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Unstrange Phenomena

27 July 2010

Giant Asteroid Threatens Earth In 170 Years

*** Crank up the planet asteroid defense system because Earth is expecting an asteroid impact soon - by astronomical time.

An artist's impression of what an asteroid impact with Earth might look like - photo from Newscom

Hollywood Asteroid Destruction Movies

From Denny: And you wonder where Hollywood gets these scary ideas for their movies. There's a new study out suggesting Earth might get hit by a giant asteroid in 2182. So, folks, that gives us about 170 years and a number of generations to get our proverbial act together to figure out how to destroy it, derail it off a collision course or evacuate the planet. Of course, that's if it hits at all. I do wish these guys would make up their minds. Is the human race scheduled for extinction or isn't it?

Scientists, being the annoying beings they know how to be, they are alarmists while they are also double speaking us about how unlikely it is that this giant asteroid will slam into Earth. Don't you just want to chick slap these guys into another time zone for the way they jack up your emotions and then deflate them like some helium balloon?

The official glamorous name of this giant asteroid

What's this giant asteroid's name? It's a terribly exotic one: 1999 RQ36 and it sounds like something off a Formerly Known As Prince music album. So now fading rock stars are naming killer asteroids?

The odds of impact

Well, the Vulcan Spock look alikes in the science world have declared this giant asteroid only has a one in a 1,000 chance of truly smashing into Earth. Thanks, guys, I feel so reassured now. The co-author of the study, MarĂ­a Eugenia Sansaturio of the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain, says half of the risk calculated corresponds to what are potential impacts in the glorious year of 2182. Listen, folks, we still have to live past 2012...

Sansaturio and the study team said they employed mathematical models to determine the risk of this asteroid impacting Earth as far in the future as 2200. What they discovered from the model is there were two opportunities for this possible collision in 2182.

More about their research is detailed in the science journal Icarus.

How big is this asteroid?

Just how large is this giant asteroid? It measures about 1,837 feet across which is about 560 meters. The National Academy of Sciences says in a recent report that a space rock of this dimension could cause widespread devastation at the impact site. "Ya think?"

This giant asteroid has been tracked by scientists through as many as 290 observations and 13 radar surveys like a pack of FBI agents watching a house of prostitution. Yet there is still some uncertainty because of the small influence it gets from the gentle push of the so-called Yarkovsky effect.

The Yarkovsky Effect

What's the Yarkovsky effect? Glad you asked because I didn't know it either. Of course, it was named for a Russian engineer (I.O. Yarkovsky) who talked about this effect way back in 1900. He described how an asteroid gains momentum from thermal radiation that it emits from its night side. After several hundred years go by, this effect's influence on an asteroid's orbit could be monumental.

The erratic asteroid orbit makes it difficult to pin down odds

Back to the study team in Spain as they figured out that up until the year of 2060, Earth's chances of getting hit by this giant asteroid is minimal and downright remote. That's so comforting, guys. However, the odds start increasing by a magnitude of four by the year of 2080 because the the orbit of the asteroid brings it closer to hanging out near Earth.

Those scary odds of impact start dipping down as the asteroid moves away from Earth. Then those odds rise again in 2162 and 2182 as the asteroid's orbit swings back toward Earth. It's an erratic orbital dance and therefore difficult to know exactly the odds of impact. "The consequence of this complex dynamic is not just the likelihood of a comparatively large impact, but also that a realistic deflection procedure (path deviation) could only be made before the impact in 2080, and more easily, before 2060," Sansaturio said. "After 2080, it would be more difficult to deflect the asteroid." Read that as we are screwed on this planet if the mathematicians are correct.

"If this object had been discovered after 2080, the deflection would require a technology that is not currently available," Sansaturio said. "Therefore, this example suggests that impact monitoring, which up to date does not cover more than 80 or 100 years, may need to encompass more than one century. By expanding the time frame for potential impacts, researchers would potentially identify the most threatening space rocks with enough time to mount deflection campaigns that are both technologically and financially feasible," she said.

Tell your children's children what to expect or deal with asteroid now

And there you have it. Make sure to leave a journal for your descendants so they can be scared the hell out of their minds too. Meanwhile, I'm taking a trip to Area 51 to find me some aliens with asteroid busting technology. Being proactive is the way to go. Let's go blast some giant asteroid out of the sky!

Congress Proposes Commission to Study Asteroid Impact Threat

Fresh Spin on Solar Powered Asteroids

NASA Panel Calls for Asteroid Defense Office

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