NEO (Near Earth Objects): Asteroids, Comets, and Space Junk.

It is the opinion of many that the only way for any species to survive is to do the following:

  1. start evolving intelligence ASAP after the cosmic event that destroyed your predecessors (the dinosaurs in our case which were exterminated 66 million years ago)
  2. develop space-faring technology ASAP then put checks in place to prevent the next cosmic event from destroying you

While it is debatable how much progress we've made on point #1, we've made virtually no progress on point #2 (sure we've started to observe1 but we've only taken a few "baby steps" when it comes to flying in space2). For less than 10 million dollars a year, a formal world wide consortium3 of astronomers could be doing a better job of searching for asteroids and comets which will eventually destroy some of, or all, human culture if we do nothing. The loss of life notwithstanding, what price would you place on the loss of any of the following examples: the Kaaba in Saudi Arabia, the Taj Mahal in India, the Parthenon in Greece, the Pantheon in Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sphinx, the Pyramids, or Stonehenge just to name a few? Visit B612 Foundation for more information on averting this danger.

Superscript Notes:

  1. CCD based automated observatories like MIT's LINEAR and others are cranking out good results
  2. The U.S. Space Shuttle Fleet was permanently retired in 2011. Americans last went to the moon in December 1972 and appear to be unwilling or unable to return.
  3. This can't be done by just one country. Bad weather has been known to stop viewing at LINEAR for 3-4 week periods in New Mexico. Also, asteroid viewing is only done at night which means that daylight portions of the sky can only be done by observatories on the other side of the Earth. We can't wait until the shifting seasons allow western observatories access to a different night sky because the asteroid positions change too rapidly.
  4. Funding from the Planetary Society Shoemaker NEO Grant enabled La Sagra Observatory in Spain to detect 2012 DA14

(some) Asteroid Facts:

  • A 10 km (6.2 mi) asteroid struck the Earth at Chicxulub Crater just north of the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago (recently revised to 66) resulting in:
    • the death of all large animals unable to find cover (sharks, crocodiles, turtles, etc. where not affected)
    • the extinction of the dinosaurs
  • A 1 km (.62 mi) diameter asteroid would completely incinerate a city the size of Toronto causing severe damage over a much broader area.
  • On 1908-06-30, a 50 m (150 ft) diameter asteroid leveled more than 1,000,000 hectares (2.4 million acres) of forest in Tunguska, Siberia. It is believed that the force was the equivalent of a 3.5 megaton nuclear blast. Statistically, Tunguska class objects will hit the Earth every 200 years.
  • On 2002-06-14, a 70 m (230 ft) diameter asteroid, known as Asteroid 2002 MN, missed the Earth by 119,000 km (74,000 mi) and wasn't noticed until several days after it passed by because it approached Earth from the direction of the Sun.
  • On 2002-06-25 it was announced that a 2 km (1.2 mi) diameter object, known as Asteroid 2002 NT7, has a 10% chance of striking the Earth on 2019-02-01. If it hits, it will cause major damage. It should be pointed out that if any object came close to the Earth in 2002, while the whole US space shuttle fleet grounded (because of cracked fuel lines), mankind could do nothing about it. Update: on 2002-07-01 NASA announced that additional observations of Asteroid 2002 NT7 prove that there is no chance of it hitting the Earth in the next 100 years.
  • On 2002.08.18 an 800 meter diameter object called Asteroid 2002 NY40 will make a close approach to Earth and be visible to the naked eye starting on the day before just south of the star Vega (in the constellation of Lyra).
  • On 2002-04-05 the journal "Science" reported that precision measurements and orbital calculations of Asteroid 29075 (a.k.a. Asteroid 1950 DA) predict that this NEO has the greater probability of striking the Earth than any other known object. The good news is that the event shouldn't happen until 2880. But this is only a statistical projection; another impact could happen TODAY


2013 Update (the year of some very close calls)

Near Earth Objects (comets and asteroids) are a clear and present danger to all human culture as well as Earth's current biosphere.
  1. If dinosaurs had developed technology then they could have protected themselves from the asteroid strike associated with Chicxulub Crater on the coast of Yucatan, Mexico.
  2. Humanity has developed the necessary technology but political-ideological pressures have neutered NASA's ability to proceed beyond primitive NEO detection.
  3. Developing and implementing planetary protection technology just may be an evolutionarily survival prerequisite (so Tea Party thinking will doom us all). Think of this as a protective immune system for the whole planet.
  4. NASA NEO links
  5. Mark your calendars for February 15, 2013 when asteroid 2012 DA14 (a.k.a. 367943 Duende) will pass under the orbit of Earth's geosynchronous satellites.
    • (NASA video)
    • It is expected to pass over Indonesia at 14:30 EST
    • If it were to impact the Earth (but it will not), the estimated energy release would be 3.5 megatons tons of TNT (220 times bigger than the Little Boy bomb dropped on Japan at the end of WW2)
    While this rock is only 50 m (~ 150 ft) wide, remember that similarly sized rocks were responsible for:
    1. the 1908 Tunguska Event in Russia
    2. as well as Meteor Crater approximately 43 miles (69 km) east of Flagstaff, Arizona.
  6. Oops, on the morning of February 15, 2013 while we were waiting for the approach of 2012 DA14, an asteroid approximately 15 m in size became an air-bursting meteor in an event now known as Chelyabinsk meteor. More than 1,200 people were injured by shock waves to buildings.
    quote: Arthur C. Clarke coined the term in his novel Rendezvous with Rama where SPACEGUARD was the name of an early warning system created following a catastrophic asteroid impact.
  8. B612 Foundation (who are looking for private donations so they can launch their own NEO monitoring satellite)
      • promises to discover every month what all Earth bound telescopes have discovered over the last 30 years.
      • I just became a member by donating $25
  9. Near Earth Objects and Planetary Defense documentary videos

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Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.