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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

PROJECT FOR ASTEROID TERMINATION (PAT)

You can find hundreds of doomsday scenarios.  At random I clicked on Yahoo Voices and saw the following:

  • 1. A great unseen comet colliding with earth. (to the left, a painting of a comet hitting Earth...by a six year old boy).
  • 2. The Earth colliding with another unknown planet. 
  • 3. A Gamma Ray bombardment from space. (Loss of the Power Grid and all Electronics)
  • 4. Solar Storms. (Violent storms on Earth)
Wassily Kandinsky (right painting below) said:

The more frightening the world becomes...the more art become abstract.

  • 5. A massive polar shift. (Massive Earthquakes and Floods).
  • 6. Magnetosphere depletion. (No Ozone).
  • 7. Massive earthquakes. (Lots of Shaking).
  • 8. Massive tsunami's and floods. (Better know how to Swim).
  • 9. The beginning of a nuclear war. (No place to Hide).
  • 10. Financial Collapse. (Rapid Deteriation of Society).
The above list was published on the day the world was supposed to end--21December2012.  I thought it was noteworthy that the top four were related to space, especially #1 being a comet colliding with Planet Earth, for on 15February2013, the largest space object in a century, a meteorite the size of a school bus weighing 15.4 million pounds traveling at 40,000 miles per hour, exploded over Russia:


Only a few hours later, the invisible (you couldn't see it) asteroid 2012 DA-14, 88 million pounds and about 100 feet in diameter came within 17,200 miles of our surface, quite close when you consider that the moon is a quarter million miles away.  Here is what it looked like with a space telescope:


Here are the relevant astrophysical terms for these objects:
  • planetoid:  really big asteroid, with Ceres (to the left, the largest, with a diameter of 610 miles, and suspected to have water and carbon) considered to be a dwarf planet and 4 Vesta, a protoplanet
  • asteroid:  a large rock moving around a star, and in our solar system, most of them orbit the band between Mars and Jupiter, with up to 2 million having diameters larger than 3000 feet--however, the total mass of all of them is only about 4% that of our Moon
  • comet:  a rocky object with dust, gas and many times water orbiting a star, which in close proximity reflects the tails. plus they usually have more eccentric paths
  • meteoroid:  a "small" particle (usually taken to be under ten meters or 33 feet in diameter) from an asteroid or comet
  • meteor:  a meteoroid that is observed burning in our atmosphere, also called a shooting star
  • meteorite:  a meteoroid that impacts the Earth's surface
Mathilde is a medium size asteroid 30 miles across and certainly looks like a large rock.

The key statistics are that there are known to be 25 million asteroids having diameters larger than 100 meters (328 feet)  and up to 1,000 asteroids  3000 feet across with a near-Earth orbit.

A 150 foot rock crashing to Earth would create a blast 180 times more powerful than the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb.  The Chicxulub crater just off the coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula is nearly 200 miles across (but the asteroid probably had a diameter of around 6 miles) and is credited 66 million years ago to have killed off the dinosaurs and much of life:


In comparison, that Arizona Meteor Crater located 43 miles east of Flagstaff, is 570 feet deep and 4,000 feet in diameter, and is thought to have been formed by the crash of a 164 foot diameter object moving at 45,000 miles per hour, a mere 10 megatons (the Russian Tsar Hydrogen Bomb was 57 megatons).


The next threat is Apophis (diameter of about 1000 feet), scheduled to whiz by us in 2036 and miss by 9.3 million miles with a one in a milion chance of hitting Earth.  So if these space objects are the #1 potential cause of doomsday (turn your volume to max when you see this sequence from Armageddon), what are doing about it?  Well, in 1998 there were two films, Deep Impact (watch this megatsunami, but here is President Morgan Freeman reassuring his people that they dodged a 500 billion ton killer and survived) and Armageddon (Steve Buscemi was priceless, Bruce Willis saves Ben Affleck, plus, they succeed in splitting the asteroid to prevent an extinction event), which was the top grossing film of the year.

Remember, as confident as NASA might sound that they can track these monsters, they were surprised by that recent Russian meteorite.  It was too small.  But, after all, 99% of near-Earth objects remain undiscovered.

The B612 Foundation has a mission to build, launch and operate a space telescope in an orbit around the Sun to find and track threatening asteroids.  Co-founder and ex-Astronaut Ed Lu remarked the dinosaurs didn't have a space program.

The University of Hawaii is building a $5 million NASA grant using eight small telescopes to do the job.  The Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (or Atlas), should be operational by 2015.

So, finally, I get to the punch line.  I have been disparaging NASA since the end of the Cold War as unnecessary anymore.  Well, I just changed my mind.  Forget Mars, though.  Delay sending billion dollar hardware into space for another century.  The aerospace companies are good enough at lobbying that these will continue, but there is a better way. 

They (NASA and their lobbyists) should now focus on something truly useful.  Read those signals from space.  The two space visitors gave you the justification to initiate a $100 billion program to save Planet Earth and Humanity.  The Middle East Wars cost $4 trillion and killed 258,000 people.  For 2.5% of that expense, we can in a decade have a fail-safe system to perpetuate our species by eliminating the #1 doomsday threat.  After you get those objects mapped, here are nine ways to effectively stop an asteroid.  Tongue fully in cheek I propose the Project for Asteroid Termination, or PAT.  True, I'll need to work on a better acronym.  However, I recommended PAT (as Planetry Abstracting Trinterferometer) almost forty years ago when I spent some time at the Ames Research Center to detect extrasolor planets.  NASA dinged that project, which could have more cheaply found planets capable of harboring life.

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