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The Dark Asteroid is Still Coming – New News!

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As a boy my day was incomplete if I didn’t spend at least a few hours in the dark recesses of the public library, hunting through stacks of Science Fiction – novels and shorts — for something I had yet to read. Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury — so many more, the list goes on. Now that they tell us our favorite planets are gas, there’s not much to look forward to. But still, there is real science!

So, on that fateful summer morning in the year 2002, when those distracting little words that march across the bottom of ones TV screen during newscasts strolled similarly across mine — the heralds of future doom — I could hardly fail to notice; they made mention of a collision-course asteroid, coming in the years ahead!  Young and romantic, in a lab-coat kind of a way, I jotted down the date for the world’s end, and created a poster for my bedroom door: “The World Will End on Friday, the 13th of April, in 2029!” I kept an eye on the TV screen, but oddly, the asteroid report vanished; there was not another word. Only the poster remained.

impactThe coming devastation remained unreported until a televised 20/20 Special Presentation called "Final Days" aired in 2006, four years after the aforementioned blip. The program many will recall dealt with several ways in which the world might suddenly end. Gamma Ray Bursts, giant evil robots, and yes, the asteroid which had now been deemed “Apophis”, which translates from the Greek as "the Uncreator”, a “serpent that dwells in eternal darkness". Apophis — formerly known as 2002NY40 — the broadcasters said, was a "near miss" on August 17th and 18th of 2006. They went on to say the space wanderer is again due in 2029 (Friday, April 13), and will pass much closer than the August 2006 pass, “within the orbits of our communication satellites”. That same asteroid will again pass, even closer, on April 13, 2036. Now excuse me, but "within the orbits of our communication satellites" does indeed give me pause!

They said because of the speed of the asteroid, at 65,000 kilometers per hour, there was little hope of interception. They said, in any case, if we explode the traveler, we will be confronted not with one large object, but with hundreds, or thousands of smaller objects. NASA said then that the approach of the 460 foot long asteroid in 2029 was “not dangerous”. They went on to say that they were very concerned by the unpredictability of the orbital change and the potential for impact in 2036.

Popular Science Magazine
published an article reporting that the United States, and China are those most likely to feel the devastation of Apophis impact. Several ways of dealing with Apophis have been proposed. The History Channel recently mentioned the possibility of focusing sunlight on the invader. But they haven't actually tried it on a real asteroid. Some scientists have suggested we might give Apophis a gentle nudge while it is still far away, so it will miss the Earth cleanly. This nudge would be delivered by a volley of up to six nuclear missiles packing 1.2 megaton B83 warheads. These would detonate a hundred meters or so from the asteroid, and the heat of the explosions would cause part of Apophis to vaporize and move the remainder to one side. One science fiction reminiscent solution considered landing on the asteroid, drilling well below the surface, and planting an explosive device. That particular plans pales in comparison to what the Space Administration is in fact considering!

I promised some great new information and speculation and here it comes. We have established that Apophis wii come close to the Earth in April of 2029. Close meaning, within the orbits of our communication satellites. During that bypass, the asteroid's orbit will be altered by our gravitational pull, so that the following passage, in 2036, will be closer — by an indeterminate amount.  NASA  with out much fanfare has gone to great lengths to determine the range of the change in orbit, and to determine if there is a likelihood of impact. NASA stipulates several factors which come into involvement. Factors include the gravity of the Sun, Moon, other planets, as well as the three largest asteroids. Additional factors can influence the asteroids course in ways that depend on rarely known details, including the mass, and spin of the asteroid, how Apophis absorbs and reflects sunlight, and even the asteroids interaction with other asteroids, beyond the three largest.These small uncertainties can cause up to 23 Earth radii of prediction error for Apophis by 2036.

Apparently  NASA  has some plans to deal with the threat!
Here is what they say (emphasis added):

 

scaling up to distribute 250 kg (550 pounds) of a reflective or absorptive material (similar to the carbon fiber mesh being considered for solar sails) across the surface could use the existing radiation forces to produce a 6-sigma trajectory change, moving at least "99.9999998" percent of the statistically possible trajectories away from the Earth in just 18 years.

And:

the team found small variations in the energy absorption and reflection properties of Apophis' surface are sufficient to cause enough trajectory change to obscure the difference between an impact and a miss in 2036. Changing the amount of energy Apophis absorbs by half a percent as late as 2018 – for example by covering a 40 x 40 meter (130 x 130 foot) patch with lightweight reflective materials (an 8 kg payload) – can change its position in 2036 by a minimum of one Earth radius

.
It would appear that NASA is seriously considering a coat of fiber mesh for the incoming projectile.

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About John Lake

John Lake had a long and successful career in legitimate and musical theater. He moved up into work behind the camera at top motion pictures. He has done a smattering of radio, and television John joined the Blogcritics field of writers owing to a passion for the liberal press, himself speaking out about the political front, and liberal issues. Now the retired Mr. Lake has entered the field of motion picture, television, and video game (now a daily gamer!) critique. His writing is always innovative and immensely readable!
  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    These small uncertainties can cause up to 23 Earth radii of prediction error for Apophis by 2036.

    In other words, while there is a chance that Apophis may impact the Earth, or at least pass at its predicted distance of a few thousand miles, it is just as likely that it will pass up to 23 Earth radii further away.

    Can’t say I’m losing much sleep over it at this stage.

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    John I’d like your permission to use this as a base to update my own article with your permission. Unfortunately I can’t do it to the BC article however…

    I published it a few years ago on my own science page and I’m glad to see that the subject is still paid attention to.

    I’d like to tack it on as an update giving you full credit if I could.

    kudos
    Jet

  • John Lake

    Sorry Jet-
    I have included some links which should fill your needs.
    John Lake

  • John Lake

    I make no pretences of being a scientific scholar. If someone out there can supply some useful information, I’m all for it.
    BUT: an Earth Radii is 3963 miles. 23 Earth Radii is 84,870 miles. So the range of potential trajectories is nearly 85,000 miles. Wikipedia says a Low Earth Orbit Satellite is about 250 miles above the planet.
    In any case, the NASA link clearly says there is an absolute need for intervention; they have a plan to cover Apophis with absorptive/reflective material, which will provide about 99.9 % assurance of no impact.
    That’s how I read it.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    I enjoyed this article much more than that previous piece you wrote for the Politics section a while back. I couldn’t help but notice that one of the dates for the fly-by/collision was Friday, 13 April…. I always knew that triskedekaphobia would come in handy one day.

    While it is good to know that NASA is thinking about how to attempt to counter Apophis, there is always that issue of money. If there isn’t enough money to keep NASA afloat, whatever is done to attempt to counter Apophis may well have to be a volunteer effort. On the other hand, the stakes, survival, probably will generate more than just a few geeks wewaring Coke-bottle lens with good ideas willing to put in the time to do the work, whatever that may entail….

    Nice job!

  • John Lake

    Sunday Morning! Here is a recent quote from CNN:
    “If Apophis passes the earth (2029) at a distance of exactly 18,893 miles (or less, obviously) it will open a “gravitational keyhole” causing it to enter a new orbit that would put it on a direct collision course with earth seven years later. Current predictions are that Apophis will pass between 18,880 and 20,880 miles from earth.

    “…Hitting the earth at 28,000 mph an asteroid the size and mass of Apophis would pack the energy of 58,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs”

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    interesting an thought provoking article. Keep bringing em and maybe someone will wake up!

    NU? Get out those shovels and start paying your young relatives to dig you all a nice rooomy family shelter DEEP below Chicago. You have 26 years to pull it off for about 100 or so of your relatives. Do it right, and you’ll have a nice shelter 1,500 feet underground with lots of water, canned food, a few generators, some computer games and plenty of films, games and books of various varieties to keep everybody entertained….

  • John Lake

    an underground shelter.. ?
    How very profound..
    And if they wanted to, they could set up sirens, to warn the people. Try them out every week of so..

    Seriously, some commentors at places I chose to link to this exclusive article here at BC (run on sentence !) have said “So what? 26 years from now we’ll be old enough to enjoy a little excitment.”
    I reply, “Do you know that the Evening News now insists that people born today will have a 50/50 chance of living to see 100?”
    I’m sure there’s a viable point there somewhere; I’m still looking for it.
    John Lake

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Very interesting article. I wondered what happened to all the news and updates on this.

  • s walker

    hello a small dark asteroid will hit the sea in the next few years
    should be before 2017
    tthank you s walker

  • John Lake

    We can’t take these inevitable impacts lightly. At a time when science and religion agree, by my thinking, there is still hope for avoidance.
    My interest goes in this direction: The conservative Republicans show an interest in concentration on the moon, and very close space destinations. The liberal Democrats, for whatever reason, are looking toward more distant objects. Mars, whatever. In fact, the Democratic program would include protection from incoming asteroids. The world is a vulnerable world indeed, and we shouldn’t wait too long to take the steps necessary to secure the future for our senior years, and for our children.