Romance your honey on February 14, 2013, and face annihilation from space on February 15, 2012. OK, I exaggerate. But another of those pesky asteroids is due to pass by Earth. This poor asteroid is so ordinary that it is only known as 2012DA14, no heroic Greek or Roman name for this space rock. It is about the size, say those in the know, of two train cars. The scariest thing about this asteroid is that it will pass between the Earth and the Moon and that just doesn’t sound good. Scientists are not at all worried that they are wrong about the orbit, but they are worried that the asteroid may take out some of our satellites as it will cross their path of orbit twice. Even so, space is so, well, spacious that it is unlikely that any satellites will bite the dust.
Rocks that hurtle through space, or asteroids, as we have elevated them, are worrisome. Meteors and asteroids have hit Earth in the past, although no terribly dramatic examples have happened recently, thank you universe.
Here’s what Gina Sunseri had to say on abc.go.com on this date (Jan. 8, 2013):
Weekly, sometimes daily, an asteroid zips close enough to the planet to show up on NASA’s Near Earth Object List. The 99942 Apophis asteroid was once thought to be the one that threatened the Earth most, the one that could smash into the fragile planet. But scientists have had enough time to study Apophis to know it isn’t a serious threat.
Is the possibility of an asteroid hitting the Earth science fiction or science fact?
Dr. Edward T. Lu might seem like an unlikely asteroid hunter. He’s a physicist and former astronaut. For skeptics who think asteroid impacts are science fiction, he said, check what happened in Siberia in 1908.
A 330-foot meteor exploded in the atmosphere above the Tunguska River with an impact 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that detonated on Hiroshima. The force in Siberia destroyed an area the size San Francisco.
Lu now heads the non- profit B612 Foundation, a group dedicated to hunting down asteroids before they hit Earth. B612 wants to launch the first privately funded deep-space mission: Sentinel, a space telescope to orbit the sun and map the inner Solar System in search of asteroids that smash into Earth.
The goal, Lu says, is to see what’s out there. Before it hits Earth.
The problem, he said, isn’t the asteroids that hunters know about, but those they don’t know about. “For everyone we know about, there are about 100 more we don’t know about,” he said. “We have to find the other 99.”
To do that, Sentinel will do what no government has funded yet, a dedicated long-term search with a unique infrared space telescope constantly scanning space for threats, asteroids large and small.
“Once we find an asteroid,” Lu said, “it is possible for us to predict its trajectory. We know the government wants to discover asteroids big enough to wipe out the planet but we also want to find those that could wipe out a city the size of New York, or Hong Kong, or Houston.”
The plan is to launch Sentinel in five years on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, orbit for five years and gather information about asteroids that would give governments time to take action.
What kind of action? Scientists sometimes talk about the three Ds: detect, deflect and destroy. Lu Scoffs at the notion of blowing up an asteroid in space. It creates more space debris. Deflection is much more logical.
There’s a bit more. Follow the link: