I’m beginning to have some concern about the world’s capacity to anticipate and thwart incoming asteroids and comets.
As space buffs and news devotees will corroborate, asteroid 2014RC passed inside the orbit of our moon, and swept over New Zealand in the southern hemisphere, on Sunday, September 07, at about 6PM Greenwich Mean Time. The asteroid, nicknamed “Pitbull,” was “the size of a house,” more specifically about 60 feet across. In fact this asteroid did no harm, but a second asteroid, now believed to have “broken off” from Pitbull, plummeted to the ground in Nicaragua on that same day, producing a thunderous explosion, and a crater 39 feet across and 18 feet deep. At this writing scientists are uncertain whether the object was rock or ice. Pitbull, and the impacting broken-off segment, were first spotted only on August 31.
It is noteworthy that the asteroid called Pitbull was highly similar in size to the February 2013 meteor that exploded over a city in Russia. The object that burst in the air 18 miles above Chelyabinsk was widely viewed and photographed. While most of the tremendous energy produced was absorbed by the atmosphere, that energy was equivalent to 500 kilotons of TNT, 20 to 30 times the energy released from the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima near the end of World War II. This meteor was, according to sources, undetected because of its apparent closeness to the Sun. It caused considerable panic in Russia, injured about 1,500 people and damaged more than 7,000 buildings.
There was some unexplained mystery on that February 15 date. Was it coincidence or scientific error that on the day the world was shaken by that Russian meteor scientists had predicted a safe bypass of another, unrelated asteroid, known as 2012 DA14?
This month’s visit will be by a fast-moving space rock called 2012 DA14, which will pass about 17,200 miles from Earth’s surface on Feb. 15. It’s only about 150 feet across, so astronomers say not to bother to look for it in the sky — but it will be closer than the communications satellites that ring the planet, 22,000 miles away. NASA scientists have had a lot of time to plot the orbit of 2012 DA14, and they say they are quite sure it will miss us.
Interestingly, following the Russian meteor news coverage, a spokesman for ABC News answered inquiries as to the nature of the coincidence: were the two meteors in fact one and the same? The speaker stated that scientists were about 99% certain that the two same-day meteors were separate and distinct. But, as this video shows, he added a heavy “But…”
We feel safe and protected by our American government, and by the scientists of the world. Given sufficient notice, they claim the ability to forecast and incinerate any threatening celestial traveler. They have considered, we recall, such outré responses as laying a carpet over parts of the incoming missiles to change their temperature patterns and thus their course. Most agree that the science-fiction solution of implanting an explosive device in such a threat is unrealistic and implausible.
We do hope they find a solution to the problem of extraterrestrial projectiles. Unless there is top-secret research, not much is being done.
Let us at this point recall the forthcoming presence of the “Serpent that Dwells in Darkness,” “The Uncreator,” the asteroid called Apophis. Ironically Apophis is expected to pass close to the Earth on Friday the 13th of April, 2029, within the orbits of our geosynchronous communication satellites. Apophis has been compared to the asteroids of legend that destroyed the dinosaurs. It has a diameter of 460 feet, and moves at a mind-boggling 13,129 miles per hour.
Scientists are hesitant to make predictions about Apophis, owing to uncertainty about the make-up and mass of the asteroid and the direction of its spin. At one point, it was considered absolute that Apophis would circle around our solar system, then pass again, this time even closer, on Easter Sunday, April 13, 2036. The likelihood of that second pass has been seriously downgraded, and it is now believed that its likelihood is only “one chance in a thousand.”
In recent years the discoveries of new asteroids and comets have dramatically increased, numbering about 10,000 at the current estimate. The Pan-STARRS-1 telescope at the summit of Haleakala Crater on Maui, operated by the University of Hawaii, with funding from NASA, has been instrumental in that search.
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