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New Asteroid Becomes Earth's Biggest Threat 232

Posted by Zonk
from the doooooommm dept.
inexion wrote to mention a story on PhysOrg stating that we're all doomed. "A space rock capable of sub-continent scale devastation has about a one in 1,000 risk of colliding with Earth early next century, the highest of any known asteroid, watchers said on Thursday. The rock, 2004 VD17, is about 500 metres (yards) long and has a mass of nearly a billion tonnes, which -- if it were to impact -- would deliver 10,000 megatonnes of energy, equivalent to all the world's nuclear weapons. Spotted on November 27 2004, VD 17 was swiftly identified as rock that potentially crossed Earth's orbit, with a 1 in 3,000 risk of collision on May 4 2102."
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New Asteroid Becomes Earth's Biggest Threat

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  • Numbers And Pictures (Score:5, Informative)

    by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Thursday March 02, 2006 @11:50AM (#14835510)

    For anyone interested in the hard numbers, here's NASA's impact risk summary of 2004 VD17 [nasa.gov].

    For those like myself who prefer pretty pictures, here's the 3D orbit diagram of 2004 VD17 [nasa.gov] (Java required).
    • by Dausha (546002)
      Best to watch the whole thing with Mercury as the center, not the Sun. Much more entertaining.
    • Torino scale (maximum): 2

      A two is the bottom of the category "Meriting Attention from Astronomers", above "Normal" but below "Threatening". From the site [nasa.gov], about a two on the Torino scale:

      A discovery, which may become routine with expanded searches, of an object making a somewhat close but not highly unusual pass near the Earth. While meriting attention by astronomers, there is no cause for public attention or public concern as an actual collision is very unlikely. New telescopic observations very lik
      • If there's a clearer way to say "stop panicking everytime we see something", I'm not sure what it is.

        This is like when you can't find your glasses only to realize that you're already wearing them!

        The sad thing is that there are some people, usually scientists, who simply don't understand that in sensitive matters like this, you really need to stress that it doesn't warrant panicking without hiding it deep within a definition. Color coding it yellow doesn't help much either. It needs to be clearer that

  • I'm sure everyone has seen the movie Armageddon. Is drilling even an option in real life? Should we fire some nuclear warheads at it to try and change it's path?

    I don't know much about the science of this but I have always been very interested in what we would do about this. I saw on the Discovery channel a long time ago that we could do something like shooting a laser at it to try and break it apart as well as some solar sails. They also mentioned placing some rockets on an astroid and moving it.

    Now I'
    • I'm sure many people avoided Armageddon as much as they could; unfortunately I was one of those suckered in by the trailers full of blinkenlights and Liv Tyler shots. Damn you, Bruckheimer and Bay, damn you all to hell!

      As for the "science bit", Phil 'Bad Astronomy' Plait rips the movie to shreds quite succinctly, putting paid to the notion that it includes usable science. Read his review with spoilers [badastronomy.com], or if you're one of the lucky few never to have seen it, read the spoiler free summary [badastronomy.com]. What would be

      • Just paint half of it white. The difference in light pressure from the Sun would change its orbit usefully over this length of time.
        • That only works if the same side is facing the sun all the time. Most objects in the solar system have some sort of rotation.
          • Then paint the whole thing white.

            I don't think it will help though. PI*(250)^2 m^2 (if the thing is spherical) of mediocre solar sail won't have that much effect on a billion tonnes over the next 100 years. You might nudge a strike into a near miss, but you might nudge a near miss into a strike too.
    • In that ammount of time, I don't see why we can't fly a big ion thruster up there. We could then land it on the asteroid and, over the course of several years, nudge it off its current vector.

      This would give us the dual advantage of not having to rely on nuclear weapons or Bruce Willis to save us at the last minute.

      It might be good to start this program today, since getting it through appropriations could take the first thirty years, and development of a suitable thruster another twenty.
      • We're nowhere near being able to do that reliably. Ion thrusters aren't big. Let's say it's a small asteroid with a mass of only 10 million metric tons, or 10^10 kg. Then going with the most optimistic numebrs tossed around for an ion engine (ejection velocities of 200,000 mps), then you need about 10^10/(2e5) or 5e4 kg of ion propellant just to budge it one meter per second. That's a couple of orders of magnitude more than we can do now, and we're talking about a small nudge to a small asteroid. A mor

        • A meter a second? For how much time? Where did you pull that magic number from?

          If the thing is a year away from hitting earth, you've got 31,556,926 seconds to play with.

          The earth is a ~12,756,300 meter wide target. Add on another 1,000,000 meters on either end so that you don't have it torching atmosphere. That's a ~15,000,000 meter diameter so moving something aimed for dead center at least ~7,500,000 meters off course.

          The change you need to make to it's course is only (7,500,000/31,556,926 = ) 0.23
          • It's not linear like that. You need to assure that you don't just set up another collision at a later time. The problem isn't straightforward, but if the asteroid is in some sort of resonance, you may need to disrupt that, which could take substantially more than 1 m/sec.

            I don't mind assumptions being challenged, but if we show you're several orders of magnitude from the state of the art, then we're not all that sensitive to assumptions.

            • Well certainly when you are are plotting which way to change it's trajectory, you are going to plot it's future trajactory to make sure you don't hit earth the following year, or in 100 years, or anything silly like that.

              My point was if you have 50+ years of warning, we are already two orders of magnitude closer in ability than your 1m/s requirement would suggest. I'll take a leap of ability of two orders of magnitude anytime I can get it. Two gets us a lot closer to that 'several' orders needed.
            • If it's at risk of colliding with Earth, it's not in some sort of resonance. Close passes with planets alter orbits somewhat chaotically. It's a major factor in why it's so hard to predict orbits of asteroids past close passes with planets. How close it passes determines how much its direction gets changed.

              In a hundred years, 1 m/s initial delta-V can lead to radical differences. Even in a year, 1 m/s can be significant, depending on the situation.
    • In general, the earlier the better on these things. A percisely flung screwdriver from the ISS right now would lessen the probablities significatly. (Though working out exactly what velocity and timing need to be imparted on that screwdriver would be a supercomputer-level job.)

      Here's an idea: Send a scientific probe there, to study asteroid composition. Again, if you were to land it on the right vector, you could achive a noticible difference in the orbit. Deploy it with some long term thruster (ion, so
      • Nuclear missiles from a distance have been proposed as a way to move it: you use radiation pressure to push it. It's a fairly complicated issue, however, as you also heat one side of the asteroid at the same time, thus increasing its blackbody radiation, which will affect its orbit.

        Speaking of that, that's another proposal to move an asteroid: paint part of it, and use the change in solar radiation pressure to alter its orbit.

        Landing on an asteroid is tricky (it can, and has, been done, but they have irreg
    • Now I'll be dead by the time this thing gets close enough. Should we just assume we'll have better technology then and fire some photon torpedos at it?

      No and yes.

      Chances are if you can live another 30 years, you will live in an era where technology is going to keep you a live from more than 200-500 years (and by then they'll figure out the rest of the problems so you'll end up living past then).

      And we'll most likely have large mass drivers and various other technology that would make little work of such an
    • We do more observations of it to further refine its orbit and discover that it has no chance of impacting the earth.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Thursday March 02, 2006 @11:57AM (#14835578)
    "Spotted on November 27 2004, VD 17 was swiftly identified as rock that potentially crossed Earth's orbit, with a 1 in 3,000 risk of collision on May 4 2102"

    Today is March 2, 2006. Our government defines 15 months as "swift"?

  • Oh No!!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Jumbo Jimbo (828571) on Thursday March 02, 2006 @11:58AM (#14835590)
    The rock, 2004 VD17, is about 500 metres (yards)

    Oh no!! Earth is going to be destroyed by VD!! Blame the damn liberals!!

  • Yesterday it was mind control sharks, and today its collision course astroids. THis is getting to be a who's who of bad movie plots. What's next? A small group of hackers take down The Man? A government copmputer becomes hell bent on Global Thermonuclear War?
  • HURRY! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Compulawyer (318018) on Thursday March 02, 2006 @12:07PM (#14835693)
    We only have 96 years to save ourselves!
  • There's just one big problem with hitting it away: if we guess wrong on the mass of the asteroid, there is a good chance that we could actually hit it into a more direct collision course with Earth. We're better off letting it swing past us. Knocking it off course might work this time, but since its orbit is left to question, the next time around it may hit us for sure, with nothing we can do about it.

    Of course, there's also the option that we just split it into more targets, that we either have to nuke o
    • If you are going to hit it, just bump it off of the plane of the ecliptic. I haven't RTFM yet, but most objects are on the same plane, so a lot of solar system is more or less 2D. By pushing it "high" or "low" (whatever they mean), then you've added a new degree of freedom, and thus reduce the chance of impact with Earth.

      <geek>
      Just think of the Enterprise attacking Kahn. Kirk was able to move down and out of Kahn's path.
      </geek>

      And even if it does break up, I'd rather have Earth hit by a fragm
  • and spewing dust and rock into our atmosphere.

    Heck, the effects of global warming are probably bigger.

    Unless the asteroid hits a densely populated area of the earth, like China, or India. If it hits Australia, well, not much impact on earth population.

    Besides, in 2102 I'll be dead. My head will be in a jar, recounting how our civilization failed to aliens from another planet.
    • >>If it hits Australia, well, not much impact on earth population.

      Well, aside from the possibility of tsunamis whipping across the Pacific and wiping out Chinese/Indian coastal cities anyway, I'd hazard a guess that Australians probably think the impact on earth's population would be pretty severe...
      • >>If it hits Australia, well, not much impact on earth population.

        Well, aside from the possibility of tsunamis whipping across the Pacific and wiping out Chinese/Indian coastal cities anyway, I'd hazard a guess that Australians probably think the impact on earth's population would be pretty severe...


        That's on a personal scale, not a worldwide population impact scale. For that matter, if it impacted on Washington DC, the density levels are pretty low there.

        Naturally, I was thinking of it hitting, oh,
  • This could be a blessing in disguise, if the composition of the rock is largely metals rather than being just stone - it could force us to intercept it and mine it for the resources to avert it, forcing us to develop the technology and skills needed to mine other asteroids.

    Also - a large impact would lower temperatures a lot....
  • There's a slightly less alarming article on New Scientist [newscientistspace.com], where the manager of NASA's Near Earth Object Program suggests that this risk posed by this asteroid is likely to be significantly less than 1/1000:
    "The most likely situation, by far, is that additional observations will bring it back down to a zero."

    Slightly more disturbing is his second comment:
    "We're more likely to be hit between now and then by an object that we don't know about."
  • These asteroids have a way of correcting their course once NASA gets more funding.
  • Seriously wouldn't manipulating the orbit of the asteroid into one around earth or in one of our L points make a lot of sense in the creation of orbiting settlements. Rather than simply blowing the sucker up.

    Worked for Gundam. And I would think by that point we would have gotten our collective heads out of our asses to be making a legitimate play at space settlements.

    • Seriously wouldn't manipulating the orbit of the asteroid into one around earth or in one of our L points make a lot of sense in the creation of orbiting settlements. Rather than simply blowing the sucker up.

      The asteroid's orbit goes out past Mars, and in almost to Mercury. The delta V required would be probably be comparable to just take a hunk of rock from Earth's surface to L4/L5; I'd guess within a natural magnitude, and maybe in favor of lifting from sea level.

      Admittedly, it's easier to justify usi

  • We'll just preserve Harrison Ford and Aerosmith in cryostasis until 2100, and I'm sure they'll be able to take care of that asteroid no problem.
  • FSP! (Score:2, Funny)

    by qmaqdk (522323)
    Forty seventh post!
  • by bobcat7677 (561727) on Thursday March 02, 2006 @12:15PM (#14835774) Homepage
    I thought these asteroid things had been roaming the glaxaly for thousands of years? Even if they meant to say "newly discovered", that still isn't quite right. The thing has been being tracked for over a year now.

    Anyway, it says the impact wouldn't happen till 2102. I plan to be quite dead by that date from normal causes so it's not my problem:P
  • This is a 2 on the Torino scale [nasa.gov]:

    A discovery, which may become routine with expanded searches, of an object making a somewhat close but not highly unusual pass near the Earth. While meriting attention by astronomers, there is no cause for public attention or public concern as an actual collision is very unlikely. New telescopic observations very likely will lead to re-assignment to Level 0.
  • Why do they even bother releasing this to the public. All it does is lead to mainstream journalists disasterbating. I mean, yeah, it's interesting to NEO experts and various nerds, but the general public, which has almost no functional science education, either gives 1/1000 of a rat's ass or panics unneccessarily. I know I harp on this every time, but please, give it a rest. Wake me when you find something that has at least a 1% chance of hitting sometime in the next century.
  • by spot35 (644375) on Thursday March 02, 2006 @12:25PM (#14835844)
    ...around on the day it hits -
    "May the 4th be with you"
  • by pbrammer (526214) on Thursday March 02, 2006 @12:26PM (#14835857)
    I think someone forgot the conversion number to put inside the parenthesis as yards does not equal meters at a factor of 1:1 ... Should've been, 580 metres (638 yards). Also, 500 is not correct as according to the JPL [nasa.gov], the diameter is 580 meters.
  • How did "1 in 3,000" get to be "about one in 1,000" in the first sentence? I don't think those are in the about range.

  • Bah. By "early next century", I plan to already be dead.

    The only real downside for everyone else is that they won't be able to bring Bruce Willis out of retirement to save the planet.
    • I'm certain the immortal Chuck Norris will roundhouse this problem away, but only at the opportune dramatic moment.
    • Are you kidding? At Hollywood's rate of increasing greed, by 2100+, they'll not only have DRM cracking worthy of capital punishment, but they'll have implemented both DNA replication for actors as well. No sense only being able to replicate copyrights like Mickey Mouse, might as well have the "DNA rights" to Bruce Willis and others, too. Of course, they'll have to appease the fundamentalist christians, and make sure that their clones aren't "real people", which will have the added benefit of not having t
  • I'm not gonna be alive when it hits, so I'll just let my children handle this one.
  • by davez0r (717539) on Thursday March 02, 2006 @12:57PM (#14836111)
    if it crashes into the ocean, we already have trained sharks that can cut it up with laser beams. and the earth's surface is like 70% water, so i think we're safe.
  • Aha!

    I'll leave in my will that my great-grandkids, when/if they are born, should be given ample money to purchase helmets to be used in case of asteroid collision.

    There, problem solved.

  • The suns gonna burn out in 4 to 5 billion years so unless a bunch of egg heads get together and figure out how we can get off of this rock onto another suitable rock in a resonable amount of time, it doesn't really matter whether this thing hits us or not. Always look on the bright side kids :)
  • Doesn't anyone know their history? [greatdreams.com] The Mayans said December. Estimates are normally 2011 or 2012, so this sounds about right.
    • Doesn't anyone know their history? The Mayans said December. Estimates are normally 2011 or 2012, so this sounds about right.

      I thought the original Toltec predictions had it on July 4th, 2002 ...

      Dang, I've been using the wrong calendar!
  • ...nearby mini-black holes hurtling through space. You can be sure that the moment someone does we'll have to endure endless news stories about mini-black holes with a 1 in 1000 chance of eliminating all life on earth. Same goes for predicting nearby supernovae, directed gamma ray bursts, unravelling cosmic strings and any number of other potential cosmic disasters.

    On the other hand, maybe we need more stories about asteroids potentially hitting the Earth. By time we've seen a few thousand people will fin

  • According to James Lovelock, civilization will fall in the next 100 years anyway as the effects of global warming will totally change the climate on a world that wasn't ready for it.
  • I bet the little bastards will never even visit me in the nursing home.

    -Eric

  • We just need something really big that we can send up to hover around it for a couple decades to suck it into our orbit where it can hang out with the moon to temper our tides a little bit... Then next time one of these rocks threatens us, we can just send our big pet-rock out for some more orbit modification therapy.... We don't need no steenking bombs when we can just use our friend Gravity.

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