Doomsday Paranoia Prompts the Search for Threats outside of Earth

December 22, 2012, was a good day for some; this is because the world is still standing and did not come to an end the day before as some doomsday prophecies have theorized. However, while Dec 21 may have passed without incident, this does not mean mankind is out of the woods yet. Letting our guards down may be a little bit premature as astronomers have detected an asteroid heading right for Earth.

The asteroid is estimated to be about 140 meters and was discovered by scientists from the University of Hawaii. While the asteroid will just barely miss our planet by about 890,000 kilometers, the fact that a behemoth rock is able to come that close is reasonable cause for alarm.

The reason we should worry is because that very same asteroid could change course and be headed back at Earth’s direction in the year 2040. This is due to a phenomenon known as the Yarkovsky effect. The effect occurs when an asteroid absorbs energy from the sun, which can alter the original direction of the object’s trajectory.

The asteroid in question is relatively the same mass as the one that slammed into an uninhabited area of Siberia in 1908, which caused an impact comparable to that of 1,000 atomic bombs going off at once.

Most astronomers agree that being hit by an asteroid is not a matter of “if” but “when.” For this reason, The B612 Foundation, a California based organization, is in the process of obtaining a half billion dollar fund for an infrared space telescope that is capable of detecting large celestial rocks that may pose a threat to Earth.

The telescope they hope to produce is called the Sentinel and will orbit the planet and take pictures of the sky and relay it back home. Detection is the key because we cannot stop what we don’t see. It is estimated that the Sentinel will be able to capture the locations of about 10,000 new asteroids every month.

Pain in the Asteroid

Russia says that it is considering sending a spacecraft to knock a large asteroid off of its path and keep it from colliding with Earth.

Deep Impact posterFamous Russian Rocket scientist, Dr. Professor Anatoly Perminov, said the space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis, and it plans to invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project once it is finalized.

When the 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth, on its first fly-by, in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37. Other studies ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) above the planet’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

In October, NASA lowered the odds that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 from a 1-in-45,000 to 1-in-250,000. NASA said that another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact.

Some scientists have proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid in order to change its trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with the asteroid and alter the momentum, or even using nuclear weapons against it.

Perminov said:
“Calculations show that it’s possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it (the asteroid) and without detonating any nuclear charges. The threat of collision can be averted.”

“People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”

We cannot help but be reminded of the Hollywood action films “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” which both featured space missions scrambling to avoid catastrophic collisions. In both movies the space crews used nuclear bombs to prevent collisions.

Will We Get Hit in 2017 ?

It’s been talked about and studied by astronomers and physicists for years. A number of Hollywood films have been made on the subject and the potential destruction that would happen should a mega-sized chunk of space rock, otherwise known as an asteroid, should ever collide with the earth. And theories are still coming out as to why the age of the dinosaurs appeared to have come to a sudden, almost abrupt end about 65 million years ago.

But whether you are a Bruce Willis fan, or just have an occasional uneasy feeling every time you see a “shooting star” or read an obscure article in either your favorite news site, or see something about it on TV, more and more attention is being drawn to the possibility that an asteroid of a size ranging from 300 meters across to as much as 6 miles across, may be right no on a collision path with planet earth. Much attention was given to this possibility after the movie “Armageddon ” came out in 1998 in which the US. Space agency NASA discovers that a massive asteroid the size of the state of Texas is due to strike earth in less than three weeks, destroying all life on our planet. This thriller movie, starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, followed an earlier movie called Deep Impact, starring Morgan Freeman – which ended on a much more somber note than Armageddon did, in which Willis manages to use his last bit of strength to set off a nuclear bomb that had been planted deep inside the asteroid, causing it to blow up and thus miss hitting the earth.

Temple 1Coincidentally, some new articles came out about the same time as Armageddon that a much smaller asteroid, one about 1.4 miles in diameter (2.5 km) had been discovered way out in space, and it could possibly reach the earth in the year 2017. This caused a minor stir, possibly due to its being divulged at around the same time the Bruce Willis flick had hit the box offices. This must have prompted scientists to look into this possibility, as a couple of weeks later, another news story came out in which the US government agency assured everyone that the asteroid in question would not hit the earth after all.

Could this have been a cover-up by the government in order to get people not to be concerned? It’s often said that we humans (and other life forms) live on an “Island we cannot leave”. Another asteroid, which has been named Apophis, is now said to be possibly arriving here around 2029; and even though it is expected to pass us, could wind up in an elliptical orbit with the earth (due to the earth’s gravitational pull) and eventually strike our plant around 2036. Of course, this is still scientific speculation; but, some scientists are not disregarding this possibility. In fact, one well known American astronomer, Dan Geraci of the Pasadena based Planetary Society, was quoted as saying: “This asteroid, Apophis, isn’t science fiction; it isn’t a blockbuster Hollywood movie – it’s very real!”

Giant meteors and asteroids have struck in different parts of the world, including Russia, where an asteroid supposed crashed into a forested region in Siberia on the Tungusta River near the town of Kerensk in 1908. The asteroid literally exploded in midair, according to eyewitness accounts, but left no crater. Forest land at “ground zero” was devastated for a radius of up to ten kilometers, however. There is a large meteor crater in Arizona in the USA, and several in Africa. But many of these may actually be attributed to the effects of water and soil erosion, including a section of Israel’s Arava Valley, outside the city of Mitzpe Ramon. A number of large space rocks have also landed in various oceans or seas, and may have been responsible for some large tsunami tidal waves that may have been attributed to undersea earthquakes.

A few years following the Willis movie, in January 2005 to be exact, NASA created some new publicity when it launched a rocket from earth for the purpose of intercepting a comet in deep space, Temple 1. The mission proved to be successful when the rocket’s projectile did indeed strike the surface of the comet on July 5, 2005. Could this launching have been a “dress rehearsal” for a possible future launch to hit and destroy an asteroid such as Apophis? Though definitely not the “size of the State of Texas” it is still large enough (about 1.3 miles across) to cause considerable damage, wherever it might strike.

It’s definitely something to think about, and Washington (NASA in particular) is not saying much more about it. Like the saying goes – we all do live on an island we cannot leave.

Close Encounters with Armageddon

Two asteroids flew by Earth this past month, a rare statistical coincidence, as far as we know.

What’s worse than the dangerous statistics is the fact that these space monsters weren’t detected much in advance, leaving humanity unable to defend itself had these massive rocks been heading our way.