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Space Science

Asteroid Highlighted as Impact Threat 297

Maggie McKee writes "The asteroid Apophis has been traversing the void of space for untold years; in just a few decades time it will make a very close pass to Earth, and could make an unwelcome stop on our planet's surface. Even still, it's nothing to get too worked up about. The 20-million-tonne object has a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting the Pacific Ocean in early April of 2036. If it did hit, it could trigger a tsunami that would do an untold amount of damage to the California coastline and many other places on Earth. Despite the low level of the threat, it's still a real enough danger to prompt the United Nations to develop a protocol about the scenario. We'll get a closeup look at the object in 2029, and at that point we should have a better idea of what 2036 will bring us."
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Asteroid Highlighted as Impact Threat

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  • untold (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @07:55PM (#18055566)
    That's the great untold thing about this story. For untold years, slashdot editors have been writing untold dupes, while governments around the world have been avoiding getting their untold shit together for untold years. When will the untold story be told?
  • The Pacific (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WombatDeath ( 681651 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @08:34PM (#18055888)
    Just out of interest: if we don't know whether or not it's going to hit, how do we know that if it does it will land in the Pacific?
  • by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @08:48PM (#18056008)
    These calculations sound like something of a black art. Originally, this asteroid was supposed to have a 1 in 5500 chance of hitting earth, then it was downgraded to 1 in 24,000, now it's 1 in 45,000... apparently the calculations are easily thrown off by tiny differences in the measured velocity of-asteroid-smashing-into-earth-reduced.html%5D [].

    Even so, 1 in 45,000 sounds a bit high. I can't claim to know anything about orbital mechanics, but there are other ways to approach the problem. One of them is to look at history- written history, archaeology, and geology. There are no written accounts, as far as I know, of a meteorite causing significant numbers of human casualties, either through an impact or through a tsunami induced by impact. To put this in perspective, earthquakes have killed many hundreds of thousands of people in the past century in Mexico, China, Iran, Peru, San Francisco, Japan, Pakistan and so on; older earthquakes have killed massive numbers of people- often hundreds of thousands- in China, Iran, Portugal, Syria, Sicily, etc. Tsunamis have killed hundreds of thousands, recently in the Indian Ocean; Krakatoa killed a huge number of people when it blew up and created a tsunami. Explosive eruption in Crete seems to have wiped the Minoan civilization off the map. Floods kill people so routinely that it's hard to even keep all the flooding events around the world straight.

    What this says is that throughout human history, in terms of natural disasters, the earthquakes, tsunamis (induced by earthquake or eruption), volcanic eruptions and floods have been far more deadly than asteroids and comets. The geological record suggests that at points, asteroid impacts have been devastating enough to destroy most of the existing ecosystem for periods of time (as indicated by the extinction of plankton, plants, and herbivores at the end of the Cretaceous) but that events of this magntitude are vanishingly rare- once every hundred million years or so. Smaller events are a more realistic worry, but even then they aren't that common. I've been to Meteor Crater, in Arizona and I'm sure it was a doozy, and it would have sucked to be within a few miles of it, but Meteor Crater is notable precisely because things like it are so rare. If meteors were that common, we would expect to see a lot more of them dotting the deserts than we do.

    I don't mean to put down people who are (for a refreshing change) taking a long-term, big picture view, but I think that there are more commonplace disasters we need to worry about, like earthquakes and tsunamis, which involve more boring, mundane solutions, like good building codes, tsunami warning networks, tsunami evacuation sirens, and flood control.

  • by Ardipithecus ( 985280 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:41PM (#18056654)
    People spend tons of $ on the lotto, with odds from 1:23M and up.

    In comparison, this thing is guaranteed...

  • by frup ( 998325 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:54PM (#18056734)
    With out reading the article, how the fuck can they determine where it will hit, yet have such a variable chance of of hitting. Is this just because the pacific ocean is the easiest guess?
  • by pixelguru ( 985395 ) on Saturday February 17, 2007 @10:58PM (#18056750) Homepage

    There are no written accounts, as far as I know, of a meteorite causing significant numbers of human casualties, either through an impact or through a tsunami induced by impact.

    Every society on earth has a great flood story woven into their mythology, and many stories of fire and light from "the heavens." Just because they didn't call it a meteorite doesn't mean it didn't happen.

    The Tunguska event had the uncanny luck of happening over land and in one of the world's least populated areas. What are the odds of THAT happening again?

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva