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2004 MN4 Probably Won't Kill Us 389

Posted by timothy
from the this-wrecks-a-bunch-of-pick-up-lines dept.
Xshare writes "It's now official. NASA's Near Earth Objects page lists 2004 MN4, the asteroid that's been covered on slashdot recently, as having a 1 in 56,000 chance of hitting earth, and even then only in 2037. It seems that earth was near the edge of the cone of probability of when it could go. As the cone kept closing, the probability of hitting earth grew, but it kept getting closer to the edge. It's now outside the cone, and we can be safe."
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2004 MN4 Probably Won't Kill Us

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  • Too Bad (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rura Penthe (154319) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:45PM (#11195921)
    Now how will I justify my unwillingness to accomplish anything in life.
  • Darn! (Score:3, Funny)

    by OneDeeTenTee (780300) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:45PM (#11195922)
    I already ordered the T-Shirt!
    • Re:Darn! (Score:2, Funny)

      by Paiway (842782)
      "2004 MN4 cruised through the whole solar system and all i got was this lousy T-shirt"
    • Re:Darn! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aldoman (670791)
      While we joke, what would the government(s) do if they knew that there was a near certain collision scheduled for sometime in the long-term future?

      They certainly wouldn't publicise it. Instead, they'd probably cover it up. The other option is to tell everyone and as such, bring the world to a grinding halt later on and certainly change society drastically in the short and medium term. Who would bother planning anything for the future - pension, education etc would all stop.
      • Re:Darn! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Erazmus (145656)
        Except for the fact that this asteroid is viewable by many amateur astronomers around the world. It's a simple matter to independently gather trajectory information and verify the mathematics. It would be extremely difficult for a single entity such as NASA to cover this one up.
      • Re:Darn! (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yeah, but anyone with a decent telescope, a book on physics, and a slide rule can double-check the calculations of any officially published numbers, and call bullshit if the government appears to be spewing it.
  • by bighoov (605325) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:46PM (#11195927) Homepage
    ... the sky is not falling. Your choice.
  • Not even in 2037 (Score:5, Informative)

    by brejc8 (223089) * on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:46PM (#11195936) Homepage Journal
    That is the cumulative impact probability. The probability of impact in 2037 is actually 1 in 526,316,000 chance. The more likely one is in 2044 and that is 1 in 83,000 chance.
  • Good (Score:5, Funny)

    by Neil Blender (555885) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:47PM (#11195939)
    That means it will make us stronger.
  • by yorugua (697900) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:47PM (#11195942)
    ... maybe it'll hit us anyway. NASA is looking at whether the metric or imperial systems was used all along the calculations. Stay tuned...
  • 2004 MN4 Probably Won't Kill Us

    I wasn't exactly looking forward to the 30+ years of tossing and turning in bed at night.

    instead i'll toss and turn over what the prez is doing to the economy

  • phew (Score:2, Funny)

    by Malacon (761384)
    I can cancel my bomb shelter purchase now...


    It was gonna be a first if I didn't hit reply so quick :\
    • Re:phew (Score:3, Funny)

      by eeg3 (785382)
      You should. The apocalypse is on it's way one way or another.

      MARK MY WORD!

      ...

      Whether I have to cause it or not.
    • by 1tsm3 (754925)
      They have confirmed the probability of hit to be 100% and don't want us to know! (* puts on a tin foil covered kevlar helmet *) You better not cancel your bomb shelter!
  • Hey! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:48PM (#11195952)


    Is this whole thing a fake, like the Christmas lights?

  • In three days this has gone from 1/233 chance, to 1/45, to 1/56,000. How can there be so wide of a spread over such a small time interval if the method being used to estimate this is at all reliable? I could see how small trajectory changes in the asteroid would vary the predictions a lot if it were closer, but this is still 30+ years away.

    What's to say tomorrow won't be 1/1? How is this latest measurement the final word that there is no threat?
    • Two choices: (Score:5, Informative)

      by 2nd Post! (213333) <(gundbear) (at) (pacbell.net)> on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:56PM (#11196016) Homepage
      You can do one of two things:

      Trust the math

      Do the math

      I only briefly considered it but enough that I trust the math. It's not that the estimates are unreliable, it's that the estimates are only as reliable as the measurements made, and as the measurements become increasingly accurate in number and value, so too the estimate.

      So the first estimate was made with a small number of measurements: The theoretical 'circle' of probability was large and intersected quite well with the Earth. As more measurements are made, the probability circle gets smaller, but because the size of the Earth doesn't shrink the chance of impact go up; more of the volume of the probability circle coincides with the Earth.

      Then as even more measurements are made the circle grows ever smaller until it is small enough that only the edge of the circle is now overlapping the Earth, and thus the chance of impact goes down.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:57PM (#11196028)
      read the damn article

      its quite simple

      you have a cone of probable impact

      . METEOR
      . / \
      . / \
      . / \
      . / \
      . / \
      ./ o \

      (o=earth)

      its in the cone, high probability

      calculations are more refined:

      . METEOR
      . / \
      . / \
      . / \
      . /o \

      base of cone is smaller, earth now has an even larger chance of getting hit.. now some more narrowing of the cone:

      . METEOR
      . / \
      . / \
      . o/ \

      oops.. earth is no longer in the cone.. probability just jumped to 1/56,000

      --
      Lameness filter encountered. Post aborted!
      Reason Please use fewer junk characters.

      lalala In three days this has gone from 1/233 chance, to 1/45, to 1/56,000. How can there be so wide of a spread over such a small time interval if the method being used to estimate this is at all reliable? I could see how small trajectory changes in the asteroid would vary the predictions a lot if it were closer, but this is still 30+ years away.

      What's to say tomorrow won't be 1/1? How is this latest measurement the final word that there is no threat

      The now-defunct Lycos anti-spamsite screen saver, MakeLoveNotSpam, was extremely well received despite the whines and hand wringing from the no-one-should-ever-actively-defend-themselves crowd. There was speculation after its demise that Open Source spam-punishing tools would emerge. Other tools such as SpamVampireThe now-defunct Lycos anti-spamsite screen saver, MakeLoveNotSpam, was extremely well received despite the whines and hand wringing from the no-one-should-ever-actively-defend-themselves crowd. There was speculation after its demise that Open Source spam-punishing tools would emerge. Other tools such as SpamVampire, LadVampire (punishes fake bank sites), Spam Research Tool and others were mentioned with increasing frequency, but there has been no coherent followup to gauge what people are doing since the death of the Lycos screen saver. What are you doing that you think is effective in punishing spammers or their spam-site sponsors?" , LadVampire (punishes fake bank sites), Spam Research Tool and others were mentioned with increasing frequency, but there has been no coherent followup to gauge what people are doing since the death of the Lycos screen saver. What are you doing that you think is effective in punishing spammers or their spam-site sponsors?"
    • If I understand it correctly the reason is simple, and someone commented on this in one of the other postings:

      They knew the rough area in which the asteroid could end up, and with more data this area kept shrinking. However, the Earth was still in this area and since the total places the thing could go was shrinking the chance of going to one part of the area increased. Then suddenly the Earth went out of this area so it's probability went down.

      Here is an analogy: think of having ten cups face down with a
    • Just remember this: "Shit Happens" I guarantee it*.

      I am sure the Earth will eventually suffer a devastating blow, again, via cosmic forces at work, sooner or later. I just hope it is later, much later. Like after my kid's college bills are paid and stuff.

      * or double your money back.

    • The estimates are all based on different amounts of data. As you perform more measurements, the values will change significantly, especially for the first few measurements. If you consider the odds they show when they're televising poker games, they vary substantially. The early odds aren't any less reliable, but there's a lot of information left to get.

      Assuming the astronomers can figure things out reliably this far in advance, one way to thing about it is that a 1/45 chance of getting hit means that ther
    • Very reliable (Score:3, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770)
      As another poster noted, you can check the math yourself if you like. However, you can understand the fundimentals behind it without getting into math.

      Basically what happens with this is we do not know the motion of any of these objects precisely. We do not precisely know their position, or velocity. So, we take what we know to the accuracy that we know it, and extrapolate a cone of possible paths. This is quite large when you deal with something in solar distances.

      Now the motion of the Earth is known qui
  • Now my bet is useless! I was sure we'd all die and I'd become rich beyond my wildest dreams!
  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:49PM (#11195967) Journal
    Between the Mayan calendar, the Unix epoch, and now this, I don't see how any of us will make it to 2040 alive.
    • At least we can hope these [imdb.com] two [imdb.com] don't do a remake [imdb.com] that year. That would save the planet from one disaster. Of course, that potential disaster probably wouldn't actually kill anyone. It would be more likely to make hundreds of thousands of people sick.
    • Based on Mayan mythology 2012 is the year when the gods decide whether or not to allow humanity to exist for the next 10,000 years. So if we get past 2012 I guess we're alright.

      The four previous peoples of the earth were wiped out by jaguars, hurricanes, fires, and finally a great flood. Middle-eastern religions document the flood as well. The Popul Vuh [meta-religion.com] has many interesting parallels to the Torah/Pentateuch making it a disturbing read. The best explanation for that starts out with "If Newton and Liebniz could separately invent calculus, and both the lightbulb and phonograph were seperately created while nearly identical..." And remember, the reason Cortez got away with what he did is because they thought he was the second coming of their saviour.
  • Anyone else wondering if this is more damage control then the truth? It's not good to have the world thinking it will die in 24 years.

    It's very difficult to go "We'll fine you £100" when they arn't going to live much longer..
  • by k4_pacific (736911) <k4_pacific@NOspam.yahoo.com> on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:52PM (#11195989) Homepage Journal
    Then why is there a round shadow surrounding my house getting bigger and bigger and... [CONNECTION LOST]
  • by kaedemichi255 (834073) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:53PM (#11195997)
    The odds are still not good! The chances of someone winning the lottery is like 1 in a few million/billion! Yet there's almost always a winner! OMG WE'RE GONNA DIE!!!
  • Anyone want to come up with a semi convincing conspiracy theory? No? Even a mildly possible one?
  • *looks around* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Akardam (186995) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:54PM (#11196004)
    Chicken Little? Is that you?
  • bummer (Score:2, Insightful)

    That would have solved the Social Security solvency problem.
    • Re:bummer (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by AEton (654737)
      When George Bush ran for a House seat in 1978, he said during the campaign that Social Security would die in ten years unless privatization happened.
  • That's just what they want you to think. Get your astroid insurance here!

    Tom
  • I was just looking at the google cache of that page [google.co.uk] and there are loads more instances (including the 2029). Do they remove the ones too unlikely to happen once they get better measurements? (Or insert conspiracy theory here)
  • by AEton (654737) on Monday December 27, 2004 @08:57PM (#11196027)
    Gosh - I looked everywhere on Google News and practically every mainstream source said just about nothing about this story! Why could that be?

    (and, even weirder, the ones that -do- mention it are dated days ago and talk abut an "actually miniscule probability". can't they read?!)

    I guess I'll just have to turn to Slashdot for all my eschatological news.
    • Well I would hope (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday December 27, 2004 @11:02PM (#11196675)
      Because it's a total non story at this point and they are excersizing that rare trait called journalistic integrity. Obviously, with the almost daily changes in the probability as better calculations and measurements are done, there is no certianty at all. Since a story of an asteroid hitting the Earth will certianly get people worked up, and maybe even cause a panic, you'd better be on fairly solid ground.

      Ok, well, given that the earliest possible impact is over two DECADES away, I'd say it would be proper to wait until NASA was to the point that there was likely to be little change in status with more calculations. Maybe that takes a month, that's fine, nothing changes, this is a WAY in teh future story.

      Given that the chance changed from around 3% to 0.002% with just one day of measurements and calculations, you'd look like a moron if you trumpeted this as a big news story yesterday.

      Now, supposing NASA does new calculations and says that it's about 50% likely to hit, and after a week they still can't be any more certian, then maybe you break the story.

      Either way, it's not like we will be sitting around 2-5 decades from now going "Damn, if only that story had hit major news a month earlier, we'd all have been saved."
  • ...but if we all submit to biometric ID cards, sub-dermal RFID chips and CCTV in every home, then Earth can't be hit by asteroids right?

    I mean - we all know that it's terrorists launching asteroids at the Earth.
  • Everyone had to know this wasn't going to happen. I don't know which asteroid it *will* be, when it does hit, but the day will be Dec. 21, 2012. Duh.
  • by fizban (58094)
    So, you mean I *shouldn't* start to live a life of debauchery and fornication, knowing that life now has no meaning and no future?

    Sex and drugs and party, party, party are right out, you say?

    Ah, well, hmmm... Yes, well then, I'll be going now. Never mind all that. I'll clean it up later, thanks.

    Would someone call my doctor for me please? I seem to have developed a little rash from last night...
  • its all a mass conspiracy to herd us like sheep - you can't have the sheep scared now can you? :)
  • ... until tomorrow, when the ywill change the status yet again.

    Nothing to see here... move along.
  • by Graemee (524726) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:11PM (#11196110)
    January 19, 2038 the date when 32 bit time runs out or is that overflows?
  • I think we're doomed and the feds are censoring so we wont go ape-sh*t. Definite conspiracy going here!
  • DAMMIT! >_<
  • probably (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "...and we can be safe."

    That end should have been:

    "...and we can be safe, probably. Maybe. Perhaps. Or not. But possibly. Who knows. Until the next article."
  • Oh well, guess we'll have to find another excuse to sing

    "Super comet fragment impact extra-large explosions" [slashdot.org]

    Oh well, it's a damn asteroid anyways.
  • why god? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Digitus1337 (671442) <{moc.liamtoh} {ta} {sutigid_kl}> on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:25PM (#11196189) Homepage
    My only chance of getting laid, gone! What? 1 in 56000 odds? I'm back in the game!
  • The Cone (Score:5, Funny)

    by KidSock (150684) on Monday December 27, 2004 @09:32PM (#11196233)
    So what is the probability of the earth being hit by this "cone"?
    • I guess that depends on both caster and castee's level and saving throw, but the good news is that maximum damage is only 15d6.

      More delicious nerdy goodness here [systemrefe...uments.org]
  • by ralphh (703108) on Monday December 27, 2004 @10:05PM (#11196430)
    This from the NEODyS Risk Page:

    "Near-Earth Asteroid 2004 MN4: improved situation

    "The asteroid 2004 MN4 will have a very close approach to Earth in 2029. However, the observations collected by the astronomers, both professionals and amateurs, have provided enough information to exclude the possibility of an impact in 2029. This asteroid has an estimated diameter of 400 meters, and the nominal orbit solution results in a close approach to the Earth at 64,000 Km minimum distance on April 13, 2029. The actual distance could even be smaller, as small as 8 times the radius of the Earth. At the time of closest approach, the asteroid should be as bright as a fifth magnitude star, thus from some areas it will be visible to the naked eye.

    "The sharp decrease in the estimated risk from this object was the result of the enormous work done by astronomers from all over the world. Notwidstanding the Christmas holidays, many dedicated people went to work in their observatories, in the archives of past observations and at their computers, as it was the case for the staff of NEODyS. More than 200 new observations of 2004 MN4 were obtained in the last 5 days. The discovery observations of June have been painfully remeasured, the impact monitoring computer programs have been run more than 30 times. Finally today some prediscovery observations from March 2004 were found and extracted from the archives of the Spacewatch survey. These allowed to extend significantly the observations time span, thus the confidence region for the orbital elements was sharply reduced and many impacts compatible with the previous data turned out to be incompatible with the extended observations."

  • Eep! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Monday December 27, 2004 @10:16PM (#11196486) Homepage
    Look at the web page, that's still REALLY friggin' close. I think that's well inside geosynchronous orbit.
  • asteriod? (Score:5, Funny)

    by sdo1 (213835) on Monday December 27, 2004 @10:22PM (#11196503) Journal
    A few minutes ago I'd jumped on news.google.com [google.com] to see if there were any updates on MN4 (insert look of shock that /. isn't my first source of news). Of course, being a fumble-fingers, I typed "asteroid" as "asteriod". Lo and behold, what is the ONLY news site around to have such a misspelling...

    news.google.com search [google.com]

    Yea, that's right.

    /.

    Figures.

    -S

  • Media restraint? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sdo1 (213835) on Monday December 27, 2004 @10:35PM (#11196567) Journal
    Could it be that the mass media actually showed a reasonable amount of restraint on covering this story until more information was in hand? In the previous Slashdot stories posted on this subject, there was a lot of complaining about "What aren't the major media outlets covering this story?!?!?"

    Well, this is why. The data is/was incomplete. The calculations are/were preliminary and ever-changing based on new observations. There was no point in starting a panic and sensationalizing the story at this point.

    Sometimes we, the readers/contributors of Slashdot aren't as collectively bright as we think we are.

    -S
  • by mcg1969 (237263) on Monday December 27, 2004 @11:25PM (#11196775)
    First of all, let me thank Xshare for the excellent one-sentence explanation of how the probabilities so quickly vanished after peaking at 1/37th.

    Having said that, doesn't this suggest that their method for computing probabilities might need some examining? How is it that the probability can change by over 3 orders of magnitude within a week---a full 30 years or more before the event itself?

    At the very least, I would assume that these folks have some sort of idea what the log-variance is of the probabilities they're computing. It might behoove them to hold off on reporting the numbers until that log-variance dips below a certain amount---at least when the event is so far out.

    I don't know, I suppose it might behoove us to have, say, a decade of warning so we could figure out what to do if necessary. But 30 years? I'm not so sure the hype this week was necessary.

    I welcome everyone else's thoughts on this...
    • Having said that, doesn't this suggest that their method for computing probabilities might need some examining?

      The method for computing probabilities is not at fault. Simply more data has been coming in to nail the position and orbit of the roid.

      How is it that the probability can change by over 3 orders of magnitude within a week---a full 30 years or more before the event itself?

      Typically, the first orbit is computed with just 3 observations, and the first probabilities are given from this rough o

  • Summation (Score:3, Funny)

    by Sheepdot (211478) on Monday December 27, 2004 @11:30PM (#11196799) Journal
    So, to sum things up from all the previously high-rated comments on the multiple /. articles regarding the object: you still have plenty of time to get laid, fix the unix time epoch issue, and finish coding Duke Nukem Forever.
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Monday December 27, 2004 @11:41PM (#11196861)
    The Earth is GOING to get pounded, and soon.

    So what?

    What difference should it make to any of your plans? Seriously? If the rocks fall next week or eight years from now, you still have to focus on the problems facing you right now. -It IS very important to not pretend that everything is all okay and all normal, because that's just not how things are, not on any level; not politically, not environmentally, not even solar-systematically; choosing to believe in lies is right up there in the top three or four most self-destructive things a person can do. Life is about growing one's spirit, and that cannot be done by embracing falsehoods. When one is given to pretending that things are okay, that sets the rhythm for a life; if you view the external world through wishful thinking, then you will inevitably use the same tools on the internal, which means you will simply never fix the problems inside yourself because you will pretend that the problems are not even there. Truth hurts, which is what drives us to fix the ugly parts of ourselves. But that being said, at the same time it is also foolish to get needlessly upset by the various nerve-jangling truths when they become apparent. Like impending asteroid strikes.

    Asteroid disasters, (among other things, including the most recent 9.0 earthquake in the East), are going to start pounding the crap out of us with increasing regularity until there's not much left but a lot of debris and the cold wind whistling. That's all part of the show. Everybody dies, so why stress over it? Recognize it, adjust course as necessary and move on.

    You're here to work on the spirit, not the physical. The interesting part is that if you're ready to advance, you might actually avoid the big crunch. It'll all be clear soon enough.


    -FL

  • weird... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tanveer1979 (530624) on Tuesday December 28, 2004 @01:14AM (#11197323) Homepage Journal
    An asteroid which is still far away is worrying people to death. While i agree we should be prapared for this, there are other dangers as well. For example the Sundays earthquake and tsunami which has killed around 30000 across south east asia. The earthquake has caused a big change in the tektonic plates of australia and india and scientists are worried that this may be the first in the series of quakes and eruptions which will be much more widespread across the globe. Imaging coastel towns all over the pacific and indian oceans ravaged by 100feet high waves. The impact would be same as an asteroid. And the funny part is we dont have early warning systems etc., and nobody is seriously looking into them
  • by bigberk (547360) <bigberk@users.pc9.org> on Tuesday December 28, 2004 @04:04AM (#11197877)
    This giant earthquake and subsequent tsunami that's been in the news, preliminary reports of the casualties are at least 30,000 people. Do you realize how huge a number that is? And it's probably drastically under-reported, the waters swept through poor coastal lands in many Asian countries and carried bodies out to sea. I bet (but hope to God not) that the death toll is twice that, on the order of 60,000. But I suspect the death toll will climb because it always does, especially when information collection is weak in the disaster areas.

    There is a huge natural disaster here on earth, without stuff raining from the sky on us. I guess all I'm saying is, disasters will happen, and as non-religious as I am I can only say that we should all pray that large disasters will not happen, and in bad times help out others who need help, because there's really nothing else you can do.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"

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