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Space Science

Small Asteroid Making 400,000 Mile Pass By Earth 157

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the summon-bruce-willis dept.
AtariKee writes "Universe Today is reporting that a small 10m asteroid, discovered earlier this month and named 2009 BD, is passing within 400,000 miles of Earth. Although the asteroid poses no threat to the planet, the site reports that the asteroid is still very interesting, as it may be a rare co-orbital asteroid (as in, shares the same orbit as Earth)."
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Small Asteroid Making 400,000 Mile Pass By Earth

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  • by FredFredrickson (1177871) * on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:19AM (#26607431) Homepage Journal
    Am I the only one who thinks we should attempt to land on it and stage an emergency scenerio drill, just to prepare for the day when there is an armageddon-destined asteriod?
    • by oldspewey (1303305) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:21AM (#26607461)
      And soon ... those actors aren't getting any younger you know.
    • by telchine (719345) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:22AM (#26607473)

      Am I the only one who thinks we should attempt to land on it

      Yes! Yes you are.

      How do you propose to land on a 10 meter wide asteroid?

    • by cashman73 (855518)
      At least they can reuse those clips of Morgan Freeman standing in for Barack Obama telling us we're all going to die,...
    • by Zaatxe (939368)
      No, you are not. And I for one welcome our asteroid drilling overlords!
    • by hammarlund (568027) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:34AM (#26607591)
      Obviously we did already because there's a camera shot from the asteroid of Earth.
    • by Thiez (1281866)

      Why would we do something tricky like 'land on it' when we can send a nuke to 'collide with it' instead?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Schiphol (1168667)
      Why do you people assume that drilling is our best shot against an asteroid? Despite Armaggedon, it is not.

      Somewhat more likely, apparently, we may send an aircraft [wikipedia.org] to travel near the asteroid and try to use its small but constant gravitational pull to modify its course.
      • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@@@yahoo...com> on Monday January 26, 2009 @12:31PM (#26608325) Journal

        Somewhat more likely, apparently, we may send an aircraft to travel near the asteroid

        If you have to wait for an aircraft to do the job, I think it's probably too late.

      • Although the idea of using a spacecraft's gravity to tug an asteroid off course may work, I think it would be far, far easier to land the spacecraft on the asteroid "nose first" and push the asteroid. You could impart a delta v of a few millimeters per second to an asteroid in a matter of seconds rather than years.
        • by Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:10PM (#26609907)

          Most asteroids are most likely actually just big piles of smaller material. They have very little structural integrity. If you tried to apply a force to one 'spot' on the asteroid the results would be at best unpredictable. Material would shift around, you might even just sort of push through it.

          Another related problem is that you need to push against the asteroid THROUGH its center of mass. If that center of mass is not fixed, then you can't really do that.

          Beyond that, even if the asteroid is a solid chunk of rock, you still have to despin it before you can push it, thus the whole operation becomes a lot harder, plus if it IS a rubble pile, then you may not even be able to despin it or it would be pretty hard to do so.

          A gravity tractor on the other hand suffers none of these disadvantages. All parts of the asteroid are going to be attracted to the tractor. It may STILL be somewhat complicated, but probably less so. In any event we won't really know until we try.

          Finally, what difference does it really make how fast you accelerate the asteroid? The point would be to put it on the desired course. Doesn't really matter if the mission is 1 hour long or 10 years as long as you get the results you want.

          • If you need to impart 5km/s worth of delta v and you can only pull at a rate of 1mm/s per year, then it is going to take you five million years to alter the trajectory appropriately.

            Wrap the thing in shrink wrap, or cement it together, or something so that it IS one big solid lump, throw a dozen rockets on it, and fire them when the spin points them in the appropriate direction.
            • The total delta v required to get from Earth to Mars is somewhat under 5 km/s. In order to impart that kind of velocity to an asteroid you would need something like 10 huge nuclear rockets or something (and a small asteroid).

              This is why it is important to detect these things well in advance. The delta v required to deflect something that is a year from crashing into Earth is going to be on the order of half the diameter of the Earth in a year. In other words VERY low. A year is really close. Realistically a

              • The total delta v required to get from Earth to Mars is somewhat under 5 km/s.

                Well, I did pull that number out of the air. The point I was trying to get across is that a gravity tractor would have to work for a long time in order to affect an asteroid, perhaps longer than from detection to impact.

                However, now I'm not so sure. I've been playing around with some handy online calculators [ajdesigner.com], in particular this one [ajdesigner.com] which tells you how much acceleration a particular mass will impart on another. A 100 tonne g
          • Are you sure? I was under the impression that we have not landed and confirmed all that. In fact, I thought that we have only visited just a couple of these and only looked at them (save hitting one).

            Personally, I would love to capture this one and bring it back to the ISS. 10 meters would be a nice one to bring back and see what is really there.
            • Sure, and for THAT we may well be able to do it. There are only meters per second of delta v on those things, and it is a relatively small asteroid.

              But there is going to have to be quite a few years of work done to determine the exact nature of these things and how to safely handle them. An emergency to deflect a strike is one thing, but just for sheer science or money it is going to have to be proven low risk first.

              And we do know actually a good bit about the general character of asteroids. The profile of

              • The profile of rotation velocities in the population tells us that very few are solid pieces of material. Some may be a few large pieces, but that could be worse than a bunch of small gravel.

                In that case, rather than deflecting it wouldn't it be possible to scatter it?

                • Chances are there are a few good sized chunks in a big asteroid, BUT maybe it would make sense to get rid of the rest.

                  Now if we're talking far enough up the tech curve one might contemplate using the gravel for reaction mass to move the big chunks around. But that would be a LOT more technically complex.

                  In any case I'm not real sure why people worry about it at all. We wouldn't even be able to move this new asteroid as it stands, and it probably wouldn't do much damage anyway unless it smacked down in a fai

    • Am I the only one who thinks we should attempt to land on it and stage an emergency scenerio drill

      I was thinking that we could land on it, set up tax havens, gambling casinos, brothels and Ponzi schemes.

      Think of it as a bubbling-broth mix of Las Vegas, Wall Street and the Cayman Islands.

      Now a fun place like that would finally put our galaxy on the interstellar map.

    • Am I the only one who thinks we should attempt to land on it and stage an emergency scenerio drill, just to prepare for the day when there is an armageddon-destined asteriod?

      Personally, I'd rather just screw Liv Tyler and forget the rest.

  • Not again! (Score:4, Funny)

    by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:21AM (#26607459)
    Does this mean my Pontiac is going to go on another killing spree?
  • Mining NEOs? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:23AM (#26607487)

    Having NEOs in stable orbits around the Earth could be of benefit to mankind in the future as missions can be planned, possibly sending mining missions to these rocky visitors so we can tap their resources.

    The Near-Earth-Objects in question are only 10m and 20m in diameter. How would it be of any benefit to us to mine resources from these? Surely it would cost far more in resources to -get- there.

    Or do these NEOs have some kind of exotic resource that I am unaware of?

    • by Dripdry (1062282)
      We could crawl before we walk. Once the kinks and difficulties are worked out it would be easier (and probably cheaper) to begin mining more profitable objects.
      • Yeah, I agree it would be a good training exercise to land on them and maybe even work on mining techniques. But the article specifically states "tap their resources."

        Maybe they foresee some future orbital spaceyard where its easier and cheaper to get metal from already orbiting NEOs than it is to send up materials from Earth?
        • by Dripdry (1062282)
          Hm. That seems to make sense. Are NEOs abundant enough to do that? How many NEOs are even candidates for mining?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jc42 (318812)

            Are NEOs abundant enough to do that? How many NEOs are even candidates for mining?

            Well, to start close to home, there are a few thousand of them orbiting the Earth. There are lots of dead satellites out there, and most are stuffed full of electronics gadgetry. Granted, the chips might not be worth salvaging. But you can always use resistors and capacitors, and there's gotta be a few thousand km of wires that could be collected and added to the parts closets in your orbiting labs. This should be a lot ch

    • by Sibko (1036168)
      Carve out the inside, insert space station. Voila.

      Besides that though, is there even a way to get these minerals down to the Earth reliably and cheaply? I imagine there are reasons large re-entry vehicles carrying hundreds of tons worth of ore would not work.
    • by ijakings (982830)

      They clearly contain "Bullet-Timeium"

    • Re:Mining NEOs? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Vellmont (569020) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:54AM (#26607817)


      Or do these NEOs have some kind of exotic resource that I am unaware of?

      The "exotic" resource would most likely be "every day minerals not stuck in earths gravity well".

      It's expensive in terms of energy to lift things into orbit. This stuff is already free of earth's gravity. It _might_ be advantageous someday to mine this stuff if we wanted to make things in orbit.

    • Or do these NEOs have some kind of exotic resource that I am unaware of?

      Matrixium -- it used to be worth quite a bit, but it has been overmined.

    • by digitig (1056110)

      Or do these NEOs have some kind of exotic resource that I am unaware of?

      Might be worth checking for naturally occurring 2(5)6 dilithium 2(:)l diallosilicate 1:9:1 heptoferranide.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mbone (558574)

      There are plenty of larger NEOs that are energetically easy to get to. In fact, there are quite a number that the Apollo spacecraft could have reached and returned from, and there were plans to do this in the late 1960's (using the Saturn V 3rd stage as living quarters in route, and replacing the LEM with provisions), but neither LBJ nor Nixon was really interested in manned exploration beyond the Moon. I have a feeling that JFK would have gone for this, though, as well as for the manned Venus orbiter plan

      • Manned Venus orbiter sounds like a good idea, but wouldn't that trip be a few years long? Time to get there plus the time to do the experiments plus time to get back? Unless the people who went on the trip knew it was a one way trip.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by toddestan (632714)

          There was a planned manned Venus mission using Apollo technology. It would have been a fly-by, with only a few hours of time near Venus and over a year of travel time for three men. Other than to say we did it, there wasn't much of a point of doing it instead of unmanned probes, which is likely why it got cancelled.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manned_Venus_Flyby [wikipedia.org]

    • ala Niven, if you can melt it and then inflate it, a 10m solid sphere can become (4/3 pi r^3) a hollow sphere roughly 10m in diameter and 50cm in thickness - which sounds like a pretty nice little living space, made of material you didn't have to lift from the surface. It's not big enough for a city or anything, but you'd want to practice on small asteroids first.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JoeMerchant (803320)
        Damn, diameters and radii, 5m radius solid becomes 10m radius hollow sphere 50cm thick.
  • So is something like this a top candidate for learning/testing asteroid mining, or are there other types of objects that are more convenient?
  • by macxcool (1370409) on Monday January 26, 2009 @11:44AM (#26607725)
    A co-orbital asteroid?? Does this make Earth a Dwarf planet? ;-) Isn't one of the criteria for planet-hood that the body has cleared its orbit of debris?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Player 03 (1369555)
      From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]: "There [must be] no other bodies of comparable size other than its own satellites" in a body's orbit for that body to be classified as a planet. Give the IAU some credit; they wouldn't make a definition that demoted Earth.
  • But if the asteroid and earth are on the same orbit, how exactly does one of those objects "pass by" the other. To invoke the inevitable car analogy, that's like saying two cars driving in the same lane on the highway can pass each other. I think, more likely, the would collide.

    Seems to me Earth and the asteroid could be in nearly identical orbits and pass each other, or in the same orbit and never collide so long as they're travelling the same speed (or is it velocity?) but two objects traveling the s
    • by lymond01 (314120) on Monday January 26, 2009 @12:14PM (#26608065)

      To invoke the inevitable car analogy, that's like saying two cars driving in the same lane on the highway can pass each other. I think, more likely, the would collide.

      Space is a big place. Think of it more as if I-80, that great American cross-country interstate, wrapped around the world instead of just our little country. Even with one lane, you might never see another car. To add to that, think of I-80 as being a mile wide. The chances of hitting another car go down by a bit then, even if you happen to overtake the other car.

    • by mbone (558574)

      This is just sloppy terminology.

      They are in close, but not identical, orbits around the Sun.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ianare (1132971)
      Well 640 000 km is, in cosmic terms, the same lane : it's only a little further out than the moon (at 400 000 km).
      Think of the Earth/Moon as a car and the asteroid as a moped lane-splitting.
  • by cathector (972646) on Monday January 26, 2009 @12:00PM (#26607879)

    since the asteroid is coorbital, it's a little misleading to say that it's "passing" within 400,000 miles. what's really interesting is that it will be at more or less that same distance for many months, suggesting that it and earth share a common history.

    according to this java simulation of the object's orbit [nasa.gov], it won't be this close again until about 2100.

    • the asteroid is coorbital, it's a little misleading to say that it's "passing" within 400,000 miles. what's really interesting is that it will be at more or less that same distance for many months, suggesting that it and earth share a common history.

      So earth and this asteroid have a "history" that results in them still orbiting in the same social circles, but generally trying to stay as far apart from one another as they can, though it's always possible that gravity may draw them together in a catastrophic

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MemoryAid (675811)
      So it doesn't sound like it's going to solve our energy crisis by giving us a lot of kinetic energy that we don't have already. Er, I mean 'end' our energy crisis.

      Seriously, though, it intuitively seems like the danger from rogue asteroids comes from an intersecting orbit, with a high closure velocity prior to impact. This one may cause problems if it enters our atmosphere, but if it's already in a similar orbit, the energy dissipated would be mainly that associated with falling into our gravity well. Ho

  • A lost Lunar Probe ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Monday January 26, 2009 @12:17PM (#26608109)

    Whenever I hear of something like this, I have to wonder if it is a "lost" interplanetary probe (or the upper stage of one, or some other related debris). With this orbit, 2009 BD could be an old lunar flyby, maybe from the 1960's.

    Remember, the size estimate requires an albedo estimate, and rocket pieces tend to be very reflective, and thus will appear to be larger if the albedo is set too low, so if it was a spacecraft it would not be 10 meters, but maybe 4 or 5 at most. The Apollo 8, 10 and 11 third stages would be a possible candidate. (After Apollo 11, the third stages were impacted on the Moon to serve as sources for the seismometers.)

    Such lost probes will return to near the Earth, but perturbations will tend to move them slowly further away with time.

  • by mbone (558574) on Monday January 26, 2009 @12:18PM (#26608137)

    3753 Cruithne is in a Earth resonance orbit and is the first asteroid called "Earth's second moon". I don't know how many we are supposed to have now, but with this one, it is at least 3.

    • by ianare (1132971)
      Isn't a moon defined basically as a natural satellite ? If the body revolves around the Sun why would it be called an Earth moon ? Not being rhetorical, just curious.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mbone (558574)

        Well, Moons can be defined a lot of ways. If you look at an orbital plot in a reference frame that rotates with the Earth's orbit (so that the Earth and the Sun appear to be fixed, or nearly so), then these "co-orbitals" may appear to orbit the Earth. So from that standpoint, they appear to be satellites.

        I might also point out that from the Sun's point of view the orbit of the Moon (the big one) never appears to actually cross itself as it orbits around the Earth (i.e., as plotted from a Sun fixed frame the

        • by AtariKee (455870)
          Or if you wanted to be truly pedantic, all bodies orbiting other bodies are satellites. You make a good point about the media giving it the name of our satellite, Moon, and attaching "second" to it :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TheForgotton (995762)
      I'm in the midst of reading Stephen Baxter's novel Manifold Time, and it seems to be about an NEO mining expedition to Cruithne. Cool timing on this article.
  • If it shares the Earth's orbit, shouldn't its speed, relative to the Earth, be zero? Objects in the same orbit travel at the same speed, don't they? Am I just being pedantic?

    • by artson (728234)
      If it is in exactly, precisely the same orbit, then yes, the speed should be about the same, otherwise there will be a collision and one or both of the objects cease to exist, or else the larger object gravitationally captures the smaller object as a moon. I am NOT an astronomer.
    • Re:Co-orbital? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jc42 (318812) on Monday January 26, 2009 @02:30PM (#26610121) Homepage Journal

      If it shares the Earth's orbit, shouldn't its speed, relative to the Earth, be zero?

      On average, but not necessarily at any given time.

      Various astronomers have pointed out that the Earth and Luna are effectively two small planets sharing an orbit. On average, they have the same orbital speed, but because of their masses, they can't maintain a constant distance apart. For a while, they are accelerating toward each other, slowing down the one that's leading and speeding up the one that's trailing. This makes the leading one drop toward the sun slightly, while the trailing one moves out slightly, and they pass. Then they've changed roles, and the process repeats. From either one of them, it looks like the other is a satellite. And while they both have the same average orbital speed around the sun, at any given time both have an instantaneous speed that's slightly different from that average.

      There's a similar pair of moons in the Saturn system, that share an orbit and are repeatedly swapping the leading/trailing positions. Actually, this effectively happens with any planet-moon pair, but in cases like Mars or Jupiter, where the satellites are many orders of magnitude smaller than the planet, the effect on the planet can't be detected because the planet's changes of orbital speed are too small to be measured by our instruments.

      This new object could be compared to the Earth's moon, but it's a lot smaller and is in a much wider orbit. Or all three could be considered objects with nearly-identical orbits around the sun, constantly swapping leading/trailing roles.

      Similarly, I once read a description of the solar system as the sun and Jupiter plus a few billion insignificant pieces of smaller junk sharing a common orbit around the galactic center. What made them a "solar system" was that they were close enough together to be gravitationally bound, so they appeared to local observers to be orbiting each other.

    • by samkass (174571)

      Well, firstly if it's going to pass "within X miles" of the Earth, then it's not in the same orbit, it's in one that's X miles different from the Earth. Secondly, the Earth has gravity (as do Mars and Venus) and will perturb the orbits enough to give them relative motion.

      But yeah, if it's in an orbit around the sun that's almost the same as the Earth, the delta-V is going to be very low.

  • While I'm pleased they have found my spaceship and not recognised what it is, it appears to have slipped out of parking orbit.
  • The object in TFA poses no significant danger. More accurately, "posed". It's closest approach (691,200 km) was the day before the article.

    No presently tracked NEO poses more than about a 0.13% cumulative impact probability for all its projected passes over the next century (2000 SG344).

    But as more objects are located, and their individual cumulative impact probabilities are calculated, they're compiled into pages such as at http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/ [nasa.gov] . These objects don't care about each other and thei

  • ... whatever I saw not long ago, I'd described as a "fridge on fire falling from the sky". The picture does not serve justice to what I saw. http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20081125/meteorite_search_081125?hub=EdmontonHome [edmonton.ctv.ca]
  • Saying that this asteroid is passing by Earth is like saying that I just passed by Jessica Alba, even though I'm in Australia and she's in the US.
    • Astronomically, it's kind of close. That is, considering how close everything else in the solar system is to us. Nothing like the last asteroid that buzzed us, though.
      • > Astronomically, it's kind of close.

        That's correct, but for trivial semantic reaons: 'astronomically' means 'using a scale where we talk about really distant things as if they're a lot closer'. You know, like the way 'geologically' means 'using a scale where really long times are considered short'. So saying 'geologically speaking, a million years ago is just a blink of an eye' is tautological. :-)

    • by Fluffeh (1273756)
      All this talk seems to be of relatively huge and minute objects. Now, given that Jessica Alba is a constant in this equation, while your size is as yet undetermined, I feel that I must ask the following question:

      Are you saying that you are the size of a medium sized suburb?
  • Bruce Willis can stay home.

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