Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I Feel So Much Safer Now

A 13-year-old German schoolboy has corrected NASA scientists' calculation of the chances of the asteroid Apophis hitting Earth in 2036. NASA prediction was 1 in 45,000.

The revised prediction? 1 in 450. (What's a couple of decimal places?) And how can we rely on any prediction if it doesn't take into account the Pioneer anomaly?

HFS people! Head? On fire? Anyone?

I got an idea. Screw the mission to Mars, lets put everything we got into diverting this world-ender, shall we? But before we start blowing shit up, check with the German kid to make sure our calculations are correct.

But who cares, right? We'll all be dead anyway.

UPDATE!!! NASA says never mind, nothing to see here, move along.

I just want to offer these thoughts. NASA says the boy's calculations are incorrect because the asteriod won't be passing through a zone heavily populated with satellites. Ok, I can see that. But if all it takes to knock this rock into a collision course is bumping into a couple of comparatively tiny satellites, then how can we say with any certainty what it's going to do or where it's going to go? It could bump into an unseen, untracked asteroid between now and 2029 and our first indication that our calculations are incorrect might be when the thing comes screaming into the atmosphere.

Frankly, even a 1 in 45,000 chance is too small. A lot unpredictable things could happen between now and 2029. As someone in comments to the article pointed out, there are two full solar cycles between now and then, so even something like a change in solar radiation could alter this thing's trajectory with disastrous consequences. This asteroid is a potential world-destroyer, even if the potential, as currently calculated, is small. We really do need to start working now to develop technologies to divert it.

Because if you think about it, the next one might not give us 30 years of warning.

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