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NASA Space Science

What To Do About an Asteroid That Has a 1 In 625 Chance of Hitting Us In 2040? 412

Posted by Soulskill
from the ignore-it-until-2039-and-then-panic dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "The asteroid 2011 AG5 is 140 meters across: football-stadium-sized. Its orbit isn't nailed down well enough to say yet, but using what's currently known, there's a 1 in 625 chance it will impact the Earth in 2040. It's behind the Sun until September 2013, and more observations taken then will probably reduce the odds of impact to something close to 0. But does it make sense to wait until then to start investigating a mission to deflect it away our planet? Astronomers are debating this right now, and what they conclude may pave the way for how we deal with an asteroid threat in the future."
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What To Do About an Asteroid That Has a 1 In 625 Chance of Hitting Us In 2040?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:48PM (#39268333)

    Praying it hits. That would be so awesome!

    • by eggstasy (458692)

      Amen brother. Let's get on the A ship and use the Earth as the B.

    • Who knows?

      Maybe that big knock at 2040 will wake me up and I then can crawl out of my (future) coffin

    • by Lotana (842533) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:22PM (#39268703)

      140 meters diameter doesn't sound like much. Depends on the composition and speed, it will be reduced even further before making it to the ground. I immagine it shouldn't be much worse than a Tunguska event and seeing how majority of the planet is uninhabited, chances are good that no major number of lifes will be lost.

      And if it occurs at a location where we can monitor/record, it will bring awareness that rocks in space do indeed end up on our planet in our lifetimes, thus worthwile to think about. Therefore having this pebble hit us might not be such a bad thing after all.

      • it shouldn't be much worse than a Tunguska event and seeing how majority of the planet is uninhabited, chances are good that no major number of lifes will be lost.

        If it hits the ocean, which is the majority of the planet, you can revise that estimate up a bunch from tidal waves. But I agree that we should give this more attention that "Well, it's after my term is over, so not my problem."

      • by Spiridios (2406474) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:40PM (#39268885) Journal

        140 meters diameter doesn't sound like much. Depends on the composition and speed, it will be reduced even further before making it to the ground. I immagine it shouldn't be much worse than a Tunguska event and seeing how majority of the planet is uninhabited, chances are good that no major number of lifes will be lost.

        And if it occurs at a location where we can monitor/record, it will bring awareness that rocks in space do indeed end up on our planet in our lifetimes, thus worthwile to think about. Therefore having this pebble hit us might not be such a bad thing after all.

        Just some numbers for reference:

        This one is 140 meters across.

        • by Lotana (842533) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @09:26PM (#39269343)

          True, but the remaining variables are the composition and how much actually makes it down to the surface.

          Lets use some numbers in the calculator from the quick Google search:

          http://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk/ImpactEffects/ [ic.ac.uk]

          - We are hit with 140 meters perfect sphere of dense stone
          - Speed of projectile is 17 km/s (Calculator states that it is the typical speed for asteroid impace)
          - Entry angle of 45% (Again based on the caluculator stated most likely)
          - Rock lands into 1000 meter depth water. Random figure

          Results:
          1 km away [ic.ac.uk]

          20 km away [ic.ac.uk]

          100 km away [ic.ac.uk]

          Reading the descriptions, it honestly doesn't sound like such a calamity. At 100 km distance it is hardly felt.

          • by edxwelch (600979) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @11:19PM (#39270551)

            Huh? It says 72 Megaton explosion. That's bigger than than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated.

            • by Z00L00K (682162)

              And even that had a relatively local effect.

              Humanity won't be in risk from this but if it crashes in a densely populated area like US east coast, central Europe, India or China then the death toll can be considerable. 100 million dead is a possibility.

              • by c6gunner (950153) on Wednesday March 07, 2012 @03:48AM (#39272301)

                Humanity won't be in risk from this but if it crashes in a densely populated area like US east coast, central Europe, India or China then the death toll can be considerable. 100 million dead is a possibility.

                No way. That's a third of the US population. Can't think of any place in the world where the population is packed densely enough to cause those kinds of casualties.

                Striking rock, an iron meteorite would create a crater no more than 4km across. At 10 kilometers distance, well built structures would remain standing. You'd get dead people from flying glass and random rocks, but that's about it. At 20km, you should have no casualties at all, except maybe a few hundred dying from the resultant earthquake. Even if it hit Delhi (one of the top 10 densest cities in the world, population 12 million), I wouldn't expect more than 5 million casualties as a maximum, and probably far fewer.

                • by u38cg (607297)
                  I agree there would be few immediate deaths. But I wonder what the impact on US infrastructure would be after a meteorite strike. Katrina managed to send a city into melt-down; it's hard to believe such an event would not lead to outcomes that were at least as bad.
      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        It would be about 100MT of energy if it hit us (and a rock with that much energy being slowed by the atmosphere isn't doing us any favors; that energy is still released and it's not like it has to land on you to kill you).

        If you're willing to take the bet that a 100MT bomb going off at a random point on earth won't be near enough to civilization to matter, feel free. Me, I'd rather fold than play my luck. (Folding in this case means studying the rock to further analyze its trajectory, and developing a mit

    • by janeil (548335) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @11:30PM (#39270625)
      If I live that long I'll be 85, and would LOVE to have this be my end-o-life event! Bring it on, random cosmic occurence!
  • Just... (Score:5, Funny)

    by MisterMidi (1119653) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:49PM (#39268351) Homepage
    Just threaten to sue it out of existance.
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:49PM (#39268353) Journal
    There is a 1 in 625 chance that I will be taking a long holiday and be unavailable for comment in 2040...
  • by Firehed (942385) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:52PM (#39268377) Homepage

    It's far too distant to deal with now. Let's re-evaluate the situation when it's a couple years out, and hope Bruce Willis hasn't retired if our odds haven't improved.

  • by jd (1658) <imipak@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:52PM (#39268385) Homepage Journal

    If it hits, it wipes out the major cause of habitat destruction, global warming and talk radio. If it misses, the sales of tinfoil hats and doomsday billboards will restore the global economy.

    • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:01PM (#39268501)

      It's too small to be a civilization-killer. We're only talking a gigaton-range boom when it impacts.

      Yeah, it would suck to be under it, or even within a couple hundred miles of it, but beyond that, it's mostly just a lightshow and something to keep the bookies busy.

      • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jwsm[ ]e.com ['yth' in gap]> on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:17PM (#39268667) Homepage Journal

            That would depend on what it's made of. If it's a dirty snowball (mostly ice, with some small rock debris), it'd fall apart when it hit the atmosphere, and make for a pretty light show.

            We've identified what we believe to be other rarer objects. Say it was a chunk of something like BPM 37093. I suspect that would be dangerous on reentry. I'm not a geologist, so I won't attempt to guess what would happen to it. Would it shatter, melt, or remain one relatively solid mass the whole way down.

            If so, I don't think it would be an ELE. Tragic? Possibly, depending on where it hit. Catastrophic? probably not. Despite the way things look in population centers, there are vast areas of relatively uninhabited land around the world. If it hit the water, it may cause a tsunami wave. Depending on where that wave makes landfall, it could disrupt anywhere from dozens to millions of people.

        • by KhabaLox (1906148) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @09:08PM (#39269123)

          If it hit the water, it may cause a tsunami wave. Depending on where that wave makes landfall, it could disrupt anywhere from dozens to millions of people.

          But weren't the tsunami's (2004 and Japan's) caused when large (kilometers long) sections of the seabed were suddenly raised up, displacing the seawater? The displacement of a 140 m meteor doesn't seem like it would be as much.

          Further reading:

          The energy released on the Earth's surface only (ME, which is the seismic potential for damage) by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami was estimated at 1.1×1017 joules,[24] or 26 megatons of TNT. This energy is equivalent to over 1500 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, but less than that of Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated. However, this is but a tiny fraction of the total work done MW (and thus energy) by this quake, 4.0×1022 joules (4.0×1029 ergs),[25] the vast majority underground.

          While the wikipedia [wikipedia.org] page doesn't say how much water was displaced, it does say this:

          the earthquake had made a huge impact on the topography of the seabed. 1,500-metre-high (5,000 ft) thrust ridges created by previous geologic activity along the fault had collapsed, generating landslides several kilometers wide. One such landslide consisted of a single block of rock some 100 m high and 2 km long (300 ft by 1.25 mi). The momentum of the water displaced by tectonic uplift had also dragged massive slabs of rock, each weighing millions of tons, as far as 10 km (6 mi) across the seabed.

      • Assume for a moment it does strike. Odds are that it will strike the ocean. If it does, I'd like to know what kind of tsunami that would create. The 2004 tsunami has a calculated yield of about 299 megatons. Though I'm not sure if that figure was calculated at the epicenter from the quake, or energy generated upon shore impact. There is a big discrepancy I'm sure with some KE being converted into some other form of energy as it was reaching out coast to coast.

        If I recall, some impacts can be surface based w

  • by OliWarner (1529079) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:52PM (#39268389) Homepage

    We should definitely consider putting Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Aerosmith into cryo right now. Without them, we won't have a chance.

    • We should definitely consider putting Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Aerosmith into cryo right now. Without them, we won't have a chance.

      Okay, that's the beginnings of a plan anyway - but, in order for it to be effective, won't we need to get the asteroid to somehow make threats against Willis' family?

    • or who even is under him

  • by tylersoze (789256) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:54PM (#39268407)

    Decisions of how to deal with the massive asteroid are best left to the individual.

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/republicans-vote-to-repeal-obamabacked-bill-that-w,19025/ [theonion.com]

    • by steelfood (895457)

      Imagine if that asteroid turned out to actually be on an collision course, and various space-capable countries started playing three-way pong with the asteroid to see which ocean they could make it fall into.

    • by mcavic (2007672)
      Thanks - I read half of the article before I realized it was Onion. I looked up at the address bar to see what kind of tabloid was printing this crap. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:54PM (#39268411)

    Yes it makes sense to wait. Why waste 18 months coming up with solutions to deflect it only to find out it won't strike 27 years from now? If September 2013 rolls around and it looks like it will hit in 2040, 27 years is practically as much time as 28 years to develop a solution.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      Now that's taking procrastination to a whole new level.

    • Is there any reason why NASA can't start working out a 'asteroid impact playbook' right now instead of scrambling to make one when the big one does come, even if it's not this one? I fail to see how that would be a worse use of taxpayer dollars than, say, the shuttle program was.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      it only to find out it won't strike 27 years from now? If September 2013 rolls around and it looks like it will hit in 2040, 27 years is practically as much time as 28 years to develop a solution.

      It might sound like that, until some time in 2013, when the Asterois is suddenly sighted that has a 70% chance of hitting earth in 2015.

    • There's no reason not to start thinking and talking about it now: at worst we get a head start on planning for the next one. BTW the 2023 pass might be the best time for a deflection effort. There is almost no chance that we could deflect it if we wait until the last few years before impact.

    • 2023 is the year that the asteroid will either pass through the "keyhole" and be bent into an orbit that will strike the earth, or it won't and we're safe for the foreseeable future.

      Deflecting the asteroid so that it misses the keyhole (~300km) is much easier than deflecting it so that it misses the earth (~13000km).

      In that timeframe, 18 months can matter.

      Also, the time spent developing solutions is anything but a waste. We never know when we'll discover an asteroid that's on a collision course with earth

  • by gblackwo (1087063) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:56PM (#39268431) Homepage
    I always liked the plans that involved speeding the asteroid up, or slowing it down just slightly.

    I saw a recent idea that involved painting it white in order to decrease absorptivity.
    • Q's plan of changing the gravitational constant of the universe is my favorite. It has lots of potentially interesting side effects.

      • Q's plan of changing the gravitational constant of the universe is my favorite. It has lots of potentially interesting side effects.

        How to lose weight fast! Guaranteed plan. Eat our specially formulated food (along with a proper diet, exercise, and changing the gravitational constant of the universe) and you will see the pounds come off in no time!

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I like the drop it on the Moon, or mars, solution.

    • by Jeremi (14640) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:51PM (#39268985) Homepage

      I saw a recent idea that involved painting it white in order to decrease absorptivity.

      The real trick is to make it look like you're having so much fun repainting it that all the other countries demand to be allowed to repaint it as well.

  • Easy answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:56PM (#39268439)
    Plan a party. Get wasted, and get laid.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @07:58PM (#39268463)

    Wherever it hits, those are the people that God hates most. End of debate.

  • Am I the only one that gets terribly frustrated by statements like "the asteroid has a 1 in X chance to hit earth"?

    There's no probability here - the asteroid either will or will not hit. Why can't they say just say this is the measure of uncertainty in the curve fit rather than a "chance to hit"?

    • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:11PM (#39268621) Homepage

      Am I the only one that gets terribly frustrated by statements like "the asteroid has a 1 in X chance to hit earth"?

      Do statements like "The coin has a 1 in 2 chance of coming up heads" also bother you?

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Do statements like "The coin has a 1 in 2 chance of coming up heads" also bother you?

        The coin has a 50% chance of coming up heads, unless a butterfly flaps her wings at the behest of an EMACS programmer with the right shortcut key.

      • by ThosLives (686517)

        Do statements like "The coin has a 1 in 2 chance of coming up heads" also bother you?

        No, because a (proverbial) coin flip is a probabilistic event.

        • A coin flip is exactly as probabilistic an event as this possible impact.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "the asteroid either will or will not hit"

      It's like saying the chance to roll a 1 on a d6 is 50/50 it will or it won't; which is fail.

      And the uncertainty are in the asteroids orbit. The more you remove those, the better you can define the probability.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      There's no probability here - the asteroid either will or will not hit. Why can't they say just say this is the measure of uncertainty in the curve fit rather than a "chance to hit"?

      Actually.... quantum characteristics do effect the motion of objects relatively low in mass (like asteroids) over sufficient time and space.

      But there are other probalistic things that will effect the path of an asteroid as well, such as the motion of other unobserved bodies, actions of humans and other high-entropy phen

  • reailty check? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by powerspike (729889) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:00PM (#39268485)
    It's another year before we can get data, it'll be another 27 years before it'll hit if it does. Don't you think it'd be better to wait a year, see what the odds are. If they start coming closer to hitting us in a decade etc, then we should looking into it. At this point in time, it'd be a complete waste of time. Even if we waited 20 years before knowing it's going to hit us, our level of tech will be much greater then, then it is now and it'll basically obsolete any work we do on it before then - making it a waste of time and resources, isn't there better things we can be doing with our science dollars?
  • I'll take those odds. I bet my life savings we survive.
    • by flyneye (84093)

      I'll hold the wagers til it's time. Bring your bets.

    • by mark-t (151149)

      Let's consider that from a purely mathematical perspective, shall we?

      Given that the odds of it missing are currently calculated at 624/625... the maximum payout on winning that bet would be less than 1/6th of one percent of the amount you bet. Although this could still be an appreciable sum you bet a large amount, you're simply far better off putting it in a bank, and getting a far greater return.

      If the chances were more like 5 or 6 percent, then it might be worth investing in. Of course, if the chan

  • I have not done the calculations but I think deflecting a big asteroid is difficult considering energies required to change its trajectory. Hell, it takes a lot to simply move a spacecraft from one orbital plane to another. I know it's all great in the movies (and references to Bruce Willis) but almost all who have an opinion of asteroid deflection don't seem to be knowledgable of astrodynamics (Fundamentals of Astrodynamics (Bate, Mueller, White), http://www.amazon.com/Fundamentals-Astrodynamics-Dover-Aero [amazon.com]
    • Bruce Willis and his pals didn't attempt to deflect the asteroid; they tried to break it up. How feasible would it be to break up a football stadium sized asteroid? Even if the remaining pieces are still going to hit earth, the damage would be considerable less (near zero, if the pieces are small enough).
    • by geekoid (135745)

      "almost all who have an opinion of asteroid deflection don't seem to be knowledgable of astrodynamics"
      well, that true with any field isn't it? that's not the problem. The problem is everyone seems to think their opinion should carry the same weight as the experts. Which is shouldn't.

  • Attach a solar sail (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scorp1us (235526) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:05PM (#39268557) Journal

    And let the solar wind push it out. You only need to alter its orbit by 5 minutes in the next 22 years to miss completely.

    • by scorp1us (235526)

      Correction, 28 years.

    • by Shandon (53512) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:14PM (#39268653)

      Unless the math is wrong, or a solar storm changes the track or ... and you alter the path to make it hit dead center instead of a grazing shot. That's the problem with orbital mechanics - stuff changes over the years and depending on other gravitational interactions, what you thought was a deflection was a centering action. W00t.

      But you *know* there's a rock out there with Humanity's name on it. This one. Another one. Doesn't really matter. If we can't get off this planet in serious numbers before it hits, the universe goes on without us.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Solar sails use radiation pressure [wikipedia.org], not solar wind.

      • by scorp1us (235526) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @11:12PM (#39270475) Journal

        Well then use a real sail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_sail [wikipedia.org]

        Sample calculations in the article provide 70n of thrust at 1AU, over 28 years would result in a displacement of 6 822 402 370 meters. The earth is 12 756 000 meters in diameter. This means that it would miss by 534 earth-diameters. Depending on which direction it is we're either really safe or more screwed. Note I did not take into account orbital mechanics, and only did a linear calculation. I think the odds would be even in better favor if we got the sail on it and it orbited closer to the sun where the magnetic pressure is higher.

        Given that magsails are 1/10000th the power of a solar sail, I still think the sail idea has it licked.

  • by petman (619526) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:06PM (#39268571)
    Whoa! I had a dream about something like this last night. In my dream, a meteor/asteroid hit the water and caused a flood and I thought I was going to die. However, I survived and the water receded. Due to the flood, all electrical/electronic stuff basically died and people basically had to survive without technology.
  • by xstonedogx (814876) <xstonedogx@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:09PM (#39268601)

    I got this.

    *shakes fist at sky*

  • by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:11PM (#39268625) Homepage

    Build a spaceship and put in all the telephone sanitisers, hairdressers, advertising account executives, MPAA executives, RIAA executives, and politicians and send them into space.

    • Build a spaceship and put in all the telephone sanitisers, hairdressers, advertising account executives, MPAA executives, RIAA executives, and politicians and send them into space.

      They did that once already... All the middlemen crash-landed here.

  • "more observations taken then will probably reduce the odds" ... Either: you are speculating, and future observations MAY reduce the odds; or you have some data that isn't in the current calculation, and the odds won't probably be reduced in the future, they ARE reduced NOW.

  • . . . .run it for President !! Sweet Meteor of Death in 2040 !! After all, it couldn't be WORSE than a politician. . . . .
  • At this point just over 25 years out, if the odds go up next year, then just send a spacecraft to splatter a few gallons of white paint on it and let the solar wind reflection push it an extra fraction of a percent and move it however many thousands/millions of miles in the next quarter century.

  • Let's make a commission to study the possibilities and then claim there's no consensus.

  • by billybob_jcv (967047) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:24PM (#39268721)

    The right question is: Who launched it at us?

  • As a non-astronomer, can somebody explain to me roughly what we're talking about with a 140m asteroid?

    I'm assuming (I could be way off) that a 1m "beach ball" asteroid probably just breaks up and burns in the atmosphere, with little appreciable hitting the ground/ocean.

    How about a "car" sized asteroid? Does it burn up? Possibly take out a house? City Block?

    How big do asteroids have to be before they could take out a whole city? How about to create a Tsunami (since they are most likely hitting ocean anyhow)

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:26PM (#39268747)

    After all, Putin is back! He'll certainly deal with it - shoot it, wrestle it, somehow force it to submit to his iron will.

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @08:52PM (#39268991)
    by then i will be 81 years old if i am still alive so it wont make any difference to me, maybe my children or grandchildren will be concerned about it
  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @09:41PM (#39269563)

    90% of Asteroids are "hidden" and we have only started to become more sophisticated and active in trying to detect them. We do not know where these 100 meter asteroid's orbits are in relation to Earth.

    We know that some asteroids which travel such that the Sun obscures them most of the time (rocky ones with no "comet tails"), are EXTREMELY hard to detect.

    Given that we have a Tunguska size (100 meter) impact about once per century, I would give a 1 in 4 chance of an impact or aerial explosion inside of 2040. It is all statistics with a fairly high degree of certainty. Am I an astrophysicist? No, but as an engineer, I read what they write and it is pretty well settled on the information with which to judge chances of an impact of something "sizable",

  • Wait (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @09:42PM (#39269591) Journal

    But does it make sense to wait until then to start investigating a mission to deflect it away our planet?

    Well lets see, a potential catastrophe is 28 years away and there is 1/625 odds based on the data we do have that it will happen. We will know evidently with much better certainty what that odds are when its a mere 26-27 years away. Given we are talking about altering the path of a massive object in space, I say wait.

    If we can't solve the problem in 26 years we mostly likely could not solve it in 28. The odds are already quite low, the cost to do anything about it quite high. If the numbers change after we can see and measure it better thats different. If we had to wait until it was much closer to get the better data that would be different. I don't see any advantage in getting a 12-24 month jump on this, given the time scales, and the complexity of solutions to the problem and risk.

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @11:19PM (#39270559)
    Remembering it has a 624/625 chance of NOT hitting us?

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