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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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  • Surprising number (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:03AM (#42269759)
    In the last 20 years there have been quite a few of these objects passing within the orbit of the moon, prior to that there were few announcements and it's debatable how many were actually tracked. A disturbing number have been found within days as passing and a few were found after they passed. Just looking at the numbers I'd place the odds at high of an impact. We're coming up on a hundred year anniversary of Tunguska so I'd say we're due for a similar impact any day now. It could be tomorrow or a hundred years from now but statistically we're due now. We aren't talking end of the world because most of the world was only affected by the dust of the last major impact and the odds of one hitting a major city are similar to winning the lottery. Unfortunately the odds are high of an ocean impact and that could be worse than a land impact. Very few of these objects are being tracked in the northern hemisphere and virtually none in the lower hemisphere, I can't remember but I think it's a few percent for the south. We spend trillions on defending against Arab rednecks and a few million a year on tracking near Earth Objects. Our priorities are sadly are on the wrong threats.
  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:24AM (#42269851)

    I would definitely want to know. I would leave work, buy booze and party like there is no tomorrow.

    But there would almost certainly be a tomorrow. The asteroid was only 50-165 feet in diameter. That is about the estimated size of the Tunguska asteroid/comet, which killed zero people. Even if an asteroid that size hit the ocean or a major city, 99.9% of the people on Earth would survive.

    If we were hit by the bigger (three mile diameter) asteroid, it would only have 1/8th the energy of the Yucatan asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Unlike the dinos, we have the ability to eat canned food and stored grain, so many if not most people would likely survive.

  • by Natales ( 182136 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @02:42AM (#42269925)
    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. I mean, this is serious shit, and we are NOT taking it seriously enough. Believing we have it covered or it won't happen for 600 years is not good enough. Even Stephen Hawkins has brought this up before. We are seating ducks unless we "diversify our investments", meaning going out there and colonize other planets. It took millions of years and many extinction cycles to get us where we are as an intelligent species, and now we have to think big to survive. Honestly, I'd expect this crowd in Slashdot to really understand the implications. This issue needs to be at least high-er in the priority list of what we spend money in.
  • Asterix and Obelix (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chthon ( 580889 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:00AM (#42269993) Homepage Journal

    You know that the Gauls in Asterix are only afraid of the sky falling on their head. And their favorite exclamation is 'By Toutatis!'.

  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdfl[ ]com ['at.' in gap]> on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:14AM (#42270045) Journal

    I would dare say that I don't think there are very many extinction-level type events could plausibly happen anytime in the foreseeable future which could also wipe out the human race unless the incident were also actually detrimental to the entire physiology of the planet. I do not think that a collision of the magnitude that led to the wiping out the dinosaurs, for instance, would have the same effect on us. Certainly no small number of people would die, but I do believe humanity itself would endure.

    My reasoning is simply this. We have intellect. Dinosaurs did not.

  • by Genda ( 560240 ) <mariet@@@got...net> on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:43AM (#42270151) Journal

    We'd be better off setting up a train of a couple dozen colonized asteroids shifting between Earth and Mars orbits using them and a continuous conveyor belt for people, materials and critical resources to and from a Mars Colony. Terraforming Mars then building colonies on icy moons with liquid oceans would scatter us around sufficiently that only a really nasty event might threaten us.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2012 @03:44AM (#42270157)

    It's a common use of the word avoid. Why would you even bring it up? Nothing implies the Earth did anything.

    Because the common use of the word avoid implies it WAS going to collide, but then something changed and it did not. While mixing units is MUCH more commonly done, and not technically wrong just a pain to do the conversions.

    But the real answer to the parent is that a bunch of Mayan Doomsday wingnuts were dead convinced that it was going to wipe out the planet and the Mystical Magical Mayan Men had predicted it with their calendar. So in that sense yes, we "avoided" a collision (by doing nothing) but back in Reality it's just business as usual.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2012 @06:32AM (#42270777)

    Actually, a small remainder of civilisation could probably survive even if the sun got blotted out for years. There would be massive starvation and conflict, but bear in mind we have the technology to generate our own sunlight. It wouldn't be too hard to rig up some floodlights that provide crop-friendly wavelengths and shine them over some fields. Obviously not enough to feed the entire world, or even an entire country (hence starvation and conflict) but almost certainly enough to keep a sizeable population alive until the not-so-metaphorical dust settles.

  • by tehcyder ( 746570 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @07:32AM (#42271049) Journal

    You know that the Gauls in Asterix are only afraid of the sky falling on their head. And their favorite exclamation is 'By Toutatis!'.

    That's because Toutatis was a major Celtic god [wikipedia.org]. The naming of the asteroid happened in 1989 [wikipedia.org] i.e. after the Asterix books had been using it for a while.

    So the naming was presumably a deliberate reference to the Asterix books, or at the very least it used the same god as its basis.

  • Tunguska? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by abies ( 607076 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @08:07AM (#42271215)

    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.

    And how much energy from earthquake goes into actual surface damage? I was under impression that vast majority of it is used to shake rocks up and down, which is quite different from releasing same energy in something similar to surface nuclear strike.

    I think we should be comparing it to Tunguska event rather than earthquakes. Imagine Tunguska happening over one of densly populated areas. I don't think that it would end up being 2-hours news.

  • by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @08:55AM (#42271467)
    One theory is that another sun named 'Nemesis' is the cause of major extinctions every 26 million years. It's thought that Nemesis alters asteroid orbits enough to bombard the Earth.

    "This hypothetical "death star" or "death companion" of the Sun has received a name: Nemesis. In the Greek mythology Nemesis was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris, vengeful fate personified as a remorseless goddess. According to the hypothesis, Nemesis periodically (approximately every 26 million years) passes through a denser region of the Oort cloud, disrupting the orbits of comets, and sending millions of comets into the inner solar system and potential collision with the Earth. But, many geologists are convinced that mass extinctions on Earth are not periodic, so they see no need for such a star. Nless, Richard Muller and his colleagues have embarked on the difficult search for a possible, dim companion to the Sun." :

    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_nemesis07.htm [bibliotecapleyades.net]

  • Re:Surprising number (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Thursday December 13, 2012 @04:17PM (#42278749)

    You are essentially claiming that asteroid hits are random events in the same way that coin tosses are.

    They are. You're probably confused because it occurs to you that the asteroids and planets are in particular points in space, with particular velocities, and follow the rules of physics.

    What you're missing is that this also applies to the coins.

    The date for the impact is well known and pre determined. It is just not known by us.

    Then who is it "well known" by? The aliens that have been abducting you?

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal