Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space Science

Earth Avoids Collisions With Pair of Asteroids 256

Posted by samzenpus
from the stand-down-Mr.-Willis dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "According to NASA, a pair of asteroids — one just over three miles wide — passed Earth Tuesday and early Wednesday, avoiding a potentially cataclysmic impact with our home planet. 2012 XE5, estimated at 50-165 feet across, was discovered just days earlier, missing our planet by only 139,500 miles, or slightly more than half the distance to the moon. 4179 Toutatis, just over three miles wide, put on an amazing show for astronomers early Wednesday, missing Earth by 18 lunar lengths, while allowing scientists to observe the massive asteroid in detail. Asteroid Toutatis is well known to astronomers. It passes by Earth's orbit every four years and astronomers say its unique orbit means it is unlikely to impact Earth for at least 600 years. It is one of the largest known potentially hazardous asteroids, and its orbit is inclined less than half-a-degree from Earth's. 'We already know that Toutatis will not hit Earth for hundreds of years,' says Lance Benner of NASA's Near Earth Object Program. 'These new observations will allow us to predict the asteroid's trajectory even farther into the future.' Toutatis would inflict devastating damage if it slammed into Earth, perhaps extinguishing human civilization. The asteroid thought to have killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was about 6 miles wide, researchers say. The fact that 2012 XE5 was discovered only a few days before the encounter prompted Minnesota Public Radio to poll its listeners with the following question: If an asteroid were to strike Earth within an hour, would you want to know?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Earth Avoids Collisions With Pair of Asteroids

Comments Filter:
  • by mellon (7048) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @01:30AM (#42269591) Homepage

    I know writing headlines is hard, but this one seems to imply that earth took evasive action. The less exciting "earth does not collide with pair of asteroids" would be a touch less misleading.

    • by mug funky (910186) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @01:42AM (#42269655)

      barrel roll.

    • by Natales (182136) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:42AM (#42269925)
      Whatever flashy headline was used to attract readers to the fact that there are potentially *a lot* of undetected large objects that could wipe us out was worth it. I mean, this is serious shit, and we are NOT taking it seriously enough. Believing we have it covered or it won't happen for 600 years is not good enough. Even Stephen Hawkins has brought this up before. We are seating ducks unless we "diversify our investments", meaning going out there and colonize other planets. It took millions of years and many extinction cycles to get us where we are as an intelligent species, and now we have to think big to survive. Honestly, I'd expect this crowd in Slashdot to really understand the implications. This issue needs to be at least high-er in the priority list of what we spend money in.
      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:16AM (#42270057)

        we are NOT taking it seriously enough.

        Actually, we are. A 50-165 foot asteroid can sneak up on us, but that isn't going to do much. It has less energy than the 9.0 Fukushima Earthquake, which killed ~10,000 people. If you count up all the people that die everywhere on Earth, that is about two hours worth of deaths. It just isn't worth worrying about anything that small. For big ELE asteroids, we have those tracked well enough that we would likely have years of warning, more than enough time to interdict.

        We are seating ducks unless we "diversify our investments", meaning going out there and colonize other planets.

        Once we get off this rock, the dumbest thing we could do is establish colonies in another planet's gravity well. It would be much smarter to build the colonies on ... near earth asteroids. We could even use some nukes to brake one of them enough to bring it into Earth orbit. Then we could disassemble it and use it as raw material to construct O'Neill Cylinders [wikipedia.org]. An asteroid three miles in diameter could provide about 50 billion tons of iron that could be forged into structural steel using focused sunlight.

        • by Genda (560240) <marietNO@SPAMgot.net> on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:43AM (#42270151) Journal

          We'd be better off setting up a train of a couple dozen colonized asteroids shifting between Earth and Mars orbits using them and a continuous conveyor belt for people, materials and critical resources to and from a Mars Colony. Terraforming Mars then building colonies on icy moons with liquid oceans would scatter us around sufficiently that only a really nasty event might threaten us.

        • by terjeber (856226)

          the dumbest thing we could do is establish colonies in another planet's gravity well. It would be much smarter to build the colonies on ... near earth asteroids

          Slight disagreement, but mostly in agreement. It would however be even dumber to establish colonies outside of a planetary magnetic field, given the rather cheap protection from radiation these provide. At least until we can create habitats that are large enough to them selves protect us from radiation, which is a ways away yet :-)

        • Tunguska? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by abies (607076) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @08:07AM (#42271215)

          Actually, we are. A 50-165 foot asteroid can sneak up on us, but that isn't going to do much. It has less energy than the 9.0 Fukushima Earthquake, which killed ~10,000 people.

          And how much energy from earthquake goes into actual surface damage? I was under impression that vast majority of it is used to shake rocks up and down, which is quite different from releasing same energy in something similar to surface nuclear strike.

          I think we should be comparing it to Tunguska event rather than earthquakes. Imagine Tunguska happening over one of densly populated areas. I don't think that it would end up being 2-hours news.

      • by tehcyder (746570) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @06:11AM (#42270661) Journal

        We are seating ducks

        Not quite as good as "escape goat" but still amusing.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        Whatever flashy headline was used to attract readers to the fact that there are potentially *a lot* of undetected large objects that could wipe us out was worth it. I mean, this is serious shit, and we are NOT taking it seriously enough

        If a big rock was headed this way, what exactly could we do about it? More advance warning just means more days of fighting/looting/burning.

      • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 13, 2012 @07:46AM (#42271119) Homepage

        Whatever flashy headline was used to attract readers to the fact that there are potentially *a lot* of undetected large objects that could wipe us out was worth it.

        Well, no. We've been looking pretty closely at the skies for a while now, and the odds that there is an undetected object large enough to threaten extinction are now pretty low. It's the one's in the "oh, crap, we hope this doesn't hit a populated area" that are a problem, but they're pretty rare objects and even rarer events. Such flashy headlines mostly serve to excite the excitable and panic those easily panicked and those who really don't understand the situation at all. The popular press has significantly overstated the threat.
         

        I mean, this is serious shit, and we are NOT taking it seriously enough. We are seating ducks unless we "diversify our investments", meaning going out there and colonize other planets.

        We, as a species, are taking in about as seriously as we can. We're looking for and cataloging the objects and predicting their tracks, and that's about the best we can do for the near future.
         
        Absent a Manhattan or Apollo level project, we simply can't usefully colonize other planets. With such "waste anything but time"/"near blank check" level projects, we're a century or more away from being able to do so - there's simply too many "unknown unknowns" in creating a colony or system of colonies that can survive if the Earth is wiped out. The odds are far too low to justify to cost.
         

        Honestly, I'd expect this crowd in Slashdot to really understand the implications.

        Understanding the implications is one thing - objectively understanding the overall issues is another.

    • Earth's next trick is to move 3 million miles farther out from sun to stop that pesky overheating problem

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I know writing headlines is hard, but this one seems to imply that earth took evasive action. The less exciting "earth does not collide with pair of asteroids" would be a touch less misleading.

      Only if you're an absolutely literal type with no glimmer of subtlety or imagination in your response to the external world.

      So, yes, I can see it would be a problem for a lot of slashdotters.

    • I was thinking the same thing. Did someone jam the breaks, or swerve out of the way?

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Maybe not evasive action by itself, but something that some hero between us did. Bruce Willis already saved us in Armageddon, and now, seem that Kim Jong [slashdot.org] did it too. Too bad it was misunderstood what happened with that earth defense satellite after making those asteroids to move away.
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @01:33AM (#42269603)

    Of course! Time for a quick trip to the whorehouse, then a quicker trip to church to get saved.

    • by gagol (583737)
      Time to go to sleep for me... I read "trip to the warehouse", it was very confusing for a moment... I would do something very similar.
    • by gagol (583737)
      ...Then one of your friend would show up, buy booze, stash peanuts and get his intergallactic hitchhiking device!
      • by Genda (560240)

        For the love of Pete! Where's your towel? You can't go anywhere without a bloody towel.

    • by EdIII (1114411)

      I'm not into the whole church thing. Too irrational and I think sci-fi is better story telling.

      An hour is not enough to get the whorehouse from where I am, but plenty of time to get on the net, pants around my ankles, and hell to rationing the lube....

    • by drkim (1559875) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:07AM (#42270021)

      Of course! Time for a quick trip to the whorehouse, then a quicker trip to church to get saved.

      After what that priest did to me, I'm gonna have to pray with the hooker...

    • by Genda (560240) <marietNO@SPAMgot.net> on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:50AM (#42270179) Journal

      Actually knowing could be very useful, depending on the size of the object and the impact site. You might be able to get to high ground to avoid a tsunami. You might be able to hang out in a cavern to avoid debris fall. You could even renting a plane or catching a quick flight if any were still available. This all presumes an impact significantly smaller than an ELE.

      • by adolf (21054)

        Actually knowing could be very useful, depending on the size of the object and the impact site. You might be able to get to high ground to avoid a tsunami. You might be able to hang out in a cavern to avoid debris fall. You could even renting a plane or catching a quick flight if any were still available. This all presumes an impact significantly smaller than an ELE.

        Or, you know: Just use the opportunity to finally call up Dude to buy some smack, bang it with whatever filthy apparatus is available, and the

        • by Jmc23 (2353706)
          If that's in any way appealing then you don't have to worry about the end of the world because your life is already over.
  • by gagol (583737) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @01:41AM (#42269651)
    I would definitely want to know. I would leave work, buy booze and party like there is no tomorrow.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2012 @01:51AM (#42269703)

      And that is diffrent than any other friday, how?

      • by gagol (583737)
        the leaving work before the end of work day is different, and I dont drink much booze nowadays.
    • by jamesh (87723)

      Did you write that sig especially for TFA?

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:24AM (#42269851)

      I would definitely want to know. I would leave work, buy booze and party like there is no tomorrow.

      But there would almost certainly be a tomorrow. The asteroid was only 50-165 feet in diameter. That is about the estimated size of the Tunguska asteroid/comet, which killed zero people. Even if an asteroid that size hit the ocean or a major city, 99.9% of the people on Earth would survive.

      If we were hit by the bigger (three mile diameter) asteroid, it would only have 1/8th the energy of the Yucatan asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Unlike the dinos, we have the ability to eat canned food and stored grain, so many if not most people would likely survive.

      • by thej1nx (763573) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:33AM (#42270121)
        I suppose unlike the dinosaurs, we can also survive for a long long time without needing to breathe? Cretaceous atmosphere is supposed to have been much more oxygen rich(50% more apparently) based on QMS analysis of ancient air bubbles trapped in amber. The higher oxygen content plausibly explains the huge sizes attained by many species too(since the related metabolism could be supported back then). I suppose the said 99.9% of the people of earth will all evolve overnight to make do with 50% less oxygen again? How about no sunlight for years? Stored grains and canned food will support you for years, with crop failures?

        Also keep in mind, that all the dried dead plants from lack of sunlight will give rise to plenty of inflammable carbon fuel lying around. We are talking about a world wide wildfire. It is interesting how some people think of meteorite as something like a huge nuke, that will kill everything directly/instantly.

        Close calls like these do need to be made as sensational as possible, to remind people how important it is to not put all your eggs in one basket, and why cutting NASA's budget is like deciding to do away with life jackets on a ship, so as to "not waste money".

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Actually, a small remainder of civilisation could probably survive even if the sun got blotted out for years. There would be massive starvation and conflict, but bear in mind we have the technology to generate our own sunlight. It wouldn't be too hard to rig up some floodlights that provide crop-friendly wavelengths and shine them over some fields. Obviously not enough to feed the entire world, or even an entire country (hence starvation and conflict) but almost certainly enough to keep a sizeable populatio

      • by gsslay (807818)

        Your rosie outlook rather depends on humanity acting logically and collectively after the impact. What's more likely is mass panic, murderous conflict over extreme shortages, and a large part of the global damage done being self-inflicted.

        • What is your proposed solution for - let us be honest - the massive reduction in the number of humans that would have to occur in a SHTF scenario? I don't think they'll take lightly to a lottery that ends in gas chambers.
  • If it's further out than the moon, I tend not to be bothered. Less than that and I count it a near miss and get a little adrenaline kick as if I have just avoided a car accident. So, when are we getting some sort of asteroid defence system up there?
  • Just in case human beings go psycho, somebody in the intergalactic union will press a red button to slightly nudge the asteroid.
  • And all the while everyone here thought the good Mayan folks were full of BS!
  • Fearmongering much? (Score:5, Informative)

    by LordLucless (582312) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:02AM (#42269751)

    I guess "Asteroid Misses Earth, Just Like It's Done Every 4 Years For Millennia" just wasn't catchy enough

    • I guess "Asteroid Misses Earth, Just Like It's Done Every 4 Years For Millennia" just wasn't catchy enough.

      What I find interesting is the helpful picture of what an asteroid "50-165 feet across" might look like hitting the Earth. Boy, the size of a foot sure has changed since I last checked...

  • Surprising number (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Grayhand (2610049) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:03AM (#42269759)
    In the last 20 years there have been quite a few of these objects passing within the orbit of the moon, prior to that there were few announcements and it's debatable how many were actually tracked. A disturbing number have been found within days as passing and a few were found after they passed. Just looking at the numbers I'd place the odds at high of an impact. We're coming up on a hundred year anniversary of Tunguska so I'd say we're due for a similar impact any day now. It could be tomorrow or a hundred years from now but statistically we're due now. We aren't talking end of the world because most of the world was only affected by the dust of the last major impact and the odds of one hitting a major city are similar to winning the lottery. Unfortunately the odds are high of an ocean impact and that could be worse than a land impact. Very few of these objects are being tracked in the northern hemisphere and virtually none in the lower hemisphere, I can't remember but I think it's a few percent for the south. We spend trillions on defending against Arab rednecks and a few million a year on tracking near Earth Objects. Our priorities are sadly are on the wrong threats.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Just looking at the numbers I'd place the odds at high of an impact. We're coming up on a hundred year anniversary of Tunguska so I'd say we're due for a similar impact any day now. It could be tomorrow or a hundred years from now but statistically we're due now.

      We're not 'due' for anything. The fact that a devastating impact didn't happen yesterday does not increase the odds that it will happen today, it's not as if somebody decides to send an astroid in our direction because he looks on his impact calendar and decides it's been quiet for too long. If every day has an equal likelyhood of a devastating impact happening the average outcome will reflect that likelyhood without days or impacts infuencing each other.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        The fact that a devastating impact didn't happen yesterday does not increase the odds that it will happen today

        No, but the point is that the odds of a devestating impact not happening in the next X years are very low if there has been on average a devestating impact every X years in the past.

        If I toss a coin, whether I got a head the last time has no influence on whether I get heads or tails on my next throw. But I can still say that the odds of my not getting a head in the next hundred throws are vanishingly small.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Well, as much as I probably agree with your general point, the fact is that we've had far more people killed by "Arab Rednecks" over the last 50 years than we have had by meteorites.

      Considering that the modern world was pretty much born after 1945, and historical memory is short, our spending priorities make rough sense - not to mention that really it's only been the last 30 years or so that we've had the tech to (maybe) make a difference to an inbound meteorite anyway.

  • Wow! (Score:5, Funny)

    by El Puerco Loco (31491) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:10AM (#42269783)

    Earth's cat-like reflexes never fail to impress.

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:10AM (#42269785)

    I figured objects getting so close would be a very infrequent occurrence and at that range gravity would surely pull the object into us. I'm not sure if it's good news that objects have to get much closer to get sucked in or bad news that we're seeing so many near misses.

    • There's not much chance of gravity pulling something into us in that way. Think about how long it would take for a ball dropped a few hundred thousand km above the earth to fall to the ground. Any object moving fast enough that it has passed the earth by during that time will not be pulled into us.
    • Gravity is a very weak force, it also gets weaker in an inverse square relationship with distance.

      Consider that on the very surface of Earth, the entire planet is pulling on you with... what? 150-200 lbs of force? Jump into the air, and you have literally applied more force as you jumped than the entire planet pulled back on you due to gravity. Of course, you came back down, but that's because gravity was pulling on you the whole time, but you still could outpace it during the time when you were in conta

  • by wadeal (884828) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:26AM (#42269859)
    It's not the 21st yet...
  • by Githaron (2462596) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:50AM (#42269959)

    It sounds like if there is a World War 3 and any humanity manages to survive, we will be extinct in 600 years since WWIII will probably set us back far enough that we will not have the means to stop the 4179 Toutatis when it comes around for the last time.

  • Asterix and Obelix (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chthon (580889) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:00AM (#42269993) Homepage Journal

    You know that the Gauls in Asterix are only afraid of the sky falling on their head. And their favorite exclamation is 'By Toutatis!'.

    • WOW! 25 years after reading the entire book series (several times over)... you point out this astonishing fact I had never before realized!

    • by tehcyder (746570) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @07:32AM (#42271049) Journal

      You know that the Gauls in Asterix are only afraid of the sky falling on their head. And their favorite exclamation is 'By Toutatis!'.

      That's because Toutatis was a major Celtic god [wikipedia.org]. The naming of the asteroid happened in 1989 [wikipedia.org] i.e. after the Asterix books had been using it for a while.

      So the naming was presumably a deliberate reference to the Asterix books, or at the very least it used the same god as its basis.

    • by abigsmurf (919188)
      It's surprising just how much much history I learnt from Asterix.

      And I learnt about Orgies, very messy orgies.
  • The fact that 2012 XE5 was discovered only a few days before the encounter prompted Minnesota Public Radio to poll its listeners with the following question: If an asteroid were to strike Earth within an hour, would you want to know?"

    Seriously, would it really matter? That said, assuming that were to happen, yes--I would personally like to know, so if I am one of the only few remaining survivors I would at least know what just happened and what the fuck is going on. But if you end up dying in an hour with everyone else, it's not like it matters much.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:03AM (#42270219) Homepage

    Obviously over your city, not mine.

    Sadly, it's essentially career ending for a politician to support funding for "crazy stuff" like asteroid detection or diversion. Perhaps if they claimed they'd received it as a revelation from their favourite brand of Invisible Sky Giant it might be considered rational though.

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:32AM (#42270291) Homepage

    Earth Avoids Collisions With Pair of Asteroids

    This has been happening every day for years.

  • by OneSmartFellow (716217) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @08:21AM (#42271281)
    We already know that Toutatis will not hit Earth for hundreds of year

    Neglecting to consider that Toutatis could easily hit another (or pass very near another) reasonably sized object, thereby modifying it's course enough to hit us on its next pass.
    • Neglecting to consider that Toutatis could easily hit another (or pass very near another) reasonably sized object

      Yes, I'm sure Lance Benner of NASA's Near Earth Object Program forgot to check whether there are any such objects in the vicinity. Better tell him quick.

      • You make me laugh...Do you suppose the totality of objects in our solar system is known ?

        Jeezus, NASA (and others) find new objects of Toutatis's size nearly on a daily basis, how many smaller objects do you think there are , most of which are uncharted - for the obvious reason that they haven't been detected yet?

        But, you're confident that some guy at NASA (trying to sound important) "knows" that none of them are going to affect Toutatis's path without telegraphing that information to him first.
        • But, you're confident that some guy at NASA (trying to sound important)

          (doing his job)

          "knows" that none of them are going to affect Toutatis's path

          I'm confident that the guys at NASA know better than any of us how large and how close an asteroid would have to be to have such an effect, and the probability of such an asteroid remaining undetected at this time. If they're doing their jobs properly, they probably have a very good handle on those numbers, and it seems reasonable to assume that such an event is too improbable to mention.

          Or do you want p-values to be specified whenever someone abuses the word "know" in such a heinous fashion?

  • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @08:55AM (#42271467)
    One theory is that another sun named 'Nemesis' is the cause of major extinctions every 26 million years. It's thought that Nemesis alters asteroid orbits enough to bombard the Earth.

    "This hypothetical "death star" or "death companion" of the Sun has received a name: Nemesis. In the Greek mythology Nemesis was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris, vengeful fate personified as a remorseless goddess. According to the hypothesis, Nemesis periodically (approximately every 26 million years) passes through a denser region of the Oort cloud, disrupting the orbits of comets, and sending millions of comets into the inner solar system and potential collision with the Earth. But, many geologists are convinced that mass extinctions on Earth are not periodic, so they see no need for such a star. Nless, Richard Muller and his colleagues have embarked on the difficult search for a possible, dim companion to the Sun." :

    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_nemesis07.htm [bibliotecapleyades.net]

  • The fact that 2012 XE5 was discovered only a few days before the encounter prompted Minnesota Public Radio to poll its listeners with the following question: If an asteroid were to strike Earth within an hour, would you want to know?"

    Sure! Keira Knightley is smokin' hot!

  • by whitroth (9367) <whitroth.5-cent@us> on Thursday December 13, 2012 @01:35PM (#42275789) Homepage

    Early in slashdot's life, at a previous passage of toutitis, I tried to get people interested in forming a group to push a mission to it, to shove it into orbit around Earth, say, around geosync, so we'd have something for a *real* space station, but noooo, you guys blew me off. Just wait till it hits, then you'll be sorry....

                          mark

Remember, UNIX spelled backwards is XINU. -- Mt.

Working...