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Space Earth

Neil deGrasse Tyson Outlines a Plan For Saving Earth From Asteroids 241

Posted by timothy
from the why-on-earth-would-you-want-to-oh-yeah dept.
dsinc contributes a link to Neil deGrasse Tyson's short piece in Wired on how we could deal with the very real threat of killer asteroids, writing "In 2029 we'll be able to know whether, seven years later, Apophis will miss Earth or slam into the Pacific and create a tsunami that will devastate all the coastlines of the Pacific Rim." From the article: "Saving the planet requires commitment. First we have to catalogue every object whose orbit intersects Earth’s, then task our computers with carrying out the calculations necessary to predict a catastrophic collision hundreds or thousands of orbits into the future. Meanwhile, space missions would have to determine in great detail the structure and chemical composition of killer comets and asteroids."
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Neil deGrasse Tyson Outlines a Plan For Saving Earth From Asteroids

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  • by Latent Heat (558884) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:55PM (#39561763)
    We need this Southern guy with three names to come up with a plan to drill into the asteroid . . . never mind!
  • When exactly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:56PM (#39561783) Homepage Journal

    When exactly did Neil deGrasse Tyson become the world's official representative on all things astronomical? Was it the the pluto thing? It's just really weird that every media outlet seems to go to him for everything these days. He's really articulate and informed, but so are a lot of people. I don't get it.

    • Re:When exactly (Score:5, Interesting)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @01:02PM (#39561857) Homepage Journal

      " He's really articulate and informed, but so are a lot of people."

      Not scientists.

      Neil deGrasse Tyson is articulate, charismatic, reasonably good looking, and interviews very well. He is relatable. Anyone who can talk about accurately talk about science and still seem relatable to the average person is perfect to interview.

      For example: He was asked why he was able to get is point across so clearly on the colbart report. He said he timed the jokes from previous epsode and ew a bout how much time he had before the next joke. Then boiled his points down to fit into the times between the jokes.

      Not a lot of people think about interviews that way, and certainly not scientists.

      Now he has the rep to be the guy to go to, the media goes to him.

      • Re:When exactly (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @01:25PM (#39562125)

        The Colbert interview was awesome. He apparently gave a hard time to James Cameron because the night sky in Titanic was historically inaccurate and when Cameron did the director's cut a while later he asked Tyson to provide the sky.. and he did.

        • by Stele (9443)

          Kudos to Cameron for that.

          On the other hand, he left Jack in.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The Colbert interview was awesome. He apparently gave a hard time to James Cameron because the night sky in Titanic was historically inaccurate and when Cameron did the director's cut a while later he asked Tyson to provide the sky.. and he did.

          Did you see the interview he gave on The Daily Show a few weeks ago? Toward the end he tells Jon Stewart... you know the globe you have spinning in your opening graphics... it's spinning the wrong way. Got a huge laugh out of Stewart, and the crowd... and I'll be damned if I didn't notice the globe spinning the wrong way when I saw the opening graphics the next night.

          Guys like him, and Bill Nye, are indeed a rare breed.

      • by irussel (78667)

        Neil noticed early on that when he gave long winded answers to interview questions, it would be highly edited to fit whatever show it was for. So he started practicing giving short and succinct answers to specific topics. Once he started doing that, his complete answer would make it to the final product, with minimal editing needed.

      • Tyson also humorously pointed out to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show that the globe of the Earth in the show's opening sequence was revolving in the wrong direction. Jon mused that they would fix that, but I don't think they have yet.
    • Re:When exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sloppy (14984) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @01:09PM (#39561935) Homepage Journal

      When exactly did Neil deGrasse Tyson become the world's official representative on all things astronomical?

      It happened exactly when he stepped up and started talking about science and advocating the rare attitude of giving-a-shit.

      "80% of life|success is showing up." -- Woody Allen

    • Re:When exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sir_Sri (199544) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @01:15PM (#39562011)

      His enthusiasm.

      There are lots of other astronomers, last I checked the US graduates about 200 PhD's in astronomy and astrophysics a year, but the vast majority of them don't get excited at the mere notion of talking about science the way Dr Tyson does. Which is why he ended up doing science outreach at planetarium, which is why they put him on TV etc.

      He is by no means the only, and probably not the best scientist in the world. But his enthusiasm and energy are infectious, most of the other scientists you talk to are more concerned with publishing their next paper or making sure they have enough money to pay their graduate students. If you look at his CV he hasn't published anything academic since 2008 (nor did I immediately find anything on google scholar that would indicate he's just lazy about updating his webpage, but admittedly I don't normally search for astrophysics), and the work he's published recently seems to more be him as part of the planetarium or american museum of natural history than personal research, and he doesn't appear to take on grad students. That sets him apart from probably 90% of the practicing astronomers, in that he is actually focused full time on science communication rather than doing science. That makes him rare in the field, he's reasonably good at it, and he happens to have been in the right place at the right time with proximity to TV shows to go from a good career as a directory and writer to a particularly good one as TV personality.

      My undergrad is in theoretical physics, with most of that on optics and semiconductors, optics is largely 'laboratory astrophysics'. I find now several years after having finished my undergrad that I have a lot of trouble following most astrophysicists giving talks, because they're talking at a 4th year level, and seeing as how I'm a game developer and computer scientist these days that's far removed from understanding astrophysics. Dr. Tyson when he talks is able to mostly limit himself to first year intro to astronomy level, where people can actually understand what the hell he's talking about most of the time, finding people who can do that is unfortunately rather difficult.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      When exactly did Neil deGrasse Tyson become the world's official representative on all things astronomical? Was it the the pluto thing? It's just really weird that every media outlet seems to go to him for everything these days. He's really articulate and informed, but so are a lot of people. I don't get it.

      Watch out, we're dealing with a badass over here! [kym-cdn.com]

  • by thestudio_bob (894258) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:56PM (#39561785)

    Let me guess, he wants to reclassify Earth as a "Non-Asteroid-Attracting Planetoid" in the hopes of fooling the asteroids.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      After reading Apophis' furious blog post over the demotion of Pluto, I think he's only made the problem worse!

  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @12:58PM (#39561813)

    An asteroid calculated to miss for 1000 orbits can have its orbit gravitationally altered by a close pass with another small but significant mass object in the Kuiper Belt.

    At that point, the next pass by Earth may not be "by Earth"...

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Ok, so the tools are imperfect and can't take every possible unknown influence into account. Is that supposed to be an argument for not using them at all?
  • Why not monetize it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WillAdams (45638)

    1 - catalogue all the asteroids likely to pass by earth
    2 - analyse their composition
    3 - determine which can have their orbit modified so as to be placed in orbit around earth for an energy effort low enough that one will come out ahead either using the asteroid for material in orbit (to construct space stations / satellites, the probe to explore the next asteroid &c.) or have ore valuable enough to be worth returning to earth
    4 - profit!

    • 3 - determine which can have their orbit modified so as to be placed in orbit around earth

      4 - Oops!

      • by hemo_jr (1122113)
        To paraphrase Foghorn Leghorn, "That is why we should keep Bruce Willis around for just such an emergency. "
        • There's a scene in the Mission Earth series (not Battlefield Earth) where the hero is trying to tug an ice asteroid into Earth orbit, gets disrupted by something, and derps it all over Russia.

          Yeah, yeah, I know. L. Ron Hubbard, but I found the whole ten book series in hardback at a yard sale for $5. Actually starts out OK as space opera, goes seriously off the rails in the middle and, curiously, mostly gets back on the rails in the last book. I just liked the idea that Earth culture is so damned toxic that

  • 3-body problem --> non-linear feedback --> mathematical chaos --> must simulate, but very sensitive to initial conditions. There is a lot of matter in our solar system for which the orbits are not known. ==> I don't believe 'hundreds of orbits in the future'.
  • by Tharsman (1364603) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @01:08PM (#39561925)

    A triangular space ship with vector blasters!!! It worked in the 20th century and it should work in the 21st century!!!

    • I was going to say... the game came out in the 70s, mankind has already lost countless man-hours of productivity to it.
      Too little, too late, as usual.
  • Move us all (Score:4, Funny)

    by RagManX (258563) <ragmanxNO@SPAMgamerdemos.com> on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @01:09PM (#39561941) Homepage Journal

    Couldn't Tyson just move all of us to his home planet prior to the asteroid hitting earth? Or is the environment of his home planet inhospitable to earthlings?

  • He does seem to be going on about this issue a bit lately.

    What are you not telling us, Neil?

  • He is right, we know too little about asteroids today to be able to predict a collision, let alone think of deflection. Before trying to come up with a plan to deflect one, we need to study them much more.
  • His plan... [wikipedia.org]
    • by necro81 (917438)
      But in space, no one can hear your sound effects. Will it still work if there aren't any "pew pew!" sounds?
  • No wonder they named a Jr High School after this guy.

  • The earth doesn't need saving from asteroids, it's survived asteroid impacts for 4 billion years. Humans are what we need to save from asteroid impacts and the simplest solution to this problem seems to me to be to move off of objects that routinely get struck by asteroids (the earth) and onto something a tad bit more maneuverable (like an asteroid)
  • The USAF is looking around for a new bomb big enough to bust those wacky Iranian Nuclear Factory Bunkers. Maybe an Asteroid might be up to the job.

    You would just need to catch it, and toss it in the right direction. This shouldn't be a problem for the current state of technology.

    Probably.

    • That's irrelevant: the US already has bombs plenty big enough to bust those Iranian nuclear factory bunkers; the only problem is that they're nuclear themselves. What the USAF is looking for is a really big conventional bomb, because it's not politically feasible to start dropping megatons of hypocrisy on the Iranians.

      With an asteroid, on the other hand, there's no problem using a nuke.

  • I mean, come on, after the Earth has collided with an errant asteroid and all life on it has been fried, would you really care that the space aliens are laughing at you? If people are not moved by "You are all going to die!" they are not likely to be persuaded by, "Space aliens would laugh at you!".
  • And the outcome will be? We will know the precise hour when we die.
    How do we stop an asteroid anyway? I've heard proposals of nuking the asteroids, but I don't see how we will intercept an asteroid with enough nukes early enough to deflect the asteroid. I don't suppose a nuke would be much better than simply hitting the asteroid with a high momentum slug and hope to change the trajectory sufficiently. How will we accelerate such a slug and set it on an intercept course with the asteroid?

    • by necro81 (917438)
      One thing working in our favor is that an Earth-impacting asteroid will likely have an orbit that brings it into regular proximity with Earth, providing sequential opportunities to intercept or otherwise influence it before it hits. A rogue body hurtling down from the Kuiper Belt and just so happening to bull's-eye Earth is highly unlikely, even for asteroid impacts. So, on one of those close approaches we have a chance of intercepting it, then spending all of the next orbit deflecting it. If you had rea
  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @02:30PM (#39562963)

    Even though its good to plan for precuations and deflection efforts, the fact is, humans could survive a Chicxulub sized impact fairly easy, it is completely survivable here on earth. Unlike dinosaurs humans can store away enough food to get through a long period of time without sunlight, and store a seed bank supply containing huge stores of all seeds from food plants and livestock to repopulate and restore agriculture afterward, and libraries filled with the accumulated knowledge of humanity. Unless, we include the entire population of these efforts so the entire population stores away huge amounts of freeze dried and preserved food, the survival facility would have to be secret and heavily protected from the riots and chaos that would ensue in a asteroid winter. There would be many of these facilities located in top secret all over the planet so even if one was destroyed by the impact there would still be others. The people participating in them would have to live nearby and would have to go underground at a moments notice. Some of them would have to be located near fertile, farmable areas for recovery long after the strike. They would be far underground and bult to withstand wildfires, huge winds, earthquakes and all the other stuff that could happen. They would be protected from tsunami, located inland and so on and from any other conceivable disaster.

    All of this could allow humanity to survive on earth even easier and with less trouble than on mars. It is actually easier to survive here on earth after an asteroid than it would be on mars.

    • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @02:33PM (#39563011)

      I would add that what killed all the dinosaurs was not the asteroid impact itself, but the asteroid winter that caused a collapse of the food chain. The asteroid blast and fire ball and tsunami was localized, it killed dinosaurs locally but its not what killed them off globally, the blockage of the sun did. If enough food can be stored away to get through the winter and then seeds to immediately restart agriculture when things clear, humans can survive it.

  • They can't even calculate it's trajectory close enough to determine if it will hit one on of the few key windows in 17 years that might put it on a collision course in another 7 years. Why should I think the projection out 24 years from now (appx) will actually hit a target only a few thousand miles across and in a window of less than half a day with that level of imprecision?

    I think either he's been watching too many Hollywood films, or the reporter didn't correctly quote the statement.

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