From The Asteroid Hunters

A warning:

The chance of another Tunguska-size impact somewhere on Earth this century is about 30%. That isn’t the likelihood that you will be killed by an asteroid, but rather the odds that you will read a news headline about an asteroid impact of this size somewhere on Earth. Unfortunately, that headline could be about the destruction of a city, as opposed to an unpopulated region of Siberia.

The chance in your lifetime of an even bigger asteroid impact on Earth—with explosive energy of 100 megatons of TNT—is about 1%. Such an impact would deliver many times the explosive energy of all the munitions used in World War II, including the atomic bombs. This risk to humanity is similar to an individual’s odds of dying in a car accident. That risk is small, but would you drive a car without air bags and seat belts? The question is apt because our society is effectively doing so with regard to the risk of a devastating asteroid strike.

I’ve been concerned about this for years (actually decades, ever since Alvarez first came up with his dinosaur theory, which seems to have been recently confirmed).

33 thoughts on “From The Asteroid Hunters

  1. Thomas Matula

    Once we lose a city or two and we have Congressional Hearings on it attitudes will change.

    Of course if space advocates really wanted to push a goal that the American public would support NEO defense is one. But that would upset too many apple carts among the advocate community :-)

    1. Thomas Matula

      Rand,

      Are you that dense? The Mars First folks, the SSP folks, the New Space contractors (COTS/CCP/Commercial Crew), the space as science folks (Planetary Society etc.). Just try suggesting everyone focus on promoting NEO defense as unifying space goal at your average space conference and see the response you get…

          1. Rand Simberg Post author

            I’m still failing to see your point. Whether or not we have a common goal for space is utterly irrelevant to this subject.

            Which of any of the people you listed would object to a more serious search for asteroids? And who said that it had to be a “unifying space goal”?

          2. Thomas Matula

            Rand,

            As usual you miss the point and the history involved. Searching isn’t enough. You need to have the capability to do something about it. That means in short you need the capability (i.e. infrastructure) to operate on short notice anywhere in the inner Solar System.

            Sure no one opposes at the level its being done now, a couple of telescopes, fewer folks than you find at your average McDonalds, but if you want to anything meaningful, anything at the level Congressional Representative Brown wanted in the 1990’s, you need to scale it way up, and that is when the complaints come in from the others in the space community, both the space science community and the advocates start objecting that its not ‘worth” it because they see it taking money from their pet entitlements.

            BTW in terms of the Constitution, it is probably one of the few space goals that would quality as justifying NASA spending as protecting the nation from the effects of an impact event is clearly providing for “the general welfare”.

            BTW here is some reading for you to get up to speed on the twenty year history of Congress calling on NASA to make this a real goal instead of a side show.

            http://impact.arc.nasa.gov/gov_aiaa95.cfm

          3. Rand Simberg Post author

            They wouldn’t object to serious efforts to divert them either. The notion that they would is ridiculous.

            And if Congress really wanted NASA to make this a priority, they know how to do it.

          4. Thomas Matula

            Rand,

            If that was true than where is the money? Report after report comes out about its importance and yet NASA does nothing but run a few small telescopes…

          5. Thomas Matula

            Rand,

            As someone involved in space advocacy you know that it isn’t that simple. Do you really think the SLS/Orion would exist if there weren’t strong support for both from within NASA?

            The reason you see limited funding is the same reason you see limited funding for space settlement and refueling depots, namely that when Congress holds these hearings NASA, not wanting to the job, will bring out the usual scientists and Washington space policy “experts” who will down play the mission, repeating the same old talking points.

            1- No one has ever been reported killed in an impact event – something Dr. Lewis pointed out was untrue in his excellent book on the topic “Rain of Fire and Ice”.

            2- That no NEOs are currently known to be on a impact course with Earth

            3- That impact events, especially major ones, are very low probability events not worth worrying about (hey the river is not flooding day so let’s not worry about building any levees).

            4- That rather than spend a lot of money on mitigation (and taking money away from MORE important work like looking for bacteria on Mars…) all that is needed is a modest survey program like the one NASA currently is doing…

            And given the current focus of NASA they will probably make a play that if Congress is REALLY worried then they should spend more money on NASA’s proposed to visit an asteroid using the SLS/Orion by increasing its funding – a idea that has about as much relevance to addressing the issue of NEO mitigation as funding a luxury cruise ship would have to preventing floods on the Mississippi River.

            But you will see for yourself when the latest round of hearings are done.

  2. mpthompson

    Hopefully, when the cephalopods get their chance in 25 million years, they’ll be smart enough to track and divert incoming asteroids.

  3. ken anthony

    …would you drive a car without air bags and seat belts?

    Yes. Next question.

    The difference being, I’m driving the vehicle. The asteroid is driving itself (sorta.)

    Another difference being I do not have the personal resources to nudge a killer asteroid. I have to depend on others (who don’t seem to have the required wisdom.)

    I just hope that when we are hit it is a wakeup call rather than a never wakeup again call.

  4. mivenho

    Suddenly I’ve developed a persistent fear in the back of my mind about NEOs – kinda like I felt about Soviet nukes throughout the 60’s when I was growing up.

  5. PeterH

    WSJ paywall.

    I’m thinking the next asteroid of significance to hit is most likely one we haven’t tracked yet. Most we have tracked can be ruled out as potential impactors any time over the next few millennium, if ever.

    Isn’t there a private outfit trying to build satellites to detect Earth crossing asteroids to be mined?

    1. Ed Lu

      http://www.b612foundation.org is building a solar orbiting infrared space telescope to discover and map Near Earth Asteroids. We decided that rather than wait for somebody, somewhere to somehow do this, that we could do it ourselves and we could just get started. So that’s what we’ve done.

  6. Dan DeLong

    “That risk is small, but would you drive a car without air bags and seat belts?”

    I commute on a motorcycle.

    1. ken anthony

      What? How did that loophole come to be? From now on all cycles will have belts and airbags. We already got you covered with separate licenses. Well, until someone comes up with a 5 wheel bike.

  7. Dan DeLong

    I got distracted before finishing the thought. Yes, I drive a vehicle without seat belts or airbags, but it’s not a good analogy. Nothing I can do with my personal transportation could eliminate species.

  8. Martijn Meijering (@mmeijeri)

    The part about missiles doesn’t sound believable, but some experts at nasaspaceflight.com are taking the asteroid hit seriously. I wonder how long it will take for the porkers to use this as a completely nonsensical pretext for SLS.

  9. Arizona CJ

    I’m seeing reports of the meteor damage in several reputable outlets, so I think this is real.

    The timing of this is very odd given the asteroid close pass tomorrow, but that could be a coincidence.

  10. Jeff

    The shoot-down comment is obviously ridiculous, but the video in the article linked to by Drudge is simply astounding. I was hoping that the “giggle factor” of the idea of a big asteroid impact was gone forever after SL9 pounded Jupiter. Unfortunately, that failed to get people serious. Honestly, that NASA can’t build a meter-class telescope, put in a trailing orbit (or maybe L4/L5) and just look around between Venus’ and Earth’s orbits is one of those things that just makes me shake my head. Finding out if dark energy really exists won’t matter a hill of beans if we have a K/T event the following week. Billions upon billions for Constellation, now SLS, but can’t manage to fund one small telescope.

    Maybe we can find a way to get it funded by Obamacare as preventative health care? Or perhaps Congress could pass a law forbidding asteroids of diameter greater than 14 m from hitting Earth–that would surely solve the problem! (\sarc, of course)

  11. Jeff

    Also–quite a coincidence of the impact happening today, of all days. I am eager to see the orbit of the object, once it’s calculated.

Comments are closed.