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Did you hear the asteroids that brushed past us on Wednesday? ‘Celestial pebbles’ are a real risk
Posted On Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 12:26:08 AM
Even a zero-point-something error in calculation of the orbit of an asteroid is enough for doomsday to become a reality.
I know some of you are smirking at my rant and labelling me a paranoid android (especially, Radiohead fans), but I’m doing what I do best as a professional cynic: imagining the worst-case scenario.
Asteroids come with fancy names. I think astronomers do that just to mess with your head. One piece of the celestial bad news was christened 2010 RX30.
This 65X35-ft piece of heavenly junk flew 248,000 km from us, much closer than the Moon. If you think that’s not close, you must remind yourself that the Moon’s gravity causes tides.
The second object, 2010 RF12 (just 46 ft) whispered by at 79,000 km (phew!). That’s what the Catalina Sky Survey, Tucson, Arizona, saw on Wednesday. These shapeless menaces are so tiny, that only a 100 possible ‘colliders’ have been sized up till now.
Once every decade, an asteroid gives the Earth a shiver. Especially to those folks who live behind telescopes. In real life there’s no Armageddon with Steven Tyler singing “ieedonwannamissatheng” (the asteroid should be singing it), while his kid Liv says goodbye to her grizzly screen dad and squeaky boyfriend, before they blast off to the asteroid that’s heading our way. Real life is holocaust and HIV.
If you consider the odds of dying in an airplane accident, which is one in 354,319, and the odds of being hit by a ‘space pebble’, which is one in 48,000, you’ll see that us disappearing like the dinosaurs did 65 million years ago is not in the realm of sci-fi. We don’t need a huge asteroid for annihilation.
Anything over half a kilometre will do. In 1989, asteroid 1989FC missed us by six hours. If it had hit us, it would have been like 1,000 N-bombs exploding. We would be vapourised, disaster managers and all.
In 1908, a 50-metre asteroid hit Tunguska in Siberia and flattened 65 million trees, though it exploded before actually hitting the ground.
Replace the trees with people, and you’ll see the Hiroshima A-bomb, which killed 200,000 instantly, is small change. In 1178, an asteroid crashed into the Moon, resulting in an explosion that was six times more powerful than the world’s entire N-stockpile.
According to asteroid watchers, the clearest danger now is Apophis (it’s a miniscule 1,000 feet) which they believe will crash into us on April 13, 2036.
It’ll fly past the Earth in April 2029, closer than a satellite. As the Earth is so big, its gravity will change Apophis’ orbit. And seven years later, on April 13, the Earth and Apophis will be in the same position. That’s a polite way of saying ‘collision’.
Since space is infinite, the chances of being hit by divine junk is ecstatically low. You have a far better chance of dying of a mutant flu due to pollution. Even in the asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter), they are over 100-million kilometres apart, letting space probes fly through without danger.
While astronomers say they have found 90 per cent of the asteroids heading our way, in infinite space that means nothing.
What we know for sure is asteroids bigger than a kilometre strike the planet only every 1,000 centuries. That’s a lot of time. If Earthlings don’t kill each other with their own nukes by then, we’re sure to figure out a foolproof way of diverting such celestial nuisance.
So, we have good reasons to seek Lord Ganesh’s protection. Presently, scientists have decided to use mirror satellites to vapourise asteroids.
Small asteroids can be nuked, but large ones may fragment and give us a bigger headache. According to researcher David French, the best bet is to attach a long tether and a ballast to an asteroid so as to change its centre of mass, hence its orbit, hence its course.
According to OMG facts, the odds of a meteorite (a shooting star that didn’t vapourise, which is a fragment of an asteroid) landing on your house are one in 182,138,880,000,000. That means, your odds of becoming the president of US or dating Tyra Banks are far, far better.
Asteroids are a miner’s dream. For instance, a 2-km near-Earth asteroid called 3554 Amun has nickel and iron worth $8,000 bn, while its cobalt and platinum contents could be worth $12,000 bn. In fact, all our mineral needs could be met by diverting such asteroids to Earth orbits.
Scientists believe near-Earth asteroids will be the first things Earthlings will colonise (by tunnelling them) when our planet dies. Eventually, humanity might live on asteroids right outside Mars. And people who do LSD are going to love that.
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