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Could an asteroid hit the Earth...


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#1 ChanceVS

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Posted 27 February 2003 - 09:17 PM

There is an intersting article on ABCNews.com on the possibility of an asteroid hitting the earth.  I know that Armegedon (the movie) ruined the topic for serious discussion with a lot of people -- and filled others with a false sense of confidence -- but the topic is an interesting one.

The most interesting piece in this article was the author's discussion of the idea presented that if an impact were to be deemed inevitable, that the government might be best to keep its citizens in the dark about it.

Link to Article

ChanceVS

#2 sierraleone

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Posted 27 February 2003 - 10:32 PM

Interesting. When you said that some said the government should keep us in the dark, I thought they meant about all asteroids, including the lesser ones they mention. Personally I'd want to know if life on earth was going to end soon. Whats the point in not telling us? Things going normally isn't going to help the government survive after it anymore than the rest of us. I can't see those in government going about their normal activities with this kind of knowlegde :) Besides, wouldn't the news originally come from the scientists keeping watch on these things? Unless the government got wind and stopped them.
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Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
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#3 ChanceVS

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 12:37 AM

I agree that I would want to know as well.  I think that the suggestion to keep it a secret was to prevent panic in the streets.  His point was, I believe, that if it was certain to occur and the size of the asteroid was so big as to preclude any survivors, then what was to be gained by starting a panic, especially if there was really nothing that could be done to change the situation.

I don't agree with that sentiment, but I do understand it.  I think that it poses a serious moral question.  If you know that "the end is nigh," do you encourage everyone to make their peace with it? Or do you let people continue their normal lives?  Aside from the panic issues that a government might consider, what a stressful piece of news to deliver to the citizens of the world.  Would the stress of knowing the world was ending in a short time be an unfair addition to their last days, shrouding what little joy they could have with the knowledge that their was no future.  Tough call.  

As I said up top, I would rather know, but others may feel differently.

ChanceVS

#4 sierraleone

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 01:10 AM

^ What is there to be gained by everything going about normally? lol there is nothing to be gained no matter what route you are. How could react could go a million ways... but maybe, for once, something could unite human kind ;) I'd want to make sure I was spending my last days with the people I care about, or at least talk to them if there is no way I can reach them physically. And maybe do things just for fun, instead of worrying about rent, etc, leave the job and just chill. What else is there to do? Panicking isn't going to help ;) :)
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#5 Anna

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 01:48 AM

On another front, I don't think the govt will have the option of keeping it secret. There are a number of amateur astronomers out there with really good telescopes who WILL see it. You can't hide the entire sky and you can't keep that many people quiet.

Anna
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#6 sierraleone

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 02:03 AM

^ I was thinking about that too. I mean they'd have to gag the professional astronomists first, but some amateur astronomers will probably see it sooner or later.
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#7 tennyson

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 02:17 AM

Well, that was an incredibly pessimistic view of a threat that has been talked about in serious scientific circles since the 1970s. Frankly, I think we do have the technological rescources to deal with the most probable threats even if there are uncertainties.  I think the problem is on the poltical will side of things. I've seen quite literally dozens of plausible plans but no one in charge of the money seems willing to acknowledge the risk if they even know about it in the first place. Small asteriods, only meters in diameter, can still kill a city or disrupt a countryside  and there are millions of them  out there. and it will be quite smetime before any signficant degree of them are located, even with the few pilot programs we have now watching.
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#8 Nick

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 03:34 AM

sierraleone, on Feb 27 2003, 06:05 PM, said:

^ I was thinking about that too. I mean they'd have to gag the professional astronomists first, but some amateur astronomers will probably see it sooner or later.
Actually, it's much more likely that an amateur astronomer will be the first to spot a big asteroid on its way here . . . professional astronomers only survey a very small percentage of the sky . . . there's a far more eyes peering through backyard scopes and surveying larger swaths of sky . . . granted, it's much less likely that any one amateur will both see the new asteroid *and* recognize it for what it is . . . but when you think about how many of them are out there . . . the odds swing in amateur astronomy's favor . . .

Which is a shame, really.  Since the amateur astronomers are probably using much less powerful equipment, meaning the killer-asteroid won't be spotted until it's fairly close . . . making any attempts to deflect the bugger that much more difficult.

And deflecting an asteroid is *very* possible . . . even with present technology . . . but it all depends on how much deflection needs to be done . . . caught early enough (say 20 years from anticipated impact) . . . all it would take is little more than a gentle nudge to render the beastie harmless. (long range probe tech is more than up to the task)

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#9 Woodmansee

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 03:59 AM

There are two factors in any risk assessment, probability and effect. In this case the probabilities of impact of an asteroid of sufficient size to cause significant damage are low, at least low in any particular year. But as the years mount up they get greater and greater until eventually they are a virtual certainty. For city busters that may be hundreds of years away, for planet wide killers it may be millions of years away. Or for either it may be this year, or next.

I think the more significant risk factor is the effect. The effect of even a moderate size asteroid could be catastrophic for a small area, and the worst-case effect is the end of almost all large life forms (including humans) on the planet for a few hundred thousand years. This is too much of an effect to ignore for even a very small probability occurrence.

We are the only species who has ever had the technological capability to do something about asteroid impact. WHY AREN'T WE! Sure it probably won't happen in my lifetime, but it could. Why take that kind of chance when we don't have to?

There is some sky survey work going on and that's good. But it's slow and it can miss things. Particularly hard to see are asteroids that are inside earth's orbit and only occasionally at apogee cross the Earth's orbit plane because they are almost never visible (they're on earth's day side almost always).

The stuff that we have seen we have to keep checking up on because their paths over the years change slightly. Our predictive capabilities for asteroids many years out is questionable because it's not a simple two or three body problem There are too many things that all are constantly slightly altering the path of an asteroid, including planets (which are more or less predictive), solar events (flairs and such), and other asteroids and comets (all of which are not so predictable).

Most of the stuff that has come close to hitting us we noticed with little warning (days) or even after it's passed. We have the technology to develop a system to prevent disaster (and the first step is a better sky survey), but not the present capability to stop it (which is a different matter).

The existing sub-orbital missiles held by Russian and the US which have the rapid response capability, don't have the capability to reach escape velocity. The space launch vehicles that various countries have need at least weeks to be ready (on a crash program, their normal cycle for launching a payload is measured in years).

So I believe we need to have a rapid response missile system that can reach escape velocity with a large hydrogen bomb payload that could nudge an asteroid if needed.

Paul

#10 Appreciate

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 04:33 AM

Paul:

It's great to see you here!!! :D

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#11 Delvo

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 07:14 AM

The risk that this is going to happen is wildly exaggerated for dramatic effect. For example, the references to ending ALL life; that idea is purely made up, not indicated by any kind of evidence. The mass-extinction-causing comets have all hit within certain "windows" of time that open briefly (like for one or two million years) on a 26-million year cycle, the last episode being 13 million years ago. And the size that it takes to cause serious problems is stated much too low above, in the size range of rocks that can't even make it to the ground. A rare rock big enough and hitting in the right place could be destructive hypothetically, but getting worked up over something that isn't known to have happend to us at all before in any place or time just sounds like "The sky is falling!"

A moderate calamity such as the Tungooska event displaced to someplace where people actually live would be nothing new in human experience, and nothing that we haven't already decided over and over and over and over and over and over again that we're willing to accept. Otherwise, we'd quit gathering in large plague-spreading populations, or we'd not put those populations on volcano slopes, earthquake fault lines, unstable ground such as subsidence/mudslide zones, tsunami-prone coasts, and hurricane/typhoon zones, and we wouldn't engage in certain industrial endeavors like building dams (which can burst), making ourselves dependent on technological infrastructure that might suffer catastrophic failure, or hinging our economy on modes of transportation that many people die using. We don't quit doing these things because everybody's decided that the sacrifices it would take to retreat from life's risks are excessive burdens on life itself. And the same principle is at work with the non-preparation for this threat, which people REALIZE has happened MUCH much less in human history than many others (actually none unless you count Sodom and Gomorrah or something like that); if someone were to try to institute a protection system, it would be based on  methods we don't even know would work and doomed to ridiculously high costs that never end because the equipment for it would just sit until entropy makes it too old to use and in need of replacement... and society's verdict would be (and is) "it's just pointless, not worth it".

It would be much more practical and realistic to try to plan the evacuation of central and eastern North America because we do KNOW that the biggest disaster in human history is cooking under Yellowstone Park right now and due to go off in the next few centuries or millennium or two. That supervolcano, bigger than some states and countries, with all those people living in its crosshairs, is GUARANTEED to go off sometime relatively soon, as we know from what we've learned from the other supervolcanoes (in less populated areas) that have repeatedly happened in human history... and will be worse for us (largely because of where the people live) than ANY other thing that's happened on this planet except for the 26-million-year strikes. But nobody cares about that, and we're acting like it's stupid and naïve not to worry about a smaller event that's far less likely to happen that we still have no reason to believe we can do anything about anyway? Why? Because it's from space, not on Earth, and space stuff is cooler? Because it stands out in people's minds precisely because its rarity makes it such a weird and obscure thought? Because it resembles some ideas popularized by connections to the dinosaurs' extinction and that silly "nuclear winter" book? Not the most rational bases for decisions on emergency preparations...

#12 tennyson

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 08:54 AM

Delvo, a small city killing impact  is easily possible with millions of bodies in that size range just in the inner solar system. Something as small as 40 meters across can survive reentry into the Earth's atmosphere and could significantly harm human endeavours. The big impacts are always trotted out becuase they have the most rhetorical impact, the 75 percent of all known species going extinct at the Cretatous-Tertiery boundary and the 95 percent of all then known species going extinct in the Permian do make definite rhetorical impacts while the people who really know what they are talking about try to calculate risks for smaller bodies that are vastly more likely to occur. They are numerous and we don't know where they are yet. They get more attention than the supervolcano because unlike it , humanity has he means to stop the event itself from occuring, rather than simply reacting to it.
We know what asteriods are made of, we have the spectra and the methods are not that costly. A solar sail, a cloud of debris, a repurposed nuclear weapon, even the more high end plans like mounting a mass driver on it or a drive system, or a laser don't require any technology that doesn't already exist or has already been put into space. It wouldn't even cost billions of dollars. Is a cost in the millions really too much to pay for security from such a large scale threat? Even an ocean strike could cause significant disruption of fisheries and economic livelyhood that would exceed the cost of deploying something. With amateur atronomers and a few million in old professional telescopes we'll eventually know when something threatening could arrive and then by then we'll have something ready. It's not a laughing matter or something so remote that it should be ignored or used for entertainment purposes as the mass media seems to have latched onto. It is real, it has happened and it will happen again in the future and with humanity crowding this planet it is significantly more likely to land on something of significance to humanity.
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#13 Kevin Street

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 10:20 AM

Quote

Delvo:
A moderate calamity such as the Tungooska event displaced to someplace where people actually live would be nothing new in human experience, and nothing that we haven't already decided over and over and over and over and over and over again that we're willing to accept.

I have to disagree. In today's nuclear-armed world, a Tunguska-size event in the wrong place could set off a nuclear war. Last year, the Deputy Director for Operations for the US Space Command gave a speech where he recounted the tale of a small asteroid that blew up over the  Mediterranean last June. If that asteroid had hit Earth a few hours earlier it could have landed right on top of India or Pakistan. Imagine what a sudden massive explosion would do there - the nuclear bombs would be dropping hours later. This is a serious threat, more so now than in previous generations because of our current mexican standoff style balance of terror between the great powers.

I've never heard of supervolcanoes, though. Are they an immediate threat?

EDIT: After a little bit of Googling, I discovered the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory FAQ, where the scientists who study Yellowstone answer some questions about the Supervolcano. If you click on the link and scroll down to "Is it true that the next eruption of Yellowstone is overdue?" it says:

Quote

No. The fact that two eruptive intervals (2.1 million to 1.3 million and 1.3 million to 640,000 years ago) are of similar length does not mean that the next eruption will necessarily occur after another similar interval. The physical mechanisms may have changed with time. Furthermore, any inferences based on these two intervals would take into account too few data to be statistically meaningful. To say that an eruption that might happen in ten's or hundred's of thousand's of years is "overdue" would be a gross overstatement. On the other hand we cannot discount the possibility of such an event occurring some time in the future, given Yellowstone's volcanic history and the continued presence of magma beneath the Yellowstone caldera.

So it could happen tomorrow, or it could happen a hundred thousand years from now. There isn't enough evidence to accurately predict the next eruption.

Edited by Kevin Street, 28 February 2003 - 11:04 AM.

Per aspera ad astra

#14 Anakam

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 12:15 PM

Yeah, places like Yellowstone are a threat.... it does erupt on a cycle, and that cycle is long enough that from what I know it's somewhat hard to predict/extrapolate with any kind of accuracy, which is probably the reason for the phrasing in the FAQs there. :)  However... it *is* a big threat.... the biggest eruption let loose, IIRC, somewhere in the range of 2500 cubic kilometers of material; Mt. St. Helens in 1980 erupted about a cubic kilometer.  (Somebody feel free to correct the specifics if I'm wrong, but I think you get the picture. ;) )  That could create quite a mess of the western part of North America....

And I do think about Yellowstone quite a bit.  It's one of those weird places I'd like to visit because it's potentially so incredibly dangerous.
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#15 Delvo

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 06:07 PM

Schedules aren't the only thing to consider. It's already acting like a normal volcano does a few days before an eruption: it suddenly started swelling up sometime in the 80s or 90s. In fact, that's how it was discovered; some lakes are "tipped over" enough now to have lowering water levels on one side and rising levels on the other side.

#16 the 'Hawk

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 08:40 PM

ChanceVS, on Feb 27 2003, 01:14 PM, said:

if an impact were to be deemed inevitable, that the government might be best to keep its citizens in the dark about it.
Oh, nonsense.

Just sign exclusive rights to one of the networks.

They can cast the "reality TV" show from there.

That'd be the only one I'd watch.

:cool:
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#17 ChanceVS

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 09:00 PM

the'Hawk, on Feb 28 2003, 12:37 PM, said:

ChanceVS, on Feb 27 2003, 01:14 PM, said:

if an impact were to be deemed inevitable, that the government might be best to keep its citizens in the dark about it.
Oh, nonsense.

Just sign exclusive rights to one of the networks.

They can cast the "reality TV" show from there.

That'd be the only one I'd watch.

:cool:
Too Funny!  :lol:

ChanceVS

#18 Anakam

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 09:28 PM

Delvo, on Feb 28 2003, 03:04 PM, said:

Schedules aren't the only thing to consider. It's already acting like a normal volcano does a few days before an eruption: it suddenly started swelling up sometime in the 80s or 90s. In fact, that's how it was discovered; some lakes are "tipped over" enough now to have lowering water levels on one side and rising levels on the other side.
Yeah, we talked about that in class last year. :eek:  I can't remember the names of the two bulges that keep swelling up and down right now, though..... I should just keep that book at school with me. ;)

The going up and down, combined with the *highly* explosive nature of the Yellowstone eruptions, is what makes me nervous about it, to be honest.  It might be getting ready for a 'smaller' eruption, which would probably happen really soon on the overall timescale, or it might be getting ready for yet another large one that would make another huge 30x40 mile caldera or something.  (A small Yellowstone eruption is a misnomer as far as I'm concerned; they're so big compared to most other eruptions and so explosive--and leave such big calderas anyway--that I think they're all big.  That's just me, though.)
Sailing free, boundless glimmer, golden whispers, fiery poise, delicate balance, grave and true, bound by earth, feared horizons, courageous steps unknown, shimmering future hidden yet unveiled....

I think you're the first female cast member to *insist* on playing a guy ;) - Iolanthe, on my cross-casting obsession.

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, this fortress built by Nature for herself... - John of Gaunt, Act II, Scene I, Richard II

"I think perhaps that was a sub-optimal phrasing for the maintenance of harmony within the collective." - Omega, here

"Courtesy is how we got civilized. The blind assertion of rights is what threatens to decivilize us. Everybody's got lots of rights that are set out legally. Responsibilities are not enumerated, for good reason, but they are set into the social fabric. Is it such a sacrifice to not be an a**hole?" - Jenny Smith on Usenet, via Jid, via Kathy

#19 sierraleone

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 09:54 PM

I never heard about the 'supervolcanos' before. I've been trying to find the others (morbid curiosity;) on the net, perferably on a global map, but haven't had much luck.

Edited: Found them, or at least the names.

"Around the world there are several other volcanic areas that can be considered "supervolcanoes"- Long Valley in eastern California, Toba in Indonesia, and Taupo in New Zealand. Other "supervolcanoes" would likely include the large caldera volcanoes of Japan, Indonesia, Alaska (e.g. Aniakchak, Emmons, Fisher)."
And of course Yellowstone.

All of these are around the Pacific rim, except Yellowstone.
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#20 Anakam

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Posted 28 February 2003 - 10:10 PM

Yeah, Yellowstone's a hot spot, so it's weird. ;)  In fact, if you follow the FAQ link Sisko gave, there should be something on that page that should lead you to a map that shows how its 'drift' has been tracked by the calderas it leaves.  The calderas look so small and cute on a map (at least to me :p ), but they're *so* huge that they weren't recognized for a while, IIRC.

I think I've heard of most of those.... probably not all by name, since I don't recognize Toba and Taupo.  :blush:

(Naturally, I think Yellowstone is the best and biggest of the supervolcanoes. ;) ;)  I mean, it's at least a natural wonder while it's between eruptions!  Which reminds me... I never did go back and read the Long Valley stuff.  Must do that...)

Why am I getting so geeky? ;)
Sailing free, boundless glimmer, golden whispers, fiery poise, delicate balance, grave and true, bound by earth, feared horizons, courageous steps unknown, shimmering future hidden yet unveiled....

I think you're the first female cast member to *insist* on playing a guy ;) - Iolanthe, on my cross-casting obsession.

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, this fortress built by Nature for herself... - John of Gaunt, Act II, Scene I, Richard II

"I think perhaps that was a sub-optimal phrasing for the maintenance of harmony within the collective." - Omega, here

"Courtesy is how we got civilized. The blind assertion of rights is what threatens to decivilize us. Everybody's got lots of rights that are set out legally. Responsibilities are not enumerated, for good reason, but they are set into the social fabric. Is it such a sacrifice to not be an a**hole?" - Jenny Smith on Usenet, via Jid, via Kathy


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