2 space rocks hours apart point up the danger

Feb 16, 2013 by Marcia Dunn
In this 1953 file photo, trees lie strewn across the Siberian countryside 45 years after a meteorite struck the Earth near Tunguska, Russia. The 1908 explosion is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons; it leveled some 80 million trees for miles near the impact site. The meteor that streaked across the Russian sky Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, is estimated to be about 10 tons. It exploded with the power of an atomic bomb over the Ural Mountains, about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) west of Tunguska. (AP Photo, File)

(AP)—A space rock even bigger than the meteor that exploded like an atom bomb over Russia could drop out of the sky unannounced at any time and wreak havoc on a city. And Hollywood to the contrary, there isn't much the world's scientists and generals can do about it.

But some former astronauts want to give the world a fighting chance.

They're hopeful Friday's cosmic coincidence—Earth's close brush with a 150-foot (46-meter) asteroid, hours after the 49-foot (15-meter) meteor struck in Russia—will draw attention to the dangers lurking in outer space and lead to action, such as better detection and tracking of asteroids.

"After today, a lot of people will be paying attention," said Rusty Schweickart, who flew on Apollo 9 in 1969, helped establish the planet-protecting B612 Foundation and has been warning for years to put more muscle and money into a heightened asteroid alert.

Earth is menaced all the time by , which are chunks of asteroids or comets that enter Earth's atmosphere. But many if not most of them are simply too small to detect from afar with the tools now available to astronomers.

The meteor that shattered over the Ural Mountains was estimated to be 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. It blew out thousands of windows and left more than 1,000 people injured in Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million. And yet no one saw it coming; it was about the size of a bus.

"This is a tiny asteroid," said astronomer Paul Chodas, who works in NASA's Near-Earth Object program in Pasadena, California "It would be very faint and difficult to detect—not impossible, but difficult."

As for the three-times-longer asteroid that hurtled by Earth later in the day Friday, passing closer to the planet than some , astronomers in Spain did not even discover it until a year ago. That would have been too late for pre-emptive action—such as the launch of a deflecting spacecraft—if it had been on a collision course with Earth.

Asteroid 2012 DA14, as it is known, passed harmlessly within 17,150 miles (27,599 kilometers) of Earth, zooming by at 17,400 mph (28,001 kph), or 5 miles (8 kilometers) per second.

Scientists believe there are anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million "near-Earth" asteroids comparable in size to DA14 or bigger out there. But less than 1 percent have actually been spotted. Astronomers have catalogued only 9,600 of them, of which nearly 1,300 are bigger than 0.6 miles (0.97 kilometers).

This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The 150-foot object will pass within 17,000 miles of the Earth. NASA scientists insist there is absolutely no chance of a collision as it passes. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Earth's atmosphere gets hit with 100 tons of junk every day, most of it the size of sand, and most of it burning up before it reaches the ground, according to NASA.

"These fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don't see them because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas. This one was an exception," NASA's Jim Green, director of planetary science, said of the meteor in Russia.

A 100 to 130-foot (30 to 40-meter) asteroid exploded over Siberia in 1908 and flattened 825 square miles (2,137 square kilometers) of forest, while the rock that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was a monster 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) across.

The chances of Earth getting hit without warning by one of the big ones are "extremely low, so low that it's ridiculous. But the smaller ones are quite different," Schweickart said. He warned: "If we get hit by one of them, it's most likely we wouldn't have known anything about it before it hit."

Chodas said the meteor strike in Russia is "like Mother Nature is showing us what a small one—a tiny one, really—can do."

All this points up the need for more money for tracking of near-Earth objects, according to Schweickart and the former space shuttle and station astronaut who now heads up the B612 Foundation, Ed Lu.

A few years ago, Schweickart and others recommended NASA launch a $250 million-a-year program to survey asteroids and work up a deflection plan. After 10 years of cataloging, the annual price tag could drop to $75 million, they said.

"Unfortunately, NASA never acted on any of our recommendations," he lamented. "So the result of it is that instead of having $250 million a year and working on this actively, NASA now has $20 million. ... It's peanuts."

Congress immediately weighed in on Friday.

"Today's events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science," said Rep. Lamar Smith, A Republican and chairman of the House science, space and technology committee. He called for a hearing in the coming weeks.

Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said the space agency takes asteroid threats seriously and has poured money into looking for ways to better spot them. Annual spending on asteroid-detection at NASA has gone from $4 million a few years ago to $20 million now.

"NASA has recognized that asteroids and meteoroids and orbital debris pose a bigger problem than anybody anticipated decades ago," Cooke said.

Schweickart's B612 Foundation—named after the asteroid in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "Le Petit Prince"—has been unwilling to wait on the sidelines and is putting together a privately funded mission to launch an infrared telescope that would orbit the sun to hunt and track asteroids.

Its need cannot be underestimated, Schweickart warned. Real life is unlike movies such as "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact." Scientists will need to know 15, 20 or 30 years in advance of a killer rock's approach to undertake an effective asteroid-deflection campaign, he said, because it would take a long time for the spacecraft to reach the for a good nudge.

"That's why we want to find them now," he said.

As Chodas observed Friday, "It's like a shooting gallery here."

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nikpav
1 / 5 (6) Feb 16, 2013
I wonder about couple things:
The meteor and the asteroid 2012 DA14 pass are very close in time, the asteroids are known to be often paired objects. The chance of pure coincidence seems to be quite low.
The main argument that it was pure coincidence is very different direction of the meteor approach as compared with asteroid. However, the asteroid (or its partner) relative speed to Earth was claimed to be around 8 km/sec, that is low enough (below escape velocity of 11.2 km/sec) to allow Earth gravity to deflect it by any angle (wrap around the Earth). So I suspect it still might be a loosely connected satellite of the asteroid.
nikpav
1 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2013

Another idea: I don't know if anyone considered it, but the mechanism converting atmospheric entry of such type into high attitude blast ( same thing likely happened at Tunguska) might be development of rotational instability. If we assume ( and it seems natural) that rotational moment of the body is only weekly coupled to the atmosphere, the body will experience rotational energy build-up as it looses diameter (outer mass) and therefore moment of inertia. Week coupling of the rotational moment to the atmosphere might be related to highly supersonic nature of entry. I think a great deal of research on that and related instabilities was done regarding re-entry of spacecrafts and warheads but they are obviously not available to the public.
So when the body starts to spin too violently it breaks apart and smaller bodies repeat it even faster. One can see spiral-like pattern in the photographed inverse trace - that hints for violent rotation.
Doug_Huffman
2.5 / 5 (8) Feb 16, 2013
The orbital elements of 2012 DA-14 have been known since its discovery a bit more than a year ago, and with increasing confidence that it would not strike. Hypothetically, had it been known that DA-14 would strike, would the information have been made public earlier or later? Like hurricane warnings, which is worse, the panic before or the panic afterwards?

As to the maundering above, who fails to do arithmetic is doomed, not least to nonsense. The technology does not exist to project sufficient momentum to affect a rock and particularly on short notice.
ryggesogn2
2.1 / 5 (15) Feb 16, 2013
Anthropomorphic Global Warming is much more serious and the govts of the world must destroy their economies to save the planet.
Anda
3.5 / 5 (8) Feb 16, 2013
Anthropomorphic Global Warming is much more serious and the govts of the world must destroy their economies to save the planet.


Yeah... destroy... Very "constructive" comment.
And the dinosaurs would be happy to hear your point of view...
Anyway you came to the wrong site. This is about science...
VendicarE
2 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2013
I have never seen a panic before a hurricane or afterwards.

Similarly I have seen no panic evident in the video's of the latest meteorite impact in Russia.

"Like hurricane warnings, which is worse, the panic before or the panic afterwards?" - DougieTard

Douggie seems to be suffering from mental "issues".
ryggesogn2
2.8 / 5 (13) Feb 16, 2013
Anthropomorphic Global Warming is much more serious and the govts of the world must destroy their economies to save the planet.


Yeah... destroy... The dinosaurs would be happy to hear your point of view...
Anyway you came to the wrong site. This is about science...

Like the IPCC is all about science?
Meteor impacts are a demonstrable threat to the planet while AGW is not, yet major science organizations and govt demand taxes and regulations to control fossil fules.
No such intensity is directed towards prevention of a major meteor strike. Why? It does not promote socialism.
Q-Star
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 16, 2013
So I suspect it still might be a loosely connected satellite of the asteroid.


Besides being mistaken about the magnitude of each body's velocity, the direction is from two different directions.
VendicarE
2.1 / 5 (7) Feb 16, 2013
Is this why Libertarian Economists has destroyed the American Economy?

"govts of the world must destroy their economies" - RyggTard

Randites like RyggTard believe that they can continue to live unsustainably forever.

Reality has a different opinion.
VendicarE
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2013
The two objects were in dramaticlly different orbits, and were almost moving at right angles to each other.

The Meteorite approached from the rough direction of the sun.

"The chance of pure coincidence seems to be quite low. " - nikpav
icuvd
1.4 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2013
I have read numerous articles about the object and the estimates of the mass are all over the place. Some saying 10 tons and others as high as 7000 tons! Anybody know the real estimate?
Q-Star
3 / 5 (6) Feb 16, 2013
I have read numerous articles about the object and the estimates of the mass are all over the place. Some saying 10 tons and others as high as 7000 tons! Anybody know the real estimate?


10 tons or less is probably close to correct. 7000 tons is a ludicrous number, that would have leveled a couple of cities.
MandoZink
5 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2013
So I suspect it still might be a loosely connected satellite of the asteroid.

Not possible given the velocity and direction of the meteor. Here is a nice illustration showing the difference between the approach paths of asteroid 2012 DA 14 and the Russian meteor:
http://scienceblo...hUK.jpeg
Code_Warrior
5 / 5 (6) Feb 16, 2013
This site is populated by extremists on both sides of the fence that appear to believe that their debating skills are impressive and their logic flawless. When you combine them with the crackpot theorists, the arrogant know it all's that can't make their cases, and the silly little down vote trolls, it's becoming pointless to post. Yet here I am posting, and off topic to boot. Damn. It sucks when you come to the realization that you are part of the problem.
VendicarE
2 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2013
"Anybody know the real estimate?" - icuvd

10 tonns within half an order of magnitude.

TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2013
The orbital elements of 2012 DA-14 have been known since its discovery a bit more than a year ago, and with increasing confidence that it would not strike. Hypothetically, had it been known that DA-14 would strike, would the information have been made public earlier or later? Like hurricane warnings, which is worse, the panic before or the panic afterwards?
Ask these guys:
http://www.fema.gov/

-I am sure they have already thought it through.
As to the maundering above, who fails to do arithmetic is doomed, not least to nonsense. The technology does not exist to project sufficient momentum to affect a rock and particularly on short notice
But we might soon be able to turn it into much less destructive rubble. Time to get to work.
VendicarE
2.7 / 5 (7) Feb 16, 2013
Correct, RyggTard. The IPCC is all about science.

"Like the IPCC is all about science?" - RyggTard

One day, when you become a big boy, you might even be smart enough to know what the IPCC does.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2013
I have never seen a panic before a hurricane or afterwards.
Really?
http://fumento.co...ina.html
http://www.nytime...amp;_r=0

-Plenty of panic.
VendicarE
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2013
The planet hasb't been destroyed by a meteor in over 4.5 billion years.

"Meteor impacts are a demonstrable threat to the planet" - RyggTard

What are you yammering about Tardie Boy?
VendicarE
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2013
"Plenty of panic." - Otto

I've only seen Republicans panic over the prospect of raising taxes.

Here is the documenting film footage.

http://www.youtub...qxoPPggg

Note that RyggTard, as always, is in last place.
sstritt
1 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2013
Most report the diameter at 15 m. Assuming its roughly spherical, that about 1800 m^3. Assuming it was iron-nickel, that would be about 8000kg/m^3 or 14400 metric tons! Somebody check my math please!
Q-Star
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2013
Most report the diameter at 15 m. Assuming its roughly spherical, that about 1800 m^3. Assuming it was iron-nickel, that would be about 8000kg/m^3 or 14400 metric tons! Somebody check my math please!


The math is okay. The problem is starting with the 15 meter diameter. It should be 1 to 2 meters. A fifteen meter diameter would level several large cities. Either you are reading very sensational reporting. Or someone left the radix point out of 1.5 meters.
Mayday
1 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2013
To help protect mankind from random cosmic collisions, I suggest encouraging people to move away from ocean shorelines and encouraging people to avoid clustering in ultra-tight masses(mega-cities). While we're at it, we might also encourage people against living on fault lines and flood plains. These measures would safeguard against unnecessary mass casualties. It would also alleviate a bit of the threat of climate change.

One might imagine the effects if the Russian meteor had blown up high above Mexico City. It gives pause.
sstritt
3.4 / 5 (10) Feb 16, 2013
From NASA website: The estimated size of the object, prior to entering Earth's atmosphere, has been revised upward from 49 feet (15 meters) to 55 feet (17 meters), and its estimated mass has increased from 7,000 to 10,000 tons. Also, the estimate for energy released during the event has increased by 30 kilotons to nearly 500 kilotons of energy released. These new estimates were generated using new data that had been collected by five additional infrasound stations located around the world – the first recording of the event being in Alaska, over 6,500 kilometers away from Chelyabinsk. The infrasound data indicates that the event, from atmospheric entry to the meteor's airborne disintegration took 32.5 seconds. The calculations using the infrasound data were performed by Peter Brown at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.
Mayday
1 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2013
Mankind suffers somewhat having come through a few thousand years of relatively quite times geologically, climatologically, and cosmically. We would all do better to take a look at history and begin to find ways to deal with less quiet times. The Earth's climate is in constant flux, mountains rise and fall, faults buckle, and random rocks will occasionally rain down. Dare one suggest that we find new ways to thrive in a world that presents constant change? It should be an exciting challenge. Another look at history reveals that it is precisely these constant changes and renewal that have made the Earth a living planet. I'd even go so far as to suggest that the last extinction event did us(humans) a pretty big favor! Oh-oh.
Q-Star
2 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2013
The calculations using the infrasound data were performed by Peter Brown at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.


Peter Brown IS very respected in his field. But still those numbers are probably very much inflated. Why? I'm sure I wouldn't know. Everyone wants to the first, with the first correct answer.

Unless it was a mini-comet and made primarily of ices and dust, those numbers just don't "feel" right. A 15 meter diameter meteor, a minor asteroid, would have done much more, assuming it is was of typical composition.

Wait a few days or weeks and let other people, taking more time and care with the data, give their input.
Mayday
1 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2013
It does get curious. Q, you say it "would have done much more." I do notice that the posted videos were shot a great distance from the explosion, particularly taking into account the estimated altitude. Maybe we haven't yet seen details of the effects right under the blast. But on another note, there should be LOTS of fragments on the ground out there somewhere. It could play havoc with the meteorite market.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2013
It does get curious. Q, you say it "would have done much more." I do notice that the posted videos were shot a great distance from the explosion, particularly taking into account the estimated altitude. Maybe we haven't yet seen details of the effects right under the blast. But on another note, there should be LOTS of fragments on the ground out there somewhere. It could play havoc with the meteorite market.
Quit guessing. Research.
http://www.youtub...w7Be4Qt4

nikpav
1 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2013
So I suspect it still might be a loosely connected satellite of the asteroid.


Besides being mistaken about the magnitude of each body's velocity, the direction is from two different directions.

I know that, but at velocity < 11.2 km/sec =25000 miles/hour the Earth gravity still capable to deflect the trajectory by any angle. Although, the absolute (scalar value) velocity will be preserved: I don't know if there is indication of strong disparity between asteroid and meteor.
flashgordon
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2013
I remember years ago at "Astronomy Picture of the Day" there was a video taking data of all the asteroid crossing the Earth's path for a period(I don't know how long; i'm sure years). I always bring this up and remark, "we're literaly in a shooting gallery."

Of further note, comets are more unpredicatable than asteroids. Asteroid orbits have been shaped for billions of years. Comets come from different places and even from out of the solar system all together. Granted, a sporadic comet coming from the Oort or Kuiper belts(still kind of mysterious why there's two comet reservoirs), or even outside of the solar system altogether is not likely to hit the Earth; but, the danger exists!
deisik
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2013
Peter Brown IS very respected in his field. But still those numbers are probably very much inflated. Why?


The answer is MONEY. As simple as that
VendicarE
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2013
The Republican position on Asteroid Deflection...

"Due to the Democrats' wasteful spending, our deficit has already risen to unprecedented levels. We can't keep borrowing money like this; it would be irresponsible. The American people are tired of it! If this asteroid deflection plan passes, our children and grandchildren will remember this moment as when their futures were forfeited. What what we really need to be doing is cutting spending and easing the tax burden on our corporations so they can keep on creating jobs like they've been doing these last few decades."

"Look no meteor NASA. Just a bunch of stars like there always are. How convenient that the asteroid is only visible in the southern hemisphere now. How gullible do the Democrats think we are?" - Faux News Glenn Beck

"According to NASA, part of Kenya is supposed to be in the direct path of the asteroid. A coincidence? I think not. This is just more of Barack Hussein Obama's betrayal of America." - Republican Rush Limba
LarryD
3.5 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2013
Oh boy, I like the '...big ones are "extremely low, so low that it's ridiculous. But the smaller ones...' line. Yeah, Tell that to whoever/whatever was there at the time the big one hit! And those of you squabbling about political ideals completely miss the point. An asteroid passes close by, coincidence a smaller impact in Russia...it has happened, it did happen the other day so it is very likely to happen again. There is a lot 'stuff' moving around out there and it's going to be a bit pointless shouting when some big city is flattened and thousands killed. All goverments should heed the public corncern about this. ordinary people that I know are saying things like having a warning station on the Moon and the like or suggesting the exact opposite because it would be useless anyway. We are capable of doing something the point is how MUCH are we prepared to do. There would have to be sacrifice on other fronts but then that's life!
katesisco
1 / 5 (5) Feb 18, 2013
Why are we so sure it was a meteorite? Cloud top particle accelerators have been indicated as the cause of deuterium acceleration that impacts Earth with sufficient energy to transmute elements on the ground.
What would a ball of dense gas look like? How would it act? Would there be traces of radioactivity?

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