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Space Science

Earth Avoids Collisions With Pair of Asteroids 256

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?"
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Earth Avoids Collisions With Pair of Asteroids

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  • 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 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 ) 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 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 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".

  • by Genda ( 560240 ) <mariet@nOSpAM.got.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 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 K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @05:32AM (#42270511)

    If it was known that an Extinction Level Event was headed our way and had a fair to high chance of actually happening, I'd want to know... however, I fully understand WHY we wouldn't be told.

    It wasn't. It's crappy journalism, that's all. There was a small asteroid that we didn't know about that got pretty close and that wouldn't have done anything serious had it hit us, and then there was Toutatis with its horse-shoe orbit that gets it close to Earth, but nowhere near enough to hit us, and we know that at least for several centuries, it shouldn't. You know, celestial mechanics is, after all, one of the exactest sciences that we've ever had. Someone simply mixed these two things in their mind, and many readers still do, it seems. Even here, which is a shame.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.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.

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @11:00AM (#42272915) Homepage

    Doesn't work: The US has had several major cities completely wrecked by hurricanes and flooding in the past decade, and still doesn't seem to think that this might be a problem we should look into addressing more thoroughly.

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:21PM (#42276675)

    You're just digging yourself deeper.

    On Sunday you receive the following information: Uncle Bob will be dropping by this week.

    Unlike the coin or the asteroids or the lottery, Uncle Bob DOES have a memory, and he has specified a window in which he will appear. (dependent events vs independent events, and time constrained rather than probabilistic.)

    That you don't realise this isn't even the same class of problem shows you have even less understanding of prob and stats than was clear before.

    You use statistics the same way Creationists use it, not understanding the simple process of "selection".

    Selection? Related to the problem of asteroid hit probability? You *are* a moron.

    The game show/door problem is the classic Monty Hall problem. It DOES involve selection. Unlike asteroid hits. Again showing you don't understand the class of problem.

    If there is an event that is inevitable within a certain time frame, each day it doesn't happen chances are it will increase the following day.

    Repeating again, because you are a moron, asteroid strikes are not that kind of problem. There is no particular time frame in which a strike is inevitable. (And furthermore, unlike the problems you brought up, there is no limit to the number of strikes in any particular time frame.) Asteroid strikes are a pure probability per unit time problem.

    Again, this reflects on your pro-gun arguments, in that for example you are unable to differentiate between stiffness of gun control legislation stats, and guns per person stats.

    You try to pretend you are more intelligent than you are by googling and copy/pasting. It doesn't work. You have to actually understand the stuff Google finds.

    Have you never heard the maxim it's better for people to think you;re stupid, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt? You're parading your ignorance like you were walking around with your pants round your ankles.

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10