So here is a scary thought: Asteroid 2007 TU24 was discovered on October 11, 2007 and it was only determined on January 24th, 2008 to not be a threat. What is the problem here? The closest approach to Earth of this object was calculated to be just 5 days later.
Now I don’t know about you but a 250m hunk of rock spinning towards the earth with only 5 days notice doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. I mean – can you remember anything about this being in the media? We aren’t exactly talking dino-extinction here but at the same time we aren’t talking about a little tap on the shoulder here either.
Now what got me started on this again was a quick scan of CNN’s affiliate KTVU who reportedthat scientists are concerned about our preparedness bearing in mind that “A rock the size of the UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium is currently headed our way.” Huh? What rock? I can only assume that they are referring to Apophis which is scheduled to have two very close approaches: one in 2029 and another in 2036.
The one in 2029 is the one however expected to cause most of the issues. This one, based on current estimates, will pass between the earth and the moon, within reach of a number of geosynchronous communication satellites. The orbit isn’t well enough understood to know if it will hit any of those nor what effect such a collision may have on Apophis’ orbit. Beyond this is a further uncertainty factor that only additional measurements in 2013 will be able to unfold in addition to whether in 2029 Apophis will manage to thread a very narrow keyhole window that would most certainly result in a direct hit in 7 years time.
From a cultural perspective, let’s assume for a minute that NASA is yanking everyone’s chain and in fact Apophisis set to collide with the Earth on April 14, 2029. Do you tell anyone? At 270m in diameter it kinda makes the current US Financial Crisis a bit irrelevant doesn’t it? Do you carry on paying your bills? Do you throw away the moral code that governs a civil society? Do you embrace or abandon God? Considering the blast would be the equivalent to 100,000 Hiroshima bombs, this isn’t exactly something that would one effect the local area of impact.
Scientists are calling for a plan – something that could be put into effect in short order should we find another TU24 asteroid with 5 days to spare. On the basis of what happened last January I don’t see that call as being unreasonable. Especially if you consider how much preparation time NASA and other space agencies say they need to get a rocket off the ground never mind closing the gap in sufficient time in order to avoid a ‘confrontation’.
Herein however lies a fundamental problem. The most cost effective solution would be to have a space based system which is pre-armed with nuclear missiles. I say cost effective only because we have enough rockets and warheads to blow ourselves up several times over. It seems to be the nature of Governments to cop-out when faced with large issues that have remote possibilities to go for the ultra cheap solution under the assumption that the fallout (no pun intended) will occur on someone else’s watch.
My concern is that such calls to action would inevitably lead to the weaponization of space under the pre-text of benign intent. Considering the human race’s pre-occupation with killing each other, I’m thinking that while the call by these scientists is a good one, for the right reasons, that any such proposals need to be thought out extremely carefully. The path to many of today’s more interesting plagues has be fraughtwith good intentions which were never the intent of the original creators. Ideas become corrupted when opportunities for power and control become involved. Open the door just a little and people will find ways to open it the whole way.
You can think of this another way – how many asteroids has the earth been hit with over the past 100 years which caused significant damage? 1 Maybe? In contrast how many wars have we had in that period of time? As much as I really like the idea of supporting an Earth defensive shield against rouge asteroids, I think personally that I would rather take my chances with the asteroids and convince the commercial section that there ‘maybe gold in them there hills’. Mining the largest asteroids for raw natural resources may end up being a far more effective solution in the long run than figuring out ways to blowing them up or pushing them off course.