Space Issues

March 8, 2009 at 3:14 am Leave a comment

Boundaries and individual space are vital issues in dog training, but… that’s not the focus of this particular post.  H/T to Jessica over at Bioephemera who posted this week on a recent near miss that was at least as good as a mile.

A large asteroid passed within 45,000 miles of our home planet on Monday.  To put this into perspective, it slipped right in between the Earth and the Moon.  To put it into even sharper perspective, check out this God’s Eye View of what 2009 DD25 might have looked like as it whizzed by:

Amazing isn’t it?  And did you see the massive amount of press coverage on this?  Perhaps not.  It seems that the most astronomical miss of the week happened in most of the main stream media.

According to the Boston Globe:

The cosmic object, which was estimated to be 20 yards to 30 yards across, came closest to Earth near the equator somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

It was about the same size as the one that burned up over Siberia in 1908, leveling nearly 800 square miles of forest in the infamous “Tunguska Event” event.

“It’s pretty unusual to see one this close,” said Spahr, director of the minor-planet center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge. “If an object of this size were to impact the Earth, it would be equivalent to a small nuclear explosion.”

Brian Marden, a senior astronomer at the center, said that many such objects pass this close but go unobserved.

“No one is watching the whole sky all the time,” Marden said.

He said that light and celestial objects like the moon can affect astronomers’ visibility. “If the moon is full, no one is watching,” Marden said.

There are lots of dangerous near earth objects (NEO’s) out there.  The biggest known threat comes from a 250 meter diameter asteroid called Apophis that will (hopefully) shoot past by Earth on (appropriately) Friday the 13th April, 2029.  Apophis will return 11 years later when NASA says the chance of it passing through a gravitational keyhole and colliding with the Earth is just one in 45,000.

It’s not just the moon that obscures our ability to find and track NEO’s.  The media and the government just don’t appear to be interested.  This terrifying lack of attention is, IMO, related to the fact that there’s no readily identifiable individual or group to blame them on.  They are truly Acts of God.  Seriously, who do you sue when an enormous ball of rock and ice falls out of space and annihilates both Canada and  Bermuda?  And, really, what are we (and by “we” I mean the very personal you and I) supposed to do about it?  We’re terrified of NEO’s not just because of the havoc they have could wreak, but also because the threat they represent is almost unimaginably distant in space and time — and the villain is astronomically cold and impersonal.

This lack of an identifiable scapegoat and the esoterically distant nature of the threat posed by an asteroid impact might also help to explain why NASA and NSF are cutting funding for the Arecibo radio telescope, the key component in the NEO program.

Perhaps in their self-absorbed, closed-minded ignorance they’ve passed beyond the boundaries of rational behavior.

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