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Space Science

Rand Expert Says To Keep Mum About Killer Asteroids 415

crashnbur writes "NASA is conducting a survey of the sky to find asteroids large enough that a collision with earth could 'extinction-type impact', and none studied so far will threaten us in the next 200 years. Of course, if a doomsday asteroid is discovered, the current policy is not to say a word: 'If you can't do anything about a warning, then there is no point in issuing a warning at all', says Dr. Geoffery Sommer. The issue may be making its rounds because an asteroid was discovered orbiting the sun between Venus and Earth earlier this week. presents a lengthy, four-part 'Impact Debate' (next three parts coming next three Tuesdays). Apparently we are just as likely to die by asteroid impact as in a plane crash."
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Rand Expert Says To Keep Mum About Killer Asteroids

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  • Duct tape. (Score:5, Funny)

    by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:54PM (#5309271) Homepage
    Duct tape. Just be sure you have plenty of duct tape. It could save your life in the event of an asteroid collision.

  • Godd news (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bendebecker ( 633126 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:54PM (#5309276) Journal
    That's good news for me considering that I never fly.
    • True, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sczimme ( 603413 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:04PM (#5309346)

      if you were under the plane when it went down, you would die in the crash, too.

      Glad I could help. &:-)
  • Excuse me? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Boss, Pointy Haired ( 537010 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:55PM (#5309277)
    If you can't do anything about a warning, then there is no point in issuing a warning at all.

    You might not be able to anything about it. Chances are nobody else will be able to do anything about it. But FFS issue a warning because the brains of the world can collectively work on saving our collective ass.

    Thank you very much.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:56PM (#5309293)
      id like to know so that i could ask a girl for sex

      "so... we only have 2 days left before we all die, can i fuck you?"

      i must have sex before i die!
    • Re:Excuse me? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Doctor Memory ( 6336 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:59PM (#5309314)
      My reaction was: You've just found out that everyone on the planet will be dead in two months. And you're afraid to tell, because...things might get worse?
      • Dr. Geoffery "nobody is cleaverer than me" Sommer can just make an anonymous coward post on the NASA website.
      • Re:Excuse me? (Score:2, Insightful)

        Yes, things might get worse.

        Scenario A: the public never finds out, and goes on its merry business none the wise until doomsday. People might not be able to make peace with their respective gods, repent their sins, etc, whatever.

        Scenario B: public finds out there's absolutely nothing that can be done. Panic and hysteria ensues, and while there's an upsurge in religious fervor, society as a whole collapses and for the last few weeks anarchy ensues, raping, pillaging and other strong-preying-on-the-weak acts go virtually unchecked as those who don't believe in an afterlife (or don't care) decide they have free reign to do whatever the hell they want.

        Think of all the kooks who are afraid to do anything right now because the law is relatively effective. Now think of those who already say to hell with the law and do whatever the heck they want. Now imagine what happens when law enforcement that CAN'T be effective anymore because the amount of crime has jumped a hundredfold and they can't cope.

        In short--those last few weeks are going to be hell for anyone who can't defend themselves well. If I'm going to die by asteroid I don't want to see it coming (normal death is another matter; with an ELE it doesn't really matter if my affairs are in order). Call it bliss based on ignorance, I don't care.
    • Re:Excuse me? (Score:3, Interesting)

      Nah, they'll just have an expose in the "New New York Times" or the "New Washington Post" 50 years later about how we really did know about the impending asteroid crash, but were planning on using it as a pretext for something.


      I know I'm going to live through whatever it is. I just seem to have that kind of luck. Look on the bright side, all those whackjob survivalists will finally discover there is no way to stockpile solar power, potable water, or oxygen. If you think a little bunker with tanks and cans is going to save you, I'd like to point out that I'm going to be enjoying oblivion at my local bar having a party to celebrate? Why? Because wherever we end up after this world has got to make a lot more sense than here.

    • NASA and the various other governmental space agencies shouldn't have a monopoly on the access to space.

    • Re:Excuse me? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @05:04PM (#5309955) Homepage Journal
      No kidding. Just because NASA has no ideas what to do doesn't mean that nobody could. Some middle school kid might pop up with some brilliantly obvious way to save our asses that the hotshots all overlooked. If you're fucked anyway you might as well let everyone else have a chance to think of something.

      This is also a reason why I think we should be busy colonizing space. If we had self-sustaining colonies on the Moon, Venus, and Mars at least the human race would survive our home worlds destruction. In the story abour Mars ice yesterday were some links of people who just can't understand why we should explore space rather than sitting on our asses here. IMO global killers are one very good reason. Shit happens, it's best not to have all your eggs in one basket.
      • by RobinH ( 124750 )
        Just because NASA has no ideas what to do doesn't mean that nobody could. Some middle school kid might pop up with some brilliantly obvious way to save our asses that the hotshots all overlooked. If you're f*cked anyway you might as well let everyone else have a chance to think of something.

        That's an interesting idea... here's a way to build on it: have NASA issue a warning today, that we only have 2 years until a killer asteroid is going to hit us. Then, the middle school kids with the ideas can offer them up NOW so we can actually have time to implement them! Why wait until we're all f*cked?
    • Re:Excuse me? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ryochiji ( 453715 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @06:32PM (#5310394) Homepage
      >If you can't do anything about a warning, then there is no point in issuing a warning at all'

      This reminds me of how doctors in Japan used to not tell patients who were diagnosed with cancer for the same reason. Personally (and I think many people agree) if I have a limited amount of time to live, I'd like to know about it. If I'm going to die, I'd like to at least be able to die without regrets, and I think the people in position of power/knowledge have the responsibility to give us that opportunity.

      Although, considering how most people seem to be mortified at the thought of dying, I guess a massive death sentence could screw things up a bit...

    • The more frightening point is the underlying attitude behind the notion. Essentially he's dividing the world into two segments: those who know what is going on, and everyone else who is properly kept in the dark...

      "Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master."
      And yes, I know its a quote from a game, but it seemed quote appropriate.
  • by enos ( 627034 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:56PM (#5309284)
    ...we have the ISS. If there is an impact in the next few months, the three men on the ISS will come down to earth and repopulate. Yeah, that's it.
    • I don't know about anyone else, but if the end of the planet was coming about, I'd change my personal policies on breeding.
      • I think a lot of people would change a lot of their policies. I'm sure many would go and get rid of the people who were assholes in their life. Not give them the glory of letting the asteroid do it.
    • I know the joke is about homosexuality (haha) but a rather more intelligent punchline is that, of course, the men on the space station would die even if they came back to Earth because what would kill most people would be the dust clouds from a meteorite impact and the enormous climatic changes which would result from the Earth's shifting obrit of the sun.
  • Maybe I have a super asteroid killer 1000 in my basement and they don't know about it? (Bruce Willis downstairs I swear) Or better yet what If I have a fallout shelter to protect me from the blast, quakes, tidal waves? It seems very closeminded to assume that no one can do anything about an incoming asteroid. If you have a weeks noticed maybe you could evacuate a city and save millions of lives?
    • But would you want to survive? If you make it past the impact, survive in your shelter as the massive P-waves rip most above-ground construction apart, happen to live through the tidal waves and global forest fires raging overhead, you walk out of your little shelter into a world that is blackened, dead, burning, and is a million times worse than the world's collective nightmare squared. Would you really want to see that sort of world?

      I mean, don't get me wrong, I would love to get a shelter and try to live through this thing just like the next guy, but when your options are dying instantly or dying gradually over the next few years (blocked out sun = no photosynthesis = no green plants = no food = good luck), unless the chances were greater than 50/50 of dying anyways, I'd much rather be living my simple little life out to the end.
      • But would you want to survive?....but when your options are dying instantly or dying gradually over the next few years (blocked out sun = no photosynthesis = no green plants = no food = good luck)
        I don't like to see this kind of pessimism, at least not on /.
        Okay, so the asteroid hits, dust in the air, no sunlight. Check. Sounds like it's about time to crack open a couple of books on hydroponic gardening, and rigging up an impromptu electric generator.
        I've never bought the whole "living will envy the dead" cliche. By god, I like to think humanity is made of sterner stuff. Asteroids. So you killed the Dinosaurs....big deal. If you can't pull off a mass extinction more than once, you can't do it at all.
  • ummmm. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CerebusUS ( 21051 )
    How can that be?

    Are they saying that as many people have died by asteroid strike as plane crash?

    I call shenannigans.
    • Re:ummmm. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by artemis67 ( 93453 )
      Are they saying that as many people have died by asteroid strike as plane crash?

      I don't think so; not yet, anyway.

      Look at it this way: If, over a 10 year period, 100 people die each year in plane crashes, then the total will be 1,000 deaths.

      However, it only takes one event for a meteor to kill as many people. Same ten year period, but no meteor deaths until the last minute of the last day in the tenth year, a meteorite strikes the earth and kills 1,000 people.

      Statistically, the odds of dying either way are the same.

      So, right now, we have lots of people dying in plane crashes, but no one dying from meteorites. But when a meteorite strikes the earth, it is estimated to kill as many people as plane crashes have.

      Very simplified. I'm sure someone will want to flame me and clean this up a bit....
      • Yeah, so it's statistics without any hard data to back it up.

        These guys would give Jimmy the Greek a run for his money :-)
      • So you're saying we don't need to worry about an asteroid wiping out all life, because we will all be killed in air crashes before that ?

        Good, they had me worried there for a bit....
      • Re:ummmm. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Forgotten ( 225254 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @05:52PM (#5310207)
        Your conclusion is roughly correct as far as the stats goes. But what I think you've really done is illustrate why statistical and probabilistic models are basically worthless in the real world, and especially at (and between) extremes. It's kind of like asking whether it's worth spending one dollar on a 6/49 lottery when the jackpot is worth 7 million versus 14 million - how much is the "dollar" worth. It's an intensely reductionist phrasing of the question that ignores the surrounding reality (in this case, that winning the lottery is winning the lottery, period).

        Losing the asteroid lottery is completely unlike losing the airplane lottery. The comparison is useless; it's really a type of argument by analogy, which is a fallacy. I realise it's someone's attempt to make things understandable to the lay media (or push an agenda there), but it does nothing besides muddy the issue.

        The truth is that people can't wrap their heads around probablistic assessments anyway, so trying to make persuasive arguments to the masses that way is folly. And making a probabalistic comparison between two such different things borders on dishonest.
  • I'm confused. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spazntwich ( 208070 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:56PM (#5309292)
    Can someone explain the economic reasoning to me on why we are bothering to spend money searching for life-ending asteroids when:

    a) We can do nothing but panic if we find one. and

    b) If the people searching for them find one, they won't even tell us?
    • Re:I'm confused. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by artemis67 ( 93453 )
      Can someone explain the economic reasoning to me on why we are bothering to spend money searching for life-ending asteroids

      Probably because not all asteroids would fit the profile of an inevitable extinction event. There are probably smaller ones that we can do something about, given a fair enough lead time.
      • Probably because not all asteroids would fit the profile of an inevitable extinction event. There are probably smaller ones that we can do something about,

        Dinosaur-killer sized asteroids only come around every hundred million years or so; the last I had heard we had recently acquired good orbital data (good in both the "accurate" and "not going to hit the Earth any time soon" senses) for over 90% of the asteroids with orbits crossing ours and diameters over 1 kilometer.

        The problem is that asteroid populations are disproportionately distributed among smaller sized rocks; asteroids large enough to flatten a small city or cause a small tidal wave may come along every few centuries. It would be nice to start looking for those too.

        given a fair enough lead time.

        The lead time is the important thing, isn't it? Even if there is a supermassive asteroid that is going to smash into Earth, if we found it with a few centuries lead time before impact then there are lots of options for protecting ourselves.
    • Re:I'm confused. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by edo-01 ( 241933 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @04:15PM (#5309695)
      [poster asks why bother searching for killer asteroids if we can't stop them]

      Because if we can detect one early enough, say a few years out from impact we might be able to do something about it.

      Remember, way back in the 60's we put men on the moon , thus jump-starting the next 50 years of technological development basically just to make an idealogical point.

      Imagine what we could do if the whole ball of wax was at stake, and where it would take us after we'd saved ourselves. It took a decade to get from simple flights just outside the atmosphere to playing golf on the moon. Given a decade to stop a dinosaur-killer from hitting us we'd probably develop fleets of single-stage-to-orbit spaceplanes, huge advances in materials and propulsion etc. Hopefully once outside Earth orbit we'd stay out there instead of pulling back like we did last time. And it'd be nice to think that after being faced - really faced - with possible extinction, there'd be even just a subtle shift in our global psychology; it brings me to mind of Reagan's famous speech where he wondered what we'd be capable of as a species if we had to band together against some outside threat...

      Though having said that my guess is we'd probably all be back to watching Springer and slaughtering each other within six months of it all being over. Granted, I say this before I've had my morning coffee so I may get a lot more optimistic once the caffine kicks in...

    • From the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking project [] FAQ:

      If we were to discover tomorrow that a comet or asteroid is on an Earth- intersecting path, what could we do about it? What would you recommend doing about it?

      Actually, some 100 bodies have already been discovered on orbits which take them so close to the Earth's orbit, that they could hit in the far distant future. This is because the orbits of these bodies change slowly with time. Although their orbits do not intersect Earth's orbit at present, they could hit in a few thousand years or more.

      The scenario you have in mind is most likely to unfold as follows. In the course of our search for Earth-crossing asteroids, we could find one that will hit not in the next year, or even in the next ten years, but might hit in the next hundred years. We believe that the chance that we will find such an object is only 1 in 1,000, even after a complete search. If we do find such an object, we will have plenty of time to track it, measure its orbit more precisely, and plan a system for deflecting it from its current orbit (hopefully away from the Earth's). There will be no great hurry, and no great panic. It would be a project for all the world's nations to take part in. It could be a globally unifying event. Because we will have found it long before it actually hits the Earth, it probably would take only a small impulse (chemical rockets, or perhaps mass drivers) to divert it from a threatening path.

      There is a much smaller chance that we would find one that could impact in the next 10 years. The chance of that happening is 1 in 10,000. If this were to happen, we would probably still have time to launch a crash program of scientific and technological research, with the goal of characterizing both the structure of the menacing asteroid, and the best means for diverting its orbit.

      The least likely scenario is that we would find one that could hit in the next year. The chance is 1 in 100,000. In that case, there is probably little that we could do to divert it.

    • How about: we can't do anything about it right now because people aren't willing to invest in a project that researches ways of moving asteroids. Spotting an asteroid years before it hits us gives the chance for the world to work together to work on a plan to get rid of it and try several times. Giving it a nudge while its still years away its more likely to affect its path near Earth then it is to hit it a bit when its right near us.
    • by steve_l ( 109732 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @05:40PM (#5310150) Homepage
      They wont tell you and me, but they will tell the powers that be, who might take actions that would otherwise seem odd:-

      -Go into permanent hiding in an underground bunker somewhere on the grounds of 'security'.

      -Come up with an economic and taxation policy that is clearly hopeless long term.

      -Settle old grudges with countries they dont like.

      So, keep your eye out for things like this.
  • Forgive me... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by $$$$$exyGal ( 638164 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:57PM (#5309294) Homepage Journal
    This sounds like security through obscurity.

    --sex []

  • by miketang16 ( 585602 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:58PM (#5309304) Journal
    In the event of an asteroid impact, lay flat down on the ground, with your hands covering your head, and you will be protected.
  • Slashdotted (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:58PM (#5309305)
    They could publish info about imminent space catastrophe and I wouldn't be able to read about it because somebody'd post it on Slashdot first.

    Sweet oblivion.
  • Why not warn? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Buzz_Litebeer ( 539463 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @02:58PM (#5309307) Journal
    The issue for me, is if they beleive that nothing can be done about it, maybe they have not thought of the clever solution to fix the problem.

    Yes you will frighten the populice, yes the world may increase in suicides etc. The thing is, if you had undeniable proof that an asteroid WOULD hit the earth, and it WAS BIG ENOUGH to destroy it in a very convincing, end of the dinasours way, you could drive any arbitrary amount of money into finding a solution. Who is to say that with the combined ability of every nation on earth that there wouldnt be a way to put enough explosion on target to move such an object?

    I mean, we have TONS of nuclear weapons, and possibly even the ability to create even more horrendous things that can explode quite violently, who is to say that a 100 year or so effort to put that much firepower into space to avert such an object wouldnt come to not? I mean imagine if you had the entire planet set forth to figuring out a solution, instead of a small relatively smallg roup going "welp sucks to be us lets not tell anyone that our kids or grandkids are going to explode in a fireball"

    even if it was going to come within a few years, at least SOMETHING might be done, some way to preserve what as humanity are. I know it sounds a bit star trek, but having something aroudn to say "we were here" would be just as important as doing nothing.

    Oh well, probably a lot more info in the article, but hey, can't just ignore it, especially if it won't go away.

    • Yes, if we had 3 weeks we might be able to find a team of oil drillers to go up there with our currently non-existent super space shuttles.
    • Who is to say that with the combined ability of every nation on earth that there wouldnt be a way to put enough explosion on target to move such an object?

      Just don't let France in on it. They'd probably call for us to "double, triple" the number of telescopes

  • *I* want to know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:00PM (#5309317)
    'If you can't do anything about a warning, then there is no point in issuing a warning at all', says Dr. Geoffery Sommer.

    Like hell. If I know Armageddon is coming, I can be finishing the last bottle of wine from my cellar just as the shockwave hits.

  • that a huge asteroid was heading for earth, because I was working on my secret subspace deflector beam in the garage, and I could have easily moved it into another dimension and saved us all a lot of finger-pointing. But becuae you decided to keep it a big secret like a little schoolboy, I didn't go get the last part I needed at the mall Radio Shack and went to see the Matix sequel instead. Now the sun is blotted out for a hundred years and we are all fucked. Thanks a lot.

  • by EvilTwinSkippy ( 112490 ) <[yoda] [at] []> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:02PM (#5309332) Homepage Journal
    For airplanes hitting skyscrapers or lunatics with VX gas or bacteria.

    Sheesh, if I had a nickle for every false alarm our "Homeland Security" folks issued I'd be rich.

    Actually, we should probably call it "Der Vaterland Sicherhiet." I never thought I'd see the day when you would see assault rifles and fatigues in American airports.

    (Say, don't you thing that Green Camoflague is a bit inneffecting in an urban combat environment, like an Airport?)

    • Err, I'm not sure, but I think "i" before "e" is a rule for English only.
    • by gaj ( 1933 )
      Well, you're a fucking troll, and I'm old enough to know better, but ...

      Did it occur to you that the idea of having National Guard soldiers in camo isn't for them to be hidden, but for them to be seen. Yes, green camo sticks out like a sore thumb; it's supposed to. The very visible extra security is there for at least two reasons:

      1. make traveling public less nervous
      2. provide some measure of deterrent.
      Granted, the latter is not, by itself, going to stop folks as determined as those on 9-11, but it might well either cause less determined terrorists to decide to try again another day or, because of extra nervousness, cause them to make mistakes and be caught.
    • Blockquoth the poster:

      (Say, don't you thing that Green Camoflague is a bit inneffecting in an urban combat environment, like an Airport?)

      Yes, if you wanted the soldiers to be undetected. But of course the point of putting the National Guard in the airports was never really about security. It was about the appearance of security, for all those sheep whose votes you need in the midterm elections. See, see! We're doing something to protect you!

      Of course in politics, it's not reality but the perception of reality that counts... which was proved last November, in fact.

    • The green camoflage gives people the idea that they are likely to be attacked soon. People don't mess around when there are army guys around, and what says army better than camoflage and assault rifles?
  • "Apparently we are just as likely to die by asteroid impact as in a plane crash."

    Since some 3000 people died as the result of airplane crashes in 2001, I don't find this terribly reassuring.

    Well, if Bin laden is capable of hijacking an asteroid, then he must have gottten the rocket from somewhere. Yet another bit of missile technology Iraq failed to declare...
  • Code Red (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kindbud ( 90044 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:05PM (#5309358) Homepage
    'If you can't do anything about a warning, then there is no point in issuing a warning at all', says Dr. Geoffery Sommer.

    Would sopmebody pass this along to Tom Ridge and the rest of the Bush administration?
  • No way (Score:4, Funny)

    by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:06PM (#5309364)
    The real reason they are keeping mum is to prevent hoardes of geeks making fools of themselves camping outside Natalie Portmans house trying to get a date before they depart to techno heaven.
    • ...keeping mum is to prevent hoardes of geeks making fools of themselves camping outside Natalie Portmans house trying to get a date before they depart to techno heaven.

      I don't know about you but I just wanna shove hot grits down her pants!
  • by LuxFX ( 220822 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:09PM (#5309379) Homepage Journal
    Apparently we are just as likely to die by asteroid impact as in a plane crash

    Except one of the situations happens often enough to make headlines multiple times every year...and the other doesn't. So why are they listed as the same?

    My guess is that somebody was considering that a great number of people would die as a result of a large meteorite impact. Taking this into consideration, then over a long period of time (long enough to include one or two significant meteorite impacts), then yes. If you counted the number of people that die from meteorite impacts and those that die from the sum total of all plane crashes, then they might be equal. But this is statistics, not probability. The probability of being killed by a meteorite would be much much lower.

    The same thing is seen in a coin toss. For instance, say that you have flipped a coin six times, and each time it has landed on 'heads'. Statistically, you know that only 50% of flips will result in 'heads', so you might think that the odds are very low for the coin to land on 'heads' a seventh time -- 1 in 32 or so. BUT the seventh flip has the same 50/50 chance of landing on heads that any other flip had. That's probability.

    • Uh, no.

      If, on average, a certain even over the course of a long time has some chance of happening, like, say, a plane crash or an asteroid hitting, then it's reasonable to compare them. If an asteroid hits, a ton of people are going to die, but it's unlikely. If a plane crashes, relatively few people are going to die, but it's much more likely.

      The thing that isn't being taken into account is variance. Asteroid impacts are low-probability, high-variance events, kind of like winning the lottery in a really bad way. But, like the lottery, when it hits it has a much bigger impact.

      So if I bet a dollar, and half the time I lose my dollar, and half the time I get back my dollar plus another 50 cents, I would expect to win as much money on average as if I bought a lottery ticket. The money won, on average, is the same. It's the same concept, except instead of dollars won in this case, you're picking people from the population to die. Grim, I know.

      It seems to me that in a world of restricted resources, you should tend to put those resources not necessarily in the place that has the highest number of expected deaths, but rather in the place that will lower the number of expected deaths the most. So I think it's reasonable that we spend more money on airplane safety than on asteroid detection.

      - target
      • If, on average, a certain even over the course of a long time has some chance of happening, like, say, a plane crash or an asteroid hitting, then it's reasonable to compare them

        except if the 'long time' in which the certainty needs to happen exceeds a person's lifespan. that is why I bring up statistics vs. probability. statistically, over this 'long time' there might be as many people die from planes as meteorites.

        but, that 'long time' is almost definately much much longer than your lifespan or mine. therefore the probability of me dying from a plane crash is much greater than my probability of dying from a meteorite.

        now I'm no math expert, this is just my opinion generated from my limited knowledge. But probability is what defines every instance, versus statistics which are used to find out general patterns. This is where my coin analogy came from.

        To look at this with another example, take the Black Death. It was a significant event, with large variance. Lots of people died. So, the history of the last 1000 years might show that 1 in 400,000 people die of the black plague. So does that mean that my odds are 1/400,000 in dying of the black plague? No, the probability is much smaller than that because probability must look at my lifespan, and events happening in my lifespan. Things that happened 700 years ago are as unconsequential to my lifespace as things that will happen 700 years in the future.

        though you do bring up good points :) especially the fact of variance

    • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Saturday February 15, 2003 @04:19PM (#5309730)
      The analysis is the same if you want to discuss probability of dying in either event. There is a very good chance that there will be a plane crash (several, in fact) during your lifetime, but a relatively poor chance that you will be on one of the crashed planes. On the other hand, there is a very low likelihood that an asteroid will hit the earth, but if it does, there is a very good chance that you will be killed by it. This is why statistics and probability are very closely related, since the number of people killed in an event affects your probability of being one of those people (the more people killed, the more likely you are to be one of them, all other things being equal).
  • by deadline ( 14171 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:09PM (#5309384) Homepage

    So if Dr. Geoffery Sommer goes to his physician and the physician finds he has 8 weeks to live, he should keep it a secret because Geoffery and his family may panic.

    It is nice to know we have such people looking out for us. But it does not matter because their
    is an asteroid headed our way. By the way, that is why all the aliens left, but they did not tell us that either.

    • This is worse. I find their we-are-better-than-anyone-else attitude very arrogant. They are basically saying "well since WE wouldn't even have a solution, NOBODY else on the planet can possibly be capable of coming up with a solution." This is like a physician saying that since HE doesn't know how to cure Geoffrey, there is no point in telling him, in the belief that no other doctor in the world might have a good idea about how to save Geoffrey.

      Who knows, perhaps some Russian scientists could rig up something clever with a few leftover cold-war nukes to stop such a hypothetical asteroid. But I guess we'd never know now, since nobody else will now ever be given the chance to try come up with a solution. Because obviously if Geoffrey Sommers can't think up a solution, then nobody can.

  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:12PM (#5309399)
    statistics comes in handy.

    I've known several people who have died in plane crashes ( one of whom ended his life against the World Trade Center). I've never known anybody killed by an asteroid. Neither have you, or your parents, or *their* parents.

    This statistic is derived because relatively few people die in plane crashes, whereas *IF* an asteroid hits a great many people will die.

    Technically, mathmatically, the statement is correct, but really has nothing to do with whether or not *you* will die by being hit with an asteroid.

    It's this same misunderstanding that leads people to believe there were no old people 200 years ago, because the *average* age was low. Whereas a quick study of the death age of America's founding fathers would put the lie to that idea.

    The low *average* age is heavily weighted because so many people died before they were two. . .days old. The so called "Life Expectency" has absolutely *nothing* to do with how old any particualar person might be at their time of death.

    So don't bother spending the rest of your life looking over your shoulder for asteroids. *You* are far more likely to die by having a plane fall on you.

  • We should make a Planet Druidia-style airlock and make the combination 1-2-3-4-5. That should deflect any incoming asteroids!
  • by kaltkalt ( 620110 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:20PM (#5309433)
    If the government announced that everyone has been sentenced to imminent death (which is what such an asteroid announcement would be), I don't have enough faith in humanity to presume that the majority of people would act like grown-ups about it; rather I feel most people would go running around, screaming, looting, crashing cars, smashing things, blowing stuff up, etc. All religious people would immediately go insane.

    If a doomsday asteroid is heading for earth, there's nothing we can do about it, and if you think there is you've watched too many Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay movies.

    Bottom line, if we have one year to live, it would be better for everyone if that last year were not spent in anarchy.

    That being said, I remember reading an article (wish I could find it and cite it) that said there were only 4 government employees whose job description includes looking for asteroids to hit earth; most of the people doing this are amateur astronomers. They won't keep it quiet. So, if there is such an asteroid on a collision course with earth (which there is, somewhere), the odds highly favor it being discovered by an amateur astronomer who will immediately tell everyone which makes this entire thread moot.
  • If we suddenly see NASA people making a lot of big purchases with their credit cards, we'll know.
  • by herrd0kt0r ( 585718 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:24PM (#5309451)
    here's the headline on another article linked to the one posted above:

    David Morrison figures his long effort to keep the world safe from asteroids has been very successful. "In 11 years of protecting the planet, not a single human has been killed," he pointed out to me recently.

    oh, these wacky astrophysicists and their humor. and to think, i was beginning to believe that they were, you know, all brain, no penis.
  • by LongJohnStewartMill ( 645597 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:25PM (#5309455)
    I wonder if Taco Bell will sponsor this. If a killer Asteroid hits a special target (like the franchise on my street), they could give everybody on Earth free diarrhea.
  • One in a million (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SiliconEntity ( 448450 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:27PM (#5309469)
    It's been something like 200 million years since the last "extinction level event". If they happen statistically at random this suggests that the chances of one happening in the next 200 years is only one in a million. Not one in a million per year, or per rock, or per observation - one in a million total over the next 200 years. And that's assuming that we can't or don't do anything to improve the odds.

    On the list of doomsday threats I'd say that asteroid impacts come pretty far down. Man made disasters are overwhelmingly more threatening.
  • by Tuxinatorium ( 463682 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:33PM (#5309490) Homepage
    Most of the asteroids >1km diameter that go anywhere near earth have been cataloged, and their orbits have been simulated hundreds of orbits in advance, with the closest match being like a 1 in 100 chance of being hit by a certain 3km asteroid in 8000 years. It would be pretty hard not to discover an asteroid that large with an orbit that intersects Earth's at least a few years in advance, in which case you could just blow it off course with a 100 megaton nuclear missle that NASA would build in a hurry. ;)
  • by titzandkunt ( 623280 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:41PM (#5309523)

    I can't give my real name or tell where I work for obvious reasons...

    The good news is, no matter how broke you are, if the rent's due after next Thursday, you shouldn't worry about it too much. You're probably better off blowing the spare cash on whores and booze.

    You can buy yourself that Corvette you've always hankered after - trust me - the repayments will not be a problem - just do it quickly.

    The bad news is you really should call your parents. Come on, a five-minute call versus an eternity of guilt!

    Gotta go now: Cheyenne mountain won't just fill itself with faceless spooks, you know! Oh, and er Good Luck. You never know - we might meet up after "It", and I'll buy that Corvette from you for an MRE and a bottle of water.


  • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
    If it's going to hit in the ocean, I want to be on that shore with a surfboard when the giant wave comes!
  • by gasgesgos ( 603192 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @03:44PM (#5309538)
    I propose that we:
    A)Construct a large, white, triangular craft that shoots white dots
    B)Launch it
    C)Use an Atari 2600 controller to pilot it

    Then we find the Twin Galaxies high score holder [] and get him to save the planet.
  • It is amusing that the ultimate policymakers (read; politicans) are trying to justify witholding information from the very people who were apparently wise enough to put them there in the first place.

    The fundamental point here is that they do not have the right to withold the foreknowledge of the death of me, my family, my friends, my country, my planet. It isn't their property to withold and it is morally irresponsible to do so.

    Really getting sick of those we install in power insisting they're brighter than us and we must be protected from ourselves. Right this minute the entire PLANET is giving George the big middle finger but is there anyone who thinks he's listening?
  • Moon Impact (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jeepee ( 607566 )
    I was wondering what would happen if the moon was hit by an asteroid.... Do the earth would have to fear darker nights (maybe a coube of degree less at night), orbit change, no more tide.... sound like a strange question but im very curious about it....
  • What an idiotic policy. Just because they can't think of anything to do about it doesn't mean nobody can. What arrogance. Maybe they can't either, but worth a try.

    I say if these idiots aren't planning to report Killer Asteroids, then their funding to look for them should be cut off. Give the money to someone who isn't so bloody arrogant, or to someone trying to do something about it (eg cheap access to space).
  • Maybe we could find a way to slashdot it...

    But really, even if you couldn't do anything about it, you might as well tell everybody. It's all going to end, so what's the point of keeping secrecy other than for governments to hold on to their precious seats of power? And even THAT really doesn't matter at that point.

    You want to see what kind of entity humanity really is? Tell em their's an unstoppable asteroid with their name on it one month out.
  • by shellac ( 78892 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @04:26PM (#5309773)

    This article reminds me of those who say that a patient diagnosed with incurable cancer should not be told about it, since there is nothing that can be done about it. The idea has been defunct in the medical world for many years. In the US it is extremely unethical to do this, though I am sure in some countries it goes on. The reason is quite simple - with a limited time left on the world, there are likely many things the cancer patient would like to do before he dies, e.g. apologize to that guy he was a dick to at work, tell some girl he loved her, beat civ3 on the hardest level.

    On top of that, it is just plain dishonest. Not to mention that in the case of an asteroid, someone somewhere might have a bright idea that would avert disaster or extend human survival.

  • I agree that there's no point in telling folk about a doom they can't prevent. Supposing some Dr. said that in a year or so some anyurism would take my life and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.* I'd rather keel over into my bowl of rice crispies than spend a year worrying about into what/whom/ or where I might keel over.

    Though I bear no malice to humanity at large, if we are all to be extinguished in a shared fate I could find a silver lining. That silver lining (if vocalized) would say something to the effect of ' least this thing is getting those motherfucking tR011z on /. as well.' Either that or something like 'Goatse THIS buddy!' ;)

    At any rate, as Stephin Merrit [] of the Magnetic Fields [] once wrote:

    It would be swell
    To see some folk burn in hell
    But when they go
    It's just as pleasant to know
    that the dead only quickly decay

    * please don't overanalize here, this is just a hypothetical
  • simple solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by falsification ( 644190 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @04:56PM (#5309912) Journal
    Look, if there's a killer asteroid on its way, there will be no way to keep that quiet. At the very least, people will begin to wonder why astronomers all over the world are suddenly entering seminaries in droves, engaging in bacchanalia, and living lives of extreme hedonism.

    Nor should there be any reason to fear a so-called "killer asteroid." There have got to be ways to fight back. Here is my own, back-of-a-napkin plan.

    1. Calculate when the killer asteroid will hit. Because it's big, it will most likely be spotted years, if not decades in advance. The more time, the better.
    2. Locate many large, nearby, non-killer asteroids.
    3. Build many nuclear warhead-tipped rockets.
    4. Fire the rockets at the smaller asteroids at such angles as to cause these smaller asteroids to deflect into the orbital path of the killer asteroid. Focus on hitting the killer asteroid on its dark side, again and again, so as to move it closer to the sun, to take advantage of the sun's gravity.
    5. The killer asteroid should just miss the Earth on the side closest to the sun.
    6. If successful, make a dramatic motion picture of the event. (Optional)

    Of course, there is no need to actually send the killer asteroid into the sun.

    Surely improvements could be made. The point is, we can indeed fight back. It would be stupid and cowardly to not try.

    In any case, we should bear in mind that it is extremely improbable that a killer asteroid will hit in our lifetimes.

  • by Restil ( 31903 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @05:28PM (#5310093) Homepage
    When a large enough asteroid hits, it will scorch a significant percentage of the planet's surface, and black out the sky for many years, throwing the planet into an ice age. As a result, most life on the planet will die. This has happened many times before.

    Yet something survived. Something was able to withstand the ice age until it receeded, and it was enough to maintain the ecosystem, so both animal AND plant life persevered. Somehow. That means, despite how horrible it would be, there would be a CHANCE that humans could survive. Granted, life as we know it would be over, but we could find a way to hold out, hundreds of years if we had to.

    The chances of any of this being possible relies upon the amount of time we've had to prepare. If we have minutes, then yes, there's little we could do. But if we have years, months, even days, there's plenty that could be done. The impact area would be known far enough in advance that it could be completely evacuated. Deep caves could be built to house the population of the world. Lord only knows, if we REALLY wanted to, we might find a way to push that asteroid out of the way in time.

    And besides, how exactly would you keep it a secret? Half the space objects discovered are done so by people and equipment not under control by the government. Remember the 1 mile asteroid discovered a few years ago with a SLIGHT chance of hitting Earth? Even before they knew for sure that it wouldn't, it was on the front page of the newspapers. It was the effort to notify other scientists for peer review on the projected orbit that the press got wind of. There is no effort to keep these things secret, so how would you suddenly shut everyone up once several hundred people were aware of it?

    The smaller asteroids can be just as dangerous. Something 50 to 100 meters wide, similar to what hit siberia in the early 1900's had a devastating effect locally, but today, if people didn't have advance warning, you better hope people figure out what it was before they start launching retalliation nuclear strikes.

  • by chongo ( 113839 ) on Saturday February 15, 2003 @08:40PM (#5311056) Homepage Journal
    Current information on the asteroid (2003-CD30) referenced in the above article may be found in:

    chongo's journal [] on Near-Earth Objects (NEOs)

    As usual, I will update my journal as orbit model for 2003-CD30 changes.

    There is a delay small in announcing significant potential impactors. The purpose of the delay is to allow for additional technical review of the data. This review period is designed to last about 72 hours. I recommend that you read FAQ #2 [] in my journal for more details.

    And speaking personally:

    While I am very willing to keep new asteroid information confidential during the ~72 hour review process, I would
    never agree to permanently hide any asteroid orbit data. I believe that many of the technical reviewers feel the same way.

    Some people share Geoffrey Sommer's (a US Gov scientific adviser, Rand Corp employee and adviser on terrorism: but NOT an asteroid orbit modeler) view point. However there are more than enough people who track and model hazardous NEO's to ensure that NEO data will released (after the 72 hour technical review) one way or another.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"