Monday, April 18, 2005

Civilization Destroying NEO Updates...........



Ok, just kidding- not about the "we're all gonna die" part, because that is true enough. We are all gonna die someday. Does that mean we should ignore the threats posed by asteroids and comets from space? I don't think so. Neither do many ex-astronauts and astrophysicists from the B612 Project. It doesn't appear that Asteroid 2004MN has been upgraded recently to a more dangerous threat than it was about five months ago, but there have been some unpleasant factors recently discovered that should raise more awareness to the reality of asteroid impacts.

Via the UK Times Online-

Earth's gravity may lure deadly asteroid
By Nigel Hawkes

A HUGE asteroid which is on a course to miss the Earth by a whisker in 2029 could go round its orbit again and score a direct hit a few years later.
Astronomers have calculated that the 1,000ft-wide asteroid called 2004 MN4 will pass by the Earth at a distance of between 15,000 and 25,000 miles - about a tenth of the distance between the Earth and the Moon and close enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Although they are sure that it will miss us, they are worried about the disturbance that such a close pass will give to the asteroid's orbit. It might put 2004 MN4 on course for a collision in 2034 or a year or two later: the unpredictability of its behaviour means that the danger might not become apparent until it is too late.

As a safety precaution, some experts are calling for 2004 MN4 to be "tagged" with a transponder that would constantly radio its position. Scientists hope that this would provide enough warning to allow emergency action if necessary, possibly by diverting the object away from the Earth.Other instruments on the probe could provide information about its composition.

Benny Peiser, from Liverpool John Moores University, who is an expert on asteroid hazards, said: "We don't know what that asteroid is made of and that might influence the way it's affected by the Earth's gravitational pull. There are other close approaches, in 2034 and 2035. In all likelihood it will produce an orbit that will not intercept the Earth, but we don't know."

The asteroid is big enough to cause damage on a regional scale, with an expected impact equivalent to a 1,000-megatonne explosion. It was discovered last June and its orbit plotted in detail by December. Startled astronomers calculated at one point that its chances of a direct hit on Friday, April 13, 2029, were 1 in 38. But additional calculations have set those fears to rest. The asteroid is now expected to miss but come close enough to be below the altitude of TV satellites. It should be visible as a rapidly moving point of light.

I would like to see this asteroid tagged as it wouldn't cost enormous amounts to do so, but I would also like see more efforts put forth towards the previously mentioned B612 Project. This project would at least give us an idea of whether or not we could actually do something about preventing an impact. Tagging one would be nice, but all it would do is confirm whether or not it's going to kill a lot of people. Another problem that hasn't really been addressed with 2004MN is what affect it will have on our atmosphere. Will it not affect it at all? Will it wipe away a big chunk of ozone? Well, I guess we'll find out soon enough.

NASA and some of the folks at MIT have been getting a bit concerned that people have been either blowing things out of proportion when it came to the potential threats posed by these objects so they have revised the Torino Scale, a risk-assessment system similar to the Richter scale used for earthquakes, adopted by a working group of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1999 at a meeting in Torino, Italy. On the scale, zero means virtually no chance of collision, while 10 means certain global catastrophe.

Via the MIT Web News Office-

Revised asteroid scale aids understanding of impact risk
Elizabeth A. Thomson, News Office
April 12, 2005

Astronomers led by an MIT professor have revised the scale used to assess the threat of asteroids and comets colliding with Earth to better communicate those risks with the public.

The overall goal is to provide easy-to-understand information to assuage concerns about a potential doomsday collision with our planet.

"The idea was to create a simple system conveying clear, consistent information about near-Earth objects [NEOs]," or asteroids and comets that appear to be heading toward the planet, said Richard Binzel, a professor in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the creator of the scale.

Some critics, however, said that the original Torino scale was actually scaring people, "the opposite of what was intended," said Binzel. Hence the revisions.

"For a newly discovered NEO, the revised scale still ranks the impact hazard from 0 to 10, and the calculations that determine the hazard level are still exactly the same," Binzel said. The difference is that the wording for each category now better describes the attention or response merited for each.

For example, in the original scale NEOs of level 2-4 were described as "meriting concern." The revised scale describes objects with those rankings as "meriting attention by astronomers"--not necessarily the public.

Equally important in the revisions, says Binzel, "is the emphasis on how continued tracking of an object is almost always likely to reduce the hazard level to 0, once sufficient data are obtained." The general process of classifying NEO hazards is roughly analogous to hurricane forecasting. Predictions of a storm's path are updated as more and more tracking data are collected.

According to Dr. Donald K. Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office, "The revisions in the Torino Scale should go a long way toward assuring the public that while we cannot always immediately rule out Earth impacts for recently discovered near-Earth objects, additional observations will almost certainly allow us to do so."

The problem I have here is that while I agree that there is no point in telling people that the sky is literally falling, as that doesn't necessarily accomplish anything, I am concerned that we aren't doing enough to fund efforts like B612. The amount of money spent towards space exploration is counted in the hundreds billions of dollars by Nasa alone. I think the price tag on the current space station is in the hundreds of billions right now. I would be shocked to hear that the study and research of potential threats to our planet ever exceeded $500 million. Again, we don't need to say the sky is falling to get people more serious about the reality of potential civilization destroying Near Earth Objects.

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