Monday, August 12, 2013

The Problem of Asteroids

No, they are not an uncomfortable problem faced by NASA professionals working on the International Space Station.

Asteroids are chunks of rock that tumble through space in various orbits. Many are thought to be remnants of unformed planets; others may be pieces broken off of planets or moons by the impact of meteors, or ejected into space by volcanic activity. Whatever their source, they can be bad news.

This picture appeared today on the APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) website operated by NASA:

It shows the orbits of over a thousand known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (or PHAs) - those that are more than 140 meters across, and whose orbits pass within 7.5 million kilometers of Earth. We live in a tough and crowded neighborhood.

Because the impact of a meteor or large asteroid is thought to have caused "extinction-level" events in the past (why your next-door neighbor isn't a dinosaur*), there have been calls by scientists for serious study of ways to prevent PHAs from hitting the earth. This would, of course, be expensive and difficult to do, exciting movie treatments notwithstanding (see Armageddon and Deep Impact** for examples). The cost and size of an asteroid protection program would also make it a politically problematic issue ... as The Onion noted in this article from February of 2011: Republicans Vote To Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth.

I have three ideas for programs to address the problem of asteroid impacts:

1. Launch an enormous tube of Preparation A into orbit on a trajectory designed to impact a threatening asteroid, shrinking it to a more manageable size that would not cause overly catastrophic damage. 

2. Try to adjust the orbit of the asteroid so that it would strike a relatively useless area of the earth that wouldn't be missed - such as the Middle East or Capitol Hill.

3. Let Congressional Republicans hold repeated votes on repealing the asteroid. Eventually, the accumulated volume of hot air might help provide a protective cushion that would deflect the oncoming threat.

Whatever we decide to do, we probably need to start doing it soon. Although none of the PHAs shown in the NASA image above is expected to pose a threat within the next 100 years, new potential threats are being discovered every year, some of them worse than Congress, if you can imagine such a thing.

Have a good day. In the event of an asteroid strike, remember to duck.

More thoughts coming.


* A real one, with scales or feathers, I mean.

** Okay, Deep Impact dealt with a comet strike rather than an asteroid. Just work with me on this one.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

An impending calamity such as this type really should cause people to re-sort what is important from what is trivial. If they can be convinced that it is imminent.

Amanda said...

WOW! That many PHAs huh? Sooner or later there will be one that will make an impact.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

The humans who make an impact are often bad enough; thank you very much!

Mike said...

If the tube launch went bad and it landed on DC it could solve the even bigger problem. Talk about shrinking government!

Duckbutt said...

Maybe we should anticipate such a possible calamity and take action to avert it.