Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Introducing Asteroid 2004 MN4 633

Numerous readers wrote in with bits about a potential asteroid collision: "The recently discovered asteroid 2004 MN4 is currently listed as having a 1/233 chance of hitting the Earth. It is 420 m across and if it strikes the Earth it will release an energy of 1,900 Megatons of TNT (the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, Tsar Bomba had a yield of only 50 Megatons). It is also the only asteroid that currently has a Torino scale value of 2." So, in summary, there's a 1-in-233 chance of the worst disaster in recorded history happening on April 13, 2029, and a 232-in-233 chance of nothing happening. Have a nice day! Update: 12/24 22:14 GMT by M : The rock is now rated a 4 on the Torino scale, or a 1-in-62 chance of impact.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Introducing Asteroid 2004 MN4

Comments Filter:
  • by Richie1984 ( 841487 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:36PM (#11177068)
    I don't really think there's too much point in getting concerned just yet. There are many asteroids that we can't track until they've already passed us, so worrying about a 1 in roughly 300 chance of an asteroid hitting us in 30 years time isn't really a major problem yet. Personally, I'd like to see some sort of government funding for machinery to detect a greater number of asteroids which are potentially on a course for us. Otherwise, our fate is just in the hands of luck.
  • by Ralconte ( 599174 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:39PM (#11177088)
    Thanks for all the numbers, but using this page is more fun ... (no HTML, it's short enough to cut and paste)
  • Not a Chance! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 6800 ( 643075 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:41PM (#11177109)
    Nothing happens by chance. Chance is simply a statiscal tool to rate probability of things observable. If you disagree, please explain to me by what power comes chances causation?
  • by jabex ( 320163 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:41PM (#11177111) Homepage
    Well, John Young (from a previous story about the risks of being a single planet species) is going to have a field day with this. []

    Guess it's time to update those "how likely we are to die" stats.

    Although maybe not, considering this isn't of the 1km and above weight class.
  • 10 Krakatoas (Score:1, Interesting)

    by mshaslam ( 688800 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:43PM (#11177117)
    1900 megatons is about 10 times the force of the Krakatoa volcanic eruption. []


  • by Richie1984 ( 841487 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:43PM (#11177118)
    Just like the previous thousands of years?

    Yes, but we're entering an age where we have, or will probably soon have, the technology to not only detect these threats, but also to destroy them. Just because it hasn't happened before in the course of recorded human history, doesn't mean we can be complacent.
  • uhm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dorothy 86 ( 677356 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:47PM (#11177144) Homepage
    anyone else notice how many times they made sure to say it was not of public concern?

    /me puts on tinfoil hat

    a 1/233 chance of it hitting earth sounds like fairly good odds to me, considering odds of other asteroids... I want to be concerend for another 24 (close enough) years...

  • Darwin Awards, 2029 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:50PM (#11177165)
    Yes! I now have a 1/233 chance of predicting the Darwin Awards for 2029.

    You see, the smart will evacuate the target impact area, and the "Award Winners" will flock to the area for the event.

    Damn, I just hope *I* can resist going... after all, it *will* be an impressive show. We're talking 1.9 gigatons!
  • by AbbyNormal ( 216235 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:53PM (#11177187) Homepage
    Also, isn't this estimation based on the "perfect" scenario? Ie. No outside forces being exerted on the rock before it hits us? Even though 30 years is a drop in the universe's bucket in terms of time, there is a lot that could possibly alter the course.

    Oh, and Frankly, I welcome our new Rock Based over lords.
  • by ( 841806 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:53PM (#11177192)
    Muffley: But look here doctor, wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

    Strangelove: No sir... [right arm rolls his wheelchair backwards.] Excuse me. [struggles with wayward right arm, ultimately subduing it with a beating from his left.] Also when... when they go down into the mine everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be ne of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! Ahhhh! [Right hand reflexes into Nazi salute. He pulls it back into his lap and beats it again. Gloved hand attempts to strangle him.]
  • by bigberk ( 547360 ) <> on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:02PM (#11177247)
    What is the point of posts (and news items, etc.) like this?
    While the population obsesses about rather small threats (terrorism, nuclear bombs, SARS, west nile virus) people tend to ignore major threats like, oh I don't know, human near-extinction in several decades. Sit and think about the odds given and you should find it extremely unnerving, unless you have no sense of probabilities. On the order of 1/100 or 1/1000 are not reassuring odds. And the scale of the event is enormous.

    It's a problem of motivating people to non-immediate problems. Like environmental issues, these are not things that engage us now. OTOH terrorism and SARS puts people in an acute panic. With something like asteroids, environmental damage people have to start working on problems now even though there appears to be no good reason to do so.

    So getting back to your question, why post about this and why make people aware of a looming future threat? Because hopefully, physicists, mathematicians, and engineers out there realize that this is quite important and might take part in coming up with solutions that could (yes) save earth. And maybe people will make the connection that humans striving for space travel, exploration, and colonization of space is also an activity that can save our ass -- rather than waste precious precious money.

    And everyone else can realize, damn, life may well be shorter than we all expect, and be grateful that they and everyone else they know is still alive.
  • Ever Wonder... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arakon ( 97351 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:06PM (#11177260) Homepage
    about where and how they come up with these 'odds'?

    Would this be one of those instances of '95% of all statistics are made up'?

    I mean, it seeams if he could get a somewhat reasonable graps at the trajectory and distance of the asteroid thy could get a fair guess about probability of impact and location of impact, but how do they arbitrarily convert a guess into a number ratio?

    I guess I'd just like to see the math on how they come up with these numbers.

  • by mahesh_gharat ( 633793 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:35PM (#11177424)
    What are we going to do after detecting a asteroid having a probability of 1 heating us?

    So lets first develope some strategy/technique to avoid such a disaster and then start detecting the probable hits. Putting money in detecting first will waste of money and time.

    We will be in more panick situation if we know there is something which is going to hit us but we can't do anything about it.
  • Re:Friday the 13th (Score:1, Interesting)

    by daquake ( 307570 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:59PM (#11177574) Homepage Journal
    It has nothing to do with the Last Supper... it's been attributed to that, to the betrayal of the Knight's Templar on a "Friday of 13", the trickster Loki crashing a banquet of 12 Norse revelers in Valhalla, as well as some references to Friday being unlucky in Geoffrey Chaucer's time (14th century: "And on a Friday fell all this mischance". In fact, there is no reliable reference to the unluckiness of Friday the 13'th, before the 1800s.

    Friday the 13th is considered unlucky only in Western, Christian-dominated cultures: there is no such superstition in Asia or the Islamic world. And most other cultures consider it a very lucky number.

    Odder yet, since in the Gregorian calendar, the 13th is slightly more likely to fall on a Friday than on any other day of the week, and any month beginning on a Sunday will by default have a Friday the 13th.

    Still, Paraskevidekatriaphobia, (fear of Friday the 13th) seems common enough to moronically influence our lives and behavior (why most buildings have no 13'th floor and Room 13 so often disappears).

    But we live in America and as recent events continue to demonstrate, seem extraordinarily naive.

  • by m50d ( 797211 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @03:11PM (#11177645) Homepage Journal
    Any other forces are just as likely to redirect it away from us as towards us
  • by maxverb ( 843284 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @03:22PM (#11177703) Journal
    Yes, this was just put out a little while ago. That's a record. Wonder why it isn't on the news? I am listening to NPR's Science Friday right now; it must be a taped show, because they aren't saying anything yet. 4! Damn.
  • Capture? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rob Carr ( 780861 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @06:39PM (#11178596) Homepage Journal
    I wonder what kind of asteroid this is. If it's not a pile of rubble and if it's high in metals, it might actually be worth manuvering it into Earth orbit. The bulk of it would provide shelter during solar storms, with mines providing both living space and manufacturing materials. Even non-metalics would be useful - there's got to be some way to use them as reaction mass.

    Now, there would be some problems. First, as you change the orbit, there's the chance that you'll chage the target country from Outer Bleen to Inner Bleen, upsetting the inhabitants. Then, as you manuver the rock, you're going to probably annoy someone else. The ability to direct such a rock would constitute a "weapon of mass destruction."

    I'm guessing positioning the thing for "aerobraking" in the Earth's atmosphere would make some folks nervous, too.

    Ok, so this wouldn't be a project where you'd want to mix up your feet and meters or have someone say "oopsie!"

    The shame is, humans don't have the brains or organization to take advantage of this opportunity. If this hunk of space junk is going to hit the Earth, I'm not sure we will move it in time. We certainly can move it. I just don't think we'll get our act together.

    I wonder who'll be the first to suggest that an impact will be a good thing since the dust may greatly reduce global warming?

  • Re:Phobias (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Aluion ( 734100 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @06:44PM (#11178626)
    Yes, and it's known as Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia [], and sometimes known as Sesquipedalophobia. []

    By the way, it is 36 letters long.

  • by calculadoru ( 760076 ) <> on Friday December 24, 2004 @07:37PM (#11178849)
    ...the number 4 is pronounced the same way as death (which is why Japanese people hate living on the 4th floor etc).
    so we are doomed after all :)
  • by ankhank ( 756164 ) * on Friday December 24, 2004 @11:26PM (#11179501) Journal
    Even getting an instrument package _onto_ one of these objects would be interesting. Add a little ion engine and enough computation to lock onto some target stars, dig in, push, watch, re-aim, figure out how to line the thrust up with the center of mass, despin it over time for consistent solar power. Then hope to find solutions that would eventually settle it into say a Lagrange point, not too close.
  • One thing seems odd about this to me... If a 420m-wide asteroid is in an orbit that crosses Earth's orbit twice a year, ranging from near Venus' orbit at perigee to just past Earth's at apogee, why wasn't 2004 MN4 noticed by astronomers at least 20-30 years ago?

    Does anyone remember the concern in Sept 2002 when an object dubbed "J002E3" was initially believed to be an Earth-crossing asteroid or previously-unknown moon was discovered? [ref: Slashdot [], Planetary Society [], CNN []] It turned out to be the Apollo 12 3rd stage rocket body. The mistake was made because an object as bright as it was, if as reflective as a rock, would have been huge. But it wasn't a dark rock - it was a shiny metal cylinder. It had been re-captured into Earth orbit after decades in solar orbit.

    Probably every lunar probe and manned mission has sent a rocket booster into solar orbit as space junk. While probabilities of a 2004 MN4 collision in the future are computed, astronomers with the proper data should also try to project it back to see where it was during the Apollo era. Check if it may have come from Earth.

    Actually, I'm pretty sure astronomers are already projecting 2004 MN4's orbit back in time to see if there were any other observations of the object before. So this is something else for them to check.

  • Continuing the thread I started...

    I found an online tool to compute estimated positions of the 2004 MN4 asteroid according to the known estimates of its orbit. See [] .

    I ran it backwards in 3-month intervals looking for times that 2004 MN4 has last been near Earth. By this data, there was a very near pass by Earth around April 16-19, 1967.

    So I looked through a catalog of lunar launches []. The NASA lunar probe Surveyor 3 was launched April 17, 1967.

    This alone is not sufficient to prove that 2004 MN4 is a booster from Surveyor 3. (Logic still dictates that the scenario of 2004 MN4 being a threatening asteroid is still a possibility on the table.) But with a coincidence as shown in these numbers, Surveyor 3 must be considered in any investigation into 2004 MN4.

  • by ikluft ( 1284 ) <ik-slash@thund e r . s b a y .org> on Saturday December 25, 2004 @07:28AM (#11180466) Homepage
    I posted this on my personal web site at eyor3.html [] . If there are any updates, I'll put them there.

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.