness in our conventional or nuclear arsenal and would use such a weakness to exploit us [].

  • Re:Exciting! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MeanSolutions (218078) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @07:08PM (#11182343)
    Yeah, you're sick. :)

    Joke aside, if they ramp up the risk of this thing hitting earth to one in five, and hype up the devastation it will make, perhaps it will shake people into action to oust all bad governments once the thing misses?

  • by TLLOTS (827806) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @07:15PM (#11182360)
    ...but I sort of hope it is found to have a much, much higher likelyhood of hitting earth, so much so that's it's almost certain to occur.

    Why? Simply because it would post such a great challenge for humankind. It could well bring much greater cooperation between countries, cooperation of a level presently unheard of.

    Certainly, I'm not hoping it actually strikes earth, merely that people work together in order to stop it.

    Just be glad that Bush won't be the president at the time. If it did hit, in US soil no less, then he'd start pouring billions per month into NASA for the development of spacecraft to fight the alien 'terrorists' who threw that asteroid at America.
  • by Zocalo (252965) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @07:20PM (#11182388) Homepage
    Talking of the Torino scale, does anyone have any idea at what percentage probablility of impact it would move up to the orange (threatening) section of the scale? As far as I can tell, both the orange and red (impact!) sections are based more on the predicted amount of damage rather than likelihood of a collision, so I'm guessing it's pretty high. Also, assuming that the estimated size and consistency of the object don't change, it looks like an object would not be given two separate orange or red scores. If that's the case then I'm guessing that if MN4 is going to hit us it'll go to five, then eight based on a play with the damage predictor.

    In any case, we have 24 years and it's not *that* big. Plenty of time to nudge it off course with some of those surplus nukes we have lying around if it is going to hit...

  • by ArcticCelt (660351) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @07:30PM (#11182427)
    Let's say for a moment it is confirmed that the thing will hit. Then we will have to determine where its going to hit. We know that damages will only be localized so if it is calculated that the asteroid will fall on an area populated by not so industrialized countries I am really curious how the world will react.

    Do powerful countries will prefer to do nothing to avert making a mistake that could possibly send the asteroid on their head?

    What could possibly do a small country in africa if nobody wants to help them?

  • by Zocalo (252965) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @07:57PM (#11182524) Homepage
    Or another possibility: what if it turns out that an impact will be on an industrialised country "Gog", sufficiently far from a political/economic rival "Magog" to offer no real threat to "Magog"? Would Magog dare to offer less than 100% of what it can offer to preventing the disaster, either publically or otherwise?

    To get a clue as to the answers, look at the recent devastating earthquakes in Iran - even though Iran was on his "Axis of Evil", Bush was offering aid almost immediately. Sure, besides the humanitarian side, there is also political capital to be made on such a gesture, but that's by the by. I have absolutely no doubt that if this, or any other asteroid, is going to hit us then every capable nation will be working 100% to prevent the impact, no matter where it might be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 25, 2004 @08:30PM (#11182646)
    You might find this interesting then, in regard to the humanitarian aid offered to Iran in the wake of the Bam earthquake: "President Mohammed Khatami has said only $17m of assistance had been received from abroad, out of the $1bn initially promised." (full article []). 30,000 dead, 70,000 left homeless and only 1.7% of the promised humanitarian aid delivered a year later - this thing had better not be on a collision course if that is anything to go by!

    BTW, I can only assume that whoever moderated the parent "Troll" has had a little too much egg nog this evening...

  • by FIT_Entry1 (468985) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @08:36PM (#11182667)
    There's a 73% chance the impact will occur in the ocean. How do you like super-sonic 1500ft tidal waves striking every costal city on earth? What about all the steam released into the upper atmosphere?
  • by NockPoint (722613) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @08:37PM (#11182669)
    When it is going to hit (if it does) is known down to minutes NOW. That and knowing which way it is coming from allows us to exclude half the planet from worries other than climatic. As someone has already pointed out, that means both NY city and Texas are safe from this rock.

    The uncertainty is a long strip that is 0.018 (see NEODyS) of the Earth's radius wide, and many times the Earth's radius long. Go look at: []

    If the odds don't go down to zero soon, someone will calculate where the stripe of uncertainty is on the globe. It wouldn't be hard to do.

  • by VertigoAce (257771) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @09:00PM (#11182759)
    There are numbers besides the Torino scale. The press doesn't use them because they're not as easy to explain. A value of 4 on the Torino scale explicitly means that the public should not be at all concerned or even really aware of the possible impact. It is meant to attract the attention of other astronomers so that more measurements can be done.

    As far as a measure of progress, here's a simple one. At 100% progress the probability of impact is either 100% or 0%. Intermediate progress is the width of the window in which the impact might occur. If this window narrows to such a point that it does not include the earth, you get a 0% probability. If the earth is bigger than the entire window, you get a 100% probability. Anything else means there is more work to be done. The rate at which the window narrows will depend on the orbit of the asteroid, but that would give you a rough idea of when you'd be 100% sure.

    If you are really curious, the locations and time of every observation that contributes to this is available online []. It's interesting to note that more observations were done today than any other day. This is a direct result of the object being identified as an object of interest on the Torino scale.
  • Re:Realize this... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by digitallife (805599) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @09:07PM (#11182784)
    There are a bunch of US military telescopes which scan the entire heavens every day, and send anything interesting to other telescopes to study. So, actually, we are looking at the whole sky at one time (relative to asteroid time scales).
  • USA Today (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 25, 2004 @09:37PM (#11182890)
    USA Today's web site got the story at the 1-60s stage. If the print edition carries the story, it's at the national coverage level.

    Google News has the story at the 4th position is Sci/Tech at the moment. That's just below the 3-story coverage on the Google News Front Page.

    I think all hell is about to break loose in the news coverage. The NASA and JPL PR staff are probably driving each other crazy tring to prepare, before the Press drive them crazy.
  • by Rakishi (759894) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @11:09PM (#11183172)
    I'd love Bush to be in charge because I doubt anyone else would have the guts to tell the environmentalists to stuff it and then build an Orion engine to get the thing.
  • by barawn (25691) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @11:11PM (#11183176) Homepage
    words and ideas from Stat 101.

    What word did I use from Stat 101? PSF (point spread function) is from astronomy. It's what a high-statistics point source looks like on a CCD.

    All the other words and ideas are just from error propagation. That's from my undergrad physics lab.

    But in reality, you have no idea what models were used to calculate the estimates

    It's on the page. 99% of the uncertainty is within 3 sigma. No extended tails, which means it falls off fast enough that you can say that yes, the solution is pulling towards "Earth collision."
  • by dinodriver (577264) on Saturday December 25, 2004 @11:17PM (#11183195)
    If it hits water, tidal waves will cause massive destruction.

    If it hits in a heavily forested area, it will start a fire that will burn so much that it will create clouds of smoke and ash that will block out the sun for a very long time. That would suck.
  • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @12:28AM (#11183430)
    There's a potentially big (pun not intended) downside to using a nuclear warhead: it could break the asteroid into smaller pieces, and the "shotgun impact" from a broken asteroid could actually be more devastating than a single impact.

    A better solution is to assemble an large ion rocket in space, then dock it with the asteroid maybe in 2025. Fire off the ion rocket to run for maybe 30-40 days non-stop, and it may change the orbit of the asteroid enough so it misses the Earth at a relative safe range. Maybe by then we'll have even better ion rockets, and the possibility exists we might even slow down the asteroid enough to place it in the L1 zone between the Earth and the Moon. Given the fact that asteroids have very high quality mineral content, someone could make a financial killing (pun not intended :) ) mining this asteroid after it arrives at the L1 zone.
  • by alexo (9335) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @12:41AM (#11183473) Journal
    > the problem with hitting an large object hurtling towards something with
    > a nuke is that afterwards you have a lot of much smaller hurtling bodies [...]

    which tend to burn on entry into the atmosphere.
  • by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @01:10AM (#11183551) Homepage

    "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."

    What they don't say is whether the inaccuracy means more or less risk - or both. I assume on either side.

  • by ErikZ (55491) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @04:33AM (#11183962)

    Step one: Send out the bigass nuke right now. Put it on one of those ion engine crafts.

    Step two: Nail the trajectory down to 99% accuracy.

    Step three: Figure out the best way to deal with it. Have it pass by the earth into the sun? Have it slam into the moon? Is it possible to slow it down enough to put it into a stable orbit and mine it for resources later?

    Step Four: Once the calculations are done, send the course corrections to our bigass nuke to put it exactly where we need it, and to detonate when we want it to. You don't hit the asteroid directly. You just get close enough and nudge it. This is why you sent the nuke so early, over time, a small nudge adds up to a huge course change.

    Step Five: Placate the general public who were hoping they would have to send a mining team up in a risky yet heroic venture to save the earth.
  • by sangdrax (132295) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @05:57AM (#11184122)
    So what are the odds of this thing missing earth and hitting the moon? What kind of impact can the moon handle without it disrupting its orbit around earth and thus causing havoc on life on this planet?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 26, 2004 @06:51AM (#11184191)
    > Step three: Figure out the best way to deal with it.
    > Have it pass by the earth into the sun?
    > Have it slam into the moon

    Cynics would think that "have it hit Baghdad" also would cross the minds of those in charge of that decision.

    > You don't hit the asteroid directly.
    > You just get close enough and nudge it

    So, what would move it? "Air pressure" is not the answer (unless you nudge it really, really late) It would have to be either "mass from the bomb" or "radiation pressure". I doubt that either of these would make any significant impact.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Sunday December 26, 2004 @10:20PM (#11188431) Homepage Journal
    "Perhaps the merkins should be a bit less insular, pay more attention and show more respect to the rest of the world so that there is an incentive for the rest of the world to learn more about you guys."

    Good heavens. I guess the fact that after WWII that the US rebuilt their enemies nations and restored their independence. The US helped to form Nato and the UN. As far as respect the US does not treat other nations as less breeds as did the English. The "rest" of the world better get a grip on the fact that the US is no longer a young nation. The US is the senior statesman and has learned that sitting back does not bring peace but far worse wars. If all of Europe stood up to Hitler than Dresden would not have happened. BTW Dresden was not the US but the RAF's attack. The US was not into firebombing in Europe. Dresden was a European attack on Europeans. I thought that one of the European pet peeves was that us poor Americans don't know history? The UN are peace keepers and do not go into combat situations for the most part. The US has unfortunately has had to take on the role of peacemakers using force. Of course we have also seceded many times. The Suez, the Egypt/Israel peace accords, the START agreement,the INF, and yes even NATO. Perhaps if you and a lot of other Europeans would look at the US for themselves instead what they see on TV the movies and your own slanted media you might find that the US does tend to act with a reason. BTW the poulation of Texas is over 22 million so as I said roughly three times the size of Sweden.

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