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Space Science

Asteroid 4179 Toutatis Will Miss Earth, This Time 301

EtherAlchemist writes "National Geographic News reports in this story that a giant, peanut shaped asteroid known as 4179 Toutatis will pass within 1 million miles of Earth on Weds, the 29th. When it does, it will be the closest any known object of this size (3 miles) has passed near Earth in this century. No worry about impact yet, it should pose no threat until at least 2562. An interesting note: the asteroid believed to have caused Earth's biggest mass extinction is thought to have been between 3.7 and 7.5 miles as reported here in 2001." 2004 FU162 came closer, but is a much smaller object.
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Asteroid 4179 Toutatis Will Miss Earth, This Time

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  • by sgant ( 178166 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:12PM (#10350338) Homepage Journal
    When it does, it will be the closest any known object of this size (3 miles) has passed near Earth in this century.

    Wow! You mean to tell me it's the largest object to pass near here in over 3 years!!!

    OK, one of those things that sounds impressive, then when one thinks a little, isn't all that big a deal...
  • Damn (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:12PM (#10350340)
    So close to not having to pay next months rent
  • what if...? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rokzy ( 687636 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:15PM (#10350357)
    what if we knew for sure we would be hit in 500 years? that's long enough to be none of our problems. so would people say "fuck them" and just leave it to some other generation to sort out, or be willing to pay for a huge programme to deflect/destroy it?

    it's a similar problem to global warming, except there are no asteroid-impact-dependent business models funding research and laws like with oil.
    • Well, it's generally held that if it's close enough to see, it's too close to change its course significantly. However, you could change its course while it's still heading away from you...
    • by PhrostyMcByte ( 589271 ) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:28PM (#10350453) Homepage
      500 years? let the apes deal with it.
    • Re:what if...? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:29PM (#10350455) Homepage Journal
      we would regard it as "none of our problem", but the technology would continue to evolve.

      in couple of generations people would start making up some plans to escape from the disaster.

    • If we knew that it was going to hit on the next pass, the logical thing would be to blast it this time after it clears the earth. A small change in it orbit at this point should translate into a large one by the time it comes around again.
    • Re:what if...? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Exactly. The lack of opposition from corporate interests in exactly why international cooperation between governments has so quickly put together a comprehensive and effective solution to defending earth by deflecting asteroids.

      Meanwhile, global warming remains a nearly unknown "problem" ignored by all but a few geeks on specialist websites, never mentioned in the news media or turned into a political issue. The oil barons have buried their dirty secret where no one (but rokzy) knows about it.
    • A much more likely problem than an asteroid hitting the earth is a "supervolcano" eruption. These happen WAY more frequently than giant asteroid hits, and they're just as bad. Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano that erupts about every 600,000 years. Guess how long since it's erupted? 640,000 years.

      What do we do when there's no sun hitting the earth's surface for six months?
      • What do we do when there's no sun hitting the earth's surface for six months?

        Get hooked up as living batteries to keep the computers running, of course!
      • What do we do when there's no sun hitting the earth's surface for six months?

        Rely on oil, wave, wind and nuclear power sources for energy and invest in halogen/UV light bulbs to illuminate fields, and research atmospheric cleansing methods. I'm sure researchers would find chemicals that could be released into the atmosphere and make the dust particles condense into heavier particles and wash out of the sky.
  • by ch3 ( 701440 ) <hugues@h l i . be> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:18PM (#10350373) Homepage
    ... seems the sky missed us this time [frithjof.de]! ;)
  • Alright people...call off the Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis-led rescue team.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:19PM (#10350383)

    I, for one, would like to welcome our new oven-roasted overlords... [planters.com]

    Here's the proof. [gearlive.com] Free 27" flatscreen TV. [freeflatscreens.com]

  • by IAR80 ( 598046 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:20PM (#10350390) Homepage
    Forget Death star check the Death Peanut.
  • Not especially close (Score:5, Informative)

    by yellowstone ( 62484 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:20PM (#10350391) Homepage Journal
    The mean distance between the Earth and moon is 384,400 kilometers [freemars.org]. 1,000,000 miles is about 1,609,000 kilometers [runnersweb.com], so the asteroid will come within about 4.2 earth-moon distances.
    • Yeah, but the moon is missing us all the time - no news there... ;-)
  • by Depris ( 612363 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:21PM (#10350395)
    I'm getting kind of sick of this type of story. It seems like every few months their are stories released about some space object coming close to earth and 'just barely missing'.

    Though I am curious to know if their is an official plan for countering a colliding asteriod? What would our options be realistically if an asteriod going to impact in a matter of months?

    • by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <tmh@nodomain.org> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:24PM (#10350423) Homepage
      Not a lot really. We don't really have the technology.

      We wouldn't get months probably. Days, perhaps. If we're really unlucky, hours.

      That would make one hell of a slashdot headline while it lasted, though.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Yeah, 2 days after it strikes slashdot will read:
        Asteroid going to strike earth.

        You're new here, right?
        • by johannesg ( 664142 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @05:21PM (#10350797)
          Yeah, 2 days after it strikes slashdot will read: Asteroid going to strike earth.

          And again another two days later, and yet again after a week. Anyone who survived the impact will be killed by heart failure.

          Think of the polls!

          "After the impact, I will be..."

          [ ] Dead.

          [ ] Surviving.

          [ ] Cowboy Neal will deflect the asteroid.

          "Having only hours to live, I will..."

          [ ] Find a beautiful woman and shag her until the earth shakes!

          [ ] Post some more on slashdot.

          [ ] Read a good book I never had time for before.

          [ ] Make sure my backups are in order.

          [ ] Position my webcame outside so people on other continents can see it come and watch me die.

          [ ] Set up that webcam, find Cowboy Neal, shag him until the earth shakes, then post about it on slashdot, and still have the satisfiction that noone will survive to talk about it.

          [ ] Same as above, but then find out the asteroid thing was a hoax.

          • Larry Niven touched on some of that with the thoughts of his main character in "Inconstant Moon".

            What would you do if you thought civilization would end in the next few hours?* His treatment of it is by far the best I've ever seen in a short story.

            * Hmm... poll material there also?
    • It seems like every few months their are stories released about some space object coming close to earth and 'just barely missing'.
      I agree, the media needs to stop hyping up these near misses and write the news story AFTER it hits us.
    • Detonate them in its path and stear it off course into the moon or somewhere else. Almost all our ICBMs leave the atmosphere as it is, and once they leave, it wouldn't take much to guide them where we want them. It would be one hell of a light show for sure.
      • Just make sure you're well shielded if you're on the light-show facing side of the planet. Otherwise...

        dont go there nobody wants that [affichescinema.com]

      • Even if you could somehow take a guidance system designed for putting a warhead just above a target on the ground and destroying it and use it to make a far faster approach to a much, much smaller object and still go off with the required accuracy of timing, you wouldn't be accomplishing much except to add radioactive fallout to the considerable blast, heat and tsunami damage.

        ICBMs typically reach velocities of about 15,000 MPH for their sub-orbital trajectories. Getting into orbit requires about 18,000 MP

  • I was looking forward to the free tacos.

    Maybe next time.
  • The Earth is about 7000 miles in diameter (read small), we are a pretty insignificant rock in space for anything to hit, unfortunately.
  • by CompSurfer ( 759218 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:25PM (#10350430)
    NASA's NEO (Near Earth Object) program [nasa.gov] tracks many different objects, though I wish they had a bigger budget, then they could handle even more.
  • Wouldn't it be easier to say 6 to 12 Km?
  • by theraccoon ( 592935 ) * on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:34PM (#10350494) Journal
    Guess that means I still gotta go to work on Monday.


  • by Judg3 ( 88435 ) <jeremy.pavleck@com> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:37PM (#10350516) Homepage Journal
    An interesting note: the asteroid believed to have caused Earth's biggest mass extinction is thought to have been between 3.7 and 7.5 miles as reported here in 2001

    I was just watching something the other day on the History channel about a recent find. A huge lot of dinosaurs buried under meters of volcanic ash - sort of hinting a giant volcano blast may have done all the dirt work.

    I tried to google for some more info, but came up empty-handed. I did find this article [findarticles.com] though, about dinosaurs found in Alaska. It states that if they had managed to adapt to an arctic environment, then the "nuclear winter" effect of a large meteor hitting earth may not hold as much water.

    Then again, I doubt we'll ever truly know - maybe the dinosaurs just got tired of living and went the way of the Heaven's Gate members.

  • by Larthallor ( 623891 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:38PM (#10350522)
    Anatomically modern humans have been around about a hundred thousand years. That's roughly five or six THOUSAND generations. The chances that we get smacked by an asteroid within the lifetime of the first couple of generations that actually have a chance to see it coming is remote.

    Yes, it would be bad.

    Yes, it's going to happen if we don't stop it.

    No, it's not going to happen in your lifetime.

    No, I'm not giving you lots of money to try to stop one with primitive turn-of-the-millennium technology. When legitimate investments in space travel bring the cost of launch down and our robotics/sensors are better and our deep space propulsion systems are better, THEN I'll vote for spending money on a decent system.

    Or I would, if I wasn't going to die in the global bio-weapons apocalypse of 2027.

  • FU162 (Score:5, Funny)

    by djtripp ( 468558 ) <djtripp@gmaiCOFFEEl.com minus caffeine> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:39PM (#10350530) Homepage Journal
    That is quite the appropriate letter sequence for an asteroid that comes close to earth.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...and park it at one of the Lagrange points? Something that massive would be much better for an international space station than a few hundred tons in low earth orbit, and it would provide more than enough shielding for any conceivable solar flare.
    • For defense, you want to kick the rocks heading for Earth no matter how slowly, or quickly, they'd hit. For capture, you want to find a rock with small delta-V requirements no matter how far away its closest approach is right now. Two different selection criteria.

      Besides, you probably want to get your shielding material sooner rather than later, and not wait for the approach of a dangerous rock to set your schedule.

  • The asteroid rotates around one axis once every 5.4 Earth days and, in turn, rotates around the other axis once every 7.3 Earth days. As such, "the orientation of the asteroid never repeats exactly," Ostro said.

    I call bull.

    It isn't clear to what the orientation is compared (...an observer on a fixed point on Earth?, ...a fixed point in the asteroid's orbital plane?), but at some point it will have the same orientation with regard to anything in a periodic motion relative to it.

    Let's take the simple ex

  • by mantera ( 685223 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @04:56PM (#10350636)

    Even if such an object hit Earth, I seriously doubt that it would lead to human extinction. In fact, it probably won't even kill as many people as the tens, or possibly even hundreds, of millions we have killed during the 20th century in two world wars, many other wars, and persistent indifference to humanitarian crises of famine or disease. This may be a young crowd, but those of us old enough who have grown up during the heat of the cold war will probably have less to worry about from a meteor hitting than all those tens of thousands of ICBM the USA and USSR seemed willing to unleash on each other and everyone at a very short notice.

    Many species survived many mass extinction events, and, ironically and in fact, many of such species have been, or are being, driven to extinction by none other than us. Soon we will have successfully driven biodiversity to the minimum we have allowed to survive because we want it, such as dairy and poultry farms, and pets.

    I am willing to bet that the last surviving species on Earth will be humans and microbes.

  • I will take a page out of contemporary "leadership" and show those space rocks who the boss is!

    Now look whose winning! 1million miles! Ha try harder next time.
  • Surely we can find some way to blame terrorists for this. Especially so close to election time! :)
  • Some people (like, I don't know... SETI) periodically release reports like these in order to ensure funding and the existance of their jobs.

    A bit like our President and his terror alerts.
  • Moon? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OgGreeb ( 35588 ) <og@digimark.net> on Saturday September 25, 2004 @05:25PM (#10350826) Homepage
    Does anyone ever run trajectory calculations for a strike on the Moon, rather than Earth? And what size Moon strike would cause problems here? Could the moon eject a chunk in our direction sufficiently large to be a problem? For that matter, what would happen to the Moon in that situation?

    Too many questions -- no idea of the impact (pun intended.)
    • Define "problem" (Score:4, Informative)

      by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:33PM (#10351214) Homepage Journal
      The chunks of ejecta from a lunar impact will almost certainly be much smaller than the original body, and very few of them would actually hit Earth. The ones which did might well be spread out over time, also. Faced with a choice between braving a 3-mile asteroid impact on Earth and the debris coming to Earth from impact of the same on the moon, I'll let it hit the moon.

      We do have some meteorites which are known to have come from the moon, so it's proven that stuff kicked off of there can wind up here. [wustl.edu] It's also pretty obvious that the pieces that wind up here are nowhere near as big as what smacked the moon in the first place.

  • by bloxnet ( 637785 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @05:25PM (#10350827)
    ...but every time I see one of these stories, I think of some extremely long-lived alien warlord interns having a conversation like this:

    Braxxis009A - "Idiots! How many times do I have to tell you anthropods even a trillionth of a degree of miscalculation will cause a complete and total miss! Now reload the Meteoro 2000 Planet Blaster XL with another rock and GET IT RIGHT THIS TIME!!!!"
  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Saturday September 25, 2004 @06:47PM (#10351279) Homepage Journal
    Upon further consideration, I've come to the conclusion that if an asteroid that big did collide with the Earth ... the complete destruction of all life on the planet would be a small price to pay for finally getting rid of Microsoft.

    (It's funny. Laugh.)

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