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Space Science

2010 AL30, Asteroid Or Space Junk, To Pay a Close Visit 136

Posted by kdawson
from the threading-the-needle dept.
astroengine writes "A near-Earth object that could be manmade has just been discovered hurtling toward us. On Wednesday (Jan. 13), an object called 2010 AL30 will fly by Earth at a distance of just 130,000 km (80,000 miles). That's only one-third of the way from here to the moon, i.e. very close. It will miss us, and if it did hit us, it wouldn't do any damage anyway, but I managed to pick up on some chatter between planetary scientists and found out that the 'asteroid,' or whatever it is, gives us a new standard: a 10-meter-wide asteroid can be detected two days before it potentially hits Earth. A pretty useful warning if you ask me."
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2010 AL30, Asteroid Or Space Junk, To Pay a Close Visit

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  • VGER (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:25AM (#30748632)

    V*GER is coming home!

  • Two days? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:26AM (#30748638)
    Not much of a sodding warning. Can you stock up & get to high ground/underground in two days?
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not much of a sodding warning. Can you stock up & get to high ground/underground in two days?

      No, but you don't need to. For a 10m asteroid impact the damage would be localized (a Tunguska or Hiroshima sized event), all you need to do is get out of the way.

      More serious impact hazards would come from larger asteroids which are more likely to be discovered as hazards to the Earth farther in advance (or at least one hopes).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        sounds like a recipe for carnage if the projected impact zone is a highly populated area. hey everyone in new york city - you have two days to clear the city - ready,steady,go!

        although that carnage is neither here nor there when the alternative is being obliterated instantly.

        • Also, instant obliteration ranks pretty damn high on the list of pleasant exits. Even in areas with fun stuff like sanitation and modern medicine, a great many people should be so lucky.

          It's the poor bastards on the edge of the obliteration zone that have something to cry about.
        • Re:Two days? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by MrMr (219533) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:44AM (#30749232)
          From driving there I was under the impression that everybody got into and out of New York city on a daily basis anyway.
          Why would this be different?
          • Is the daily number of commuters the same as the size of the entire population of the city? If so i suppose it wouldn't be that much different. but another factor to weigh in is that commuters aren't fleeing for their lives, and are likely to be much more patient, and not start attacking one another when a traffic jam builds up. As soon as something out of the ordinary and disruptive like that happens i can't help thinking it would rapidly compound and spiral out of control.
        • sounds like a recipe for carnage if the projected impact zone is a highly populated area. hey everyone in new york city - you have two days to clear the city - ready,steady,go!

          A healthy person can easily walk 20 miles in a day. At a distance of 5 miles from a Hiroshima sized explosion, you would very likely (+99%) survive.

          As long as it doesn't hit a nuclear reactor directly, there will be little to no radiation. It would be like a giant TNT bomb, so calculating projected casualties using PSI measurements

      • by mpe (36238)
        No, but you don't need to. For a 10m asteroid impact the damage would be localized (a Tunguska or Hiroshima sized event), all you need to do is get out of the way.

        Rather depends what it is made of and how much makes it down to a low altitude. Rather larger space stations have been deorbited without such low level explosions. Nor did the crash of Columbia create any large explosions, even though substantial parts of the vehicle did hit the ground.
        • by jschen (1249578)
          Others have already pointed out that the objects you compared with are not nearly as massive as an asteroid of comparable size. Furthermore, energy scales with not just mass, but also velocity squared. Asteroids approach at much higher closing speeds than something in low earth orbit that is being nudged back toward the surface. And anything we put into orbit is going to have much more aerodynamic drag per unit mass than a small lump of metal alloy, so it will slow down much more on the way down. Thus the s
    • by jamesh (87723)

      Not much of a sodding warning. Can you stock up & get to high ground/underground in two days?

      At least you can't say you weren't warned!

      Besides, how much warning do you need to put your head between your legs and kiss your bum goodbye?

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      I imagine an object that small can be blown to itty bitty pieces with conventional explosives.
      The pieces would make a nice light show while burning up in the atmosphere, but that's about it.

    • by BarMonger (884208)

      Why would you need to stock up and get to high ground, for an object this small?
      It will most likely be destroyed in the atmosphere upon entry, should it "hit" the Earth.

    • by Krneki (1192201)
      More then enough to Duck & Cover.
    • more than enough time to plot where it will hit and be ready with a baseball bat.

    • by dreamchaser (49529) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:14AM (#30749068) Homepage Journal

      If you do not always have at least one (preferably at least four) weeks of food and water handy then you're daft anyways. We've grown so complacent and soft. I'm not a survivalist per se but we keep plenty of food stores and several gallons of potable water handy in case of a natural (or even unnatural) disaster.

      As for getting to high ground, well you chose where you live :)

      • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @10:03AM (#30750610)

        I have lots of neighbours. They should last for months.

        • I plan on eating the vegans first. Grain fed and all that jazz, not to mention that they are more likely to be pacifists and will thus be unarmed.

      • " I'm not a survivalist per se but we keep plenty of food stores and several gallons of potable water handy in case of a natural (or even unnatural) disaster."

        You store the food, I'll store the weapons. See what happens when I pay you a visit after the armaggedon.

        • We weren't on the topic of weapons. Trust me in that we (my wife and I) are both well armed :)

          If you have skills or useful gear to bring to the table we might share some food with you though. Otherwise...well 'nuff said.

      • by Bios_Hakr (68586)

        I guess it depends on where you live, but having food and water stored isn't always useful. In the event of a disaster, you may be required to move quickly. Will you have time to gather supplies?

        Water is, by far, the toughest problem. You need about a gallon per day per person. Each gallon is about, what, 8lb? Very hard to move that.

        Personally, I think that everyone needs, in this order:

        1. Water purification system (either a gallon of bleach or chlorine tablets)
        2. Case of MREs (12 packs per case and

        • I guess it depends on where you live, but having food and water stored isn't always useful. In the event of a disaster, you may be required to move quickly. Will you have time to gather supplies?

          That's what a 'go bag' is for. One should always have several days of food and hopefully water in a ready to grab package such as a backpack.

        • by Shakrai (717556)

          The pistol is to keep anyone from taking your stuff.

          What are you gonna do when they show up with rifles? Pistol doesn't do you much good in a real combat situation. It's only real advantage is that it's small enough to conceal and you don't really have an excuse not to carry one. There's an expression somewhere along the lines of "The pistol is the gun that you use to fight your way back to a real gun." I'm somewhat surprised that you left the shotgun off your list. Hard to get more versatile than a shotgun.

          My list would look like this:

          1. Pistol for con
        • by sznupi (719324)

          Cats?! You don't want to save anything that makes you human?!

          PS. This one gallon per day per person isn't as bad as it sounds - it's a total water input necessary, including what you get in meals.

      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        In terms of small objects that may or may not burn up in the atmosphere, wouldn't somewhat lower ground be better? If you are on the top of Mt. McKinley vs sea level, how much less/more of the object in question would burn up (angle off of vertical would matter, I know).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by brunokummel (664267)

      Not much of a sodding warning. Can you stock up & get to high ground/underground in two days?

      ...humm you could get high...

    • You could get to both very quickly if you were near enough to ground zero. You, wouldn't need to worry about supplies then either.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Not much of a sodding warning. Can you stock up & get to high ground/underground in two days?

      You wouldn't have to, as TFS says it would do no damage if it did strike. The "two days" is important because the larger the object, the faster it can be detected.

  • 2 days is good, but what about the object coming from behind the sun?

    More work should be able to see what's coming from the 'blind spot'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by flyingfsck (986395)
      My guess is that schtuff coming from behind the sun mostly tends to fall either into the sun, or be wildly accelerated away in a hyperbole. So the 'blind spot' is likely a rather 'safe spot'.
      • by Maskedman (221001)

        ESA used their Gaia spacecraft back in around 2002 to probe the blind spot behind the sun, so they are taking it seriously.

        But NEA's are coming at different speeds/trajectories, all those variables determines where it ends up, having a blind spot behind the sun doesn't help tracking them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by j-b0y (449975)

          Unlikely! Gaia will not be launched until 2012.

          • by Maskedman (221001)

            Sorry, that's true...but the point is that they ARE doing this to probe the blind spot behind the sun.

            • by j-b0y (449975)

              As someone else said, there are no blind spots as such, over a long enough period of time.

              Gaia will build an astrometric/photometric catalogue of all objects from mag 7ish down to mag 20 + a little bit. This is about 10^9 objects, some of which will be solar system objects. So yes it will see many objects which are could be a problem. It will almost certainly be in contact with the Minor Planet Center.

              However there are better telescopes for doing this sort of object detection (LSST etc), although the final

          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            What was the name of the planet in Asimov's story? Nemesis? In the Asimov universe, Gaia isn't anywhere near the earth; it's a planet where the whole planet is sentient, including the rocks and grass.

            But the new Gaia is ne, I'm old school.

      • Re:2 days? (Score:4, Funny)

        by Muad'Dave (255648) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:14AM (#30749402) Homepage

        ...wildly accelerated away in a hyperbole

        How apropos - "wildly accelerated" is hyperbole. Oh you mean "hyperbola".

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:31AM (#30748650) Homepage
    • Scientician: Mr President of Earth, we've picked up an asteroid on a potential collision course with earth!
    • Mr President of Earth: Great Scott! Will it hit us?
    • Scientician: Yes! Maybe. I mean, probably. We're pretty sure that it might.
    • Mr President of Earth: And how much damage will it do?
    • Scientician: Ah, a good question. That depends on what it's made of.
    • Mr President of Earth: What's it made of?
    • Scientician: We're 92% confident that we'll learn that with a 57% probability after it hits us.
    • Mr President of Earth: ... 'k. And where will it hit?
    • Scientician: Well, if it hits the earth, it's more likely to hit a wet bit. Unless it doesn't. And it'll probably be in the Northern hemisphere, unless it's not.
    • Mr President of Earth: So we should...?
    • Scientician: Well, gee, sir, that's your decision. I just do the Science.
  • Not an asteroid? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rhaban (987410) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:32AM (#30748662)

    Isn't a man-made space objet, like a satellite, much easier to detect than a piece of rock because it's all metally and shiny (except in the case of a secret orbtial space station with climate laser weapons used for the supremacy of an evil overlord ready to conquier the world, but it seems unlikely such a thing would just fall out of its orbit)?

    If so, it doesn't really tell us anything about detecting a earth-crushing meteor far before the impact.

    • by cskau (1720008)

      ...(except in the case of a secret orbtial space station with climate laser weapons used for the supremacy of an evil overlord ready to conquier the world, but it seems unlikely such a thing would just fall out of its orbit)?

      Maybe such a station is just the answer to the problem of asteroids? It would be 'Asteroids' in HD-3D ! I think I just got a great idea for a movie..

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kalidasa (577403)
      Or, in somewhat more technical terms, the fact that they suspect it's manmade suggests it has a very high albedo, which would make it much easier to find.
    • by mbone (558574)

      Yes. A 2 or 3 meter spacecraft could look like a 10 meter asteroid (and would typically not weigh much even for its size, being probably largely hollow).

      Everything that leaves the Earth to go into solar orbit will return to the close vicinity of the Earth's orbit, unless the spacecraft has its orbit further modified. So, for example, the upper stages of spacecraft sent on to elsewhere will typically come back to the vicinity of our orbit. If there is any sort of orbit commensurability, periodically the Eart

    • by Kentari (1265084)

      You are correct. The size estimate based on the assumption that it is a natural object is 90-190m, depending on the albedo. It is derived of the absolute magnitude (22.453). If it is a man made object, it is a lot smaller that that, probably smaller than 20m and in the size range of the 3rd stage of a Saturn V. A radar was scheduled to ping the object this morning and more information should follow soon...

      An impact of a 100m object would be bad on a local scale, but not earth-crushing. Evacuating the affec

    • by Suki I (1546431)

      but it seems unlikely such a thing would just fall out of its orbit)?

      Don't forget the James Bond possibility!

    • Re:Not an asteroid? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:19AM (#30749096)

      It's not thought to be "space junk" any more: it was thought it might be an old booster segment but apparently based on its path there's no rocket launch that it could've come from.

      • by david.given (6740)

        It's not thought to be "space junk" any more: it was thought it might be an old booster segment but apparently based on its path there's no rocket launch that it could've come from.

        Incoming alien spaceship, perhaps? 130000km is a good distance to approach to; it's safely clear of our geostationary satellite belt, but still close enough for a good look. Plus, our puny earth technology can't actually get that far without about six months' lead time. 10m isn't big by our standards but any spacefaring civilisation is unlikely to be crewing their ships with canned primates anyway so there's no real grounds for comparison.

        Alas, there's no way of estimating what sort of drive it's got, and

        • by Thud457 (234763)
          It's considered rude to show up unannounced and then put yourself in an orbit that would lead to a collision if you were a free-falling body.

          e.g.Lying Bastard's arrival at the Ringworld.

      • And the weirdest thing is that on closer observation it seems to be a dark, perfectly rectangular prism.

        • by jefu (53450)
          And the lengths of the various dimensions are in the ratio of 1x4x9 !
      • If my calculations are correct it will turn out to be a jet engine from a passenger airline plane...

        Just ask Frank (the rabbit).

    • by mpe (36238)
      Isn't a man-made space objet, like a satellite, much easier to detect than a piece of rock because it's all metally and shiny

      Natural objects can be made of the likes of iron. Not much oxygen in space to cause this to rust.
  • by noname444 (1182107) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @05:50AM (#30748726)

    The fact that we've detected a 10m wide object once, a couple of days before it hits (or doesn't hit), doesn't mean anything. It might be that we can detect every such object or one in a million.

    • by khallow (566160)

      The fact that we've detected a 10m wide object once, a couple of days before it hits (or doesn't hit), doesn't mean anything. It might be that we can detect every such object or one in a million.

      Sure it does. It means we can detect objects 10m wide. And we already have a good idea of the frequency of an asteroid impact of this size (due to power law relationship between asteroid mass and impact frequency). Namely, a 5-10m wide asteroid hits the Earth roughly once every year. Asteroids passing within the Moon's orbital radius of Earth occur probably on the order of a thousand per year (I don't know the relative difference in cross-sectional area, the latter is roughly 2,000 times greater in area, bu

      • If our systems are sensitive enough to pick up asteroids much smaller than the minimal threat level, that is a good sign that we can pick up asteroids that are a threat to us.

        I just hope that 'better than 2 days' with respect to larger objects is exponentially better.

        "What, I told you we could do better, I gave you 3 days warning on that rogue planet from the Oort cloud"

        • by khallow (566160)

          "What, I told you we could do better, I gave you 3 days warning on that rogue planet from the Oort cloud"

          Comet Hale-Bopp would be much smaller than a "rogue planet". It was discovered 7.2 AU out in 1995 with closest approach almost two years later.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So should we send another ball of garbage to deflect it?

  • The two days advance notice should only apply to object's with a velocity/distance the same as this object. Unless the object is farther away but moving faster, where the distance it takes for the object to get from point A to point B is exactly the same amount of time as the AL30.
  • I mean, sure, it's nice to know that they are able to detect such an object, but the key here is probability. Was this pure chance/luck that they found it or are they 99.999% sure that they will detect any such object within the given timeframe?

    • by vlm (69642)

      I mean, sure, it's nice to know that they are able to detect such an object, but the key here is probability. Was this pure chance/luck that they found it or are they 99.999% sure that they will detect any such object within the given timeframe?

      Another interesting related question, how often do they "look" for objects with that trajectory? Constantly? Every hour? One time?

      • by RichiH (749257)

        They can not look for trajectory directly. They detect something and try to find it on the next pictures. Once they have done that, the trajectory is known. Further observations refine the trajectory estimate.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Ah, see the summary says "can be detected." It can be. We've done it. You're thinking "will be detected," which nobody said anything about.

  • A what where now?! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Provocateur (133110) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:20AM (#30749112) Homepage

    Even more alarming is where I heard it first...on frackin Slashdot!

    * me nervous

  • This means we dont know if something that comes out of space could be ours? I mean at that distance? How much stuff have we launched that went there and could come back??
    • by RoboRay (735839)

      Basic orbital mechanics is that ANYTHING launched away from the Earth that doesn't achieve solar system escape velocity WILL come back to us eventually, so long as it doesn't hit something else or have it's orbit perturbed by passing too close to another large body.

      • by mmcxii (1707574)
        I think they were more asking about how much stuff of this size have we really put out that far that we haven't kept track of.

        10 meters wide, that's a large size for a man made object. On top of that consider that this object is coming from outside the geosynchronous range. Now, how many man made objects are there that are larger 10 meters wide and outside of geosync? And how the hell did they lose track of them? I think it's a pretty interesting question.
  • by franiu (1343655) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:29AM (#30749146)
    Radar Operator: Colonel, you better have a look at this radar.
    Colonel: What is it, son?
    Radar Operator: I don't know, sir, but it looks like a giant...
    Jet Pilot: Dick. Dick, take a look out of starboard.
    Co-Pilot: Oh my God, it looks like a huge...
    Bird-Watching Woman: Pecker.
    Bird-Watching Man: [raising binoculars] Ooh, Where?
    Bird-Watching Woman: Over there. What sort of bird is that? Wait, it's not a woodpecker, it looks like someone's...
    Army Sergeant: Privates. We have reports of an unidentified flying object. It has a long, smooth shaft, complete with...
    Baseball Umpire: Two balls.
    [looking up from game]
    Baseball Umpire: What is that. It looks just like an enormous...
    Chinese Teacher: Wang. pay attention.
    Wang: I was distracted by that giant flying...
    Musician: Willie.
    Willie: Yeah?
    Musician: What's that?
    Willie: [squints] Well, that looks like a huge...
    Colonel: Johnson.
    Radar Operator: Yes, sir?
    Colonel: Get on the horn to British Intelligence and let them know about this.

    We should get ready for Dr. Evil...
  • Thank you Superman for throwing that Hydrogen bomb out into space in 'Superman 2' [imdb.com]. We're all potentially doomed by your stupidity and lack of knowledge in the realm of physics and astronomy. I expected more out of a super hero.
    • You know, Superman never exactly demonstrated super-intelligence. I mean, he was a *journalist* for Pete's sake. Do you remember those journalism majors in college? Serious about partying, but not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer.

  • ago. Quick, deploy the smell-o-scope!
  • "It will miss us, and if it did hit us, it wouldn't do any damage anyway, but I managed to pick up on some chatter between planetary scientists and found out that the 'asteroid,' or whatever it is, gives us a new standard: a 10-meter-wide asteroid can be detected two days before it potentially hits Earth. A pretty useful warning if you ask me."

    Whether or not something that size, or even a lot larger, would get picked up depends on so many factors that being the least bit confident seems a bit prematur

  • Close encounters (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Muad'Dave (255648) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:27AM (#30749508) Homepage

    If you can trust extrapolating the orbit backwards in time (you can't), JPL's orbital tool [nasa.gov] shows that this object had a 'close encounter' with Venus on Apr 15th, 2006. It also looks suspiciously like an Earth-Mars trajectory launched around Jan 12th, 2007. I was unable to find any corresponding launches, however.

    Real Astronomers (TM) have now discounted the object being man-made, but it is interesting to speculate.

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