Had a bad week? Or just simply looking for a way to kill time at work as the year winds down? How about simulating asteroid collisions with the Earth? [via Space.com]
Just to get the disappointment up front: you don’t get a Hollywood CGI rendering of your imaginary impact (though there is a sort of intro video of a rock falling into the gravity well that runs while the calculations are being done, a bit like a cut-scene from Bruce Willis Saves The Planet While Wearing a Grubby Wifebeater Vest: The Computer Game or something). But what you do get is a list of statistical stuff: energy released in impact, crater size, thermal radiation, that sort of thing.
So, a pretty decent tool for doing the worldbuilding due diligence on your apocalypse novel… or simply exercising your inner misanthrope (fluffy white lap-cat and hammy accent optional).
Still wondering what the business model might be for commercial space operations, beyond sight-seeing tourist flights, inflatable hotels and space-truckin’ logistics missions on behalf of beleagured nation-state space programs? Well, where there’s rare resources, there’s money to be made… and asteroids are eminently reachable with current technologies, as well as full of rare element goodies that we have little of here on Earth.
Last one to write a FiftyFortyniners-in-space novella is a rotten egg! (Note for Ben Bova and others: previously published works are not eligible.)
… but you probably didn’t even notice it. Earlier this week, we apparently came within a cosmological gnat’s whisker of colliding with an asteroid of similar size to the one that caused the Tunguska astrobleme:
The asteroid, dubbed 2008 DD45, whizzed just 72,000 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. That is less than a fifth of the distance to the Moon and just twice the distance to geosynchronous satellites.
Yikes. It was first reported on Saturday; that’s all the warning we might have had. And had it been a bit bigger, it could have caused a planetary extinction event that would make the climate crisis look like a tea-party. Chalk another one up to human luck, eh?
Here’s something else that, alongside finding we have living neighbours on the planet next door, might give the space programs of the world a much needed kick in the backside. President-Elect, take note of the large number of Near Earth Objects, and our current inability to track them all effectively, let alone deal effectively with one on a collision course:
The numbers here are stark. NASA’s Near Earth Object Program reports that we’ve found 5,955 NEOs, some 763 of which are at least one kilometer in diameter. 1008 NEOs larger than 140 meters across come within 4.5 million miles of Earth’s orbit, dangerous to us because perturbing influences could change their trajectories in the future. Centauri Dreams believes that the discovery of an object on a collision course with Earth would galvanize the space program as researchers looked for the best ways to deflect its path. The problem is time.
As existential risks go, a meteor strike is rather different to the others – statistically less likely to happen (or so we hope), but fast and utterly devastating of it does. Keep watching the skies, people… [image by larkspurlazuli]
You might think that a dwarf planet is, oh, a planet, and that would settle it. But the International Astronomical Union just decided that the new classification for Pluto-like objects such as Eris, Ceres — and, presumably, Sedna, Orcus, Varuna, and Quaoar — is “plutoid.” Fearless prediction: Nobody is going to like this word. If you were the first to set foot on any of these objects, wouldn’t you want credit for being first on a planet? Bad enough that I have to tell my son that Xena was only the unofficial name for Eris, and that Buffy probably won’t stand as an astronomical name, either.
[Children protest Pluto’s reclassification, c. 2006, Wikimedia Commons]