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Asteroid Flyby of Earth: Experts Comment on Space Rock Close-call

Credit: NASA

The up-coming close flyby of asteroid DA14 is stirring up considerable attention.

On Friday, Feb. 15, the 50-meter-wide asteroid DA14 will pass within 17,000 miles of Earth, closer than a typical communications satellite.

This space rock, if it were to impact our planet rather than nearly miss Earth, it would explode with a four-megaton force near what the military calls “optimum height for damage.”

That’s the view of Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and physics and aerospace engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

If it slammed into Earth, DA14 would release roughly half the energy of the Siberian strike in 1917 that leveled thick forest for 20 miles in every direction.

But Melosh notes that the 30,000-foot detonation height of the asteroid would cause significant property damage and loss of life, especially if the object were to explode over a metropolis like New York or Chicago.

Melosh modeled a hypothetical impact with Impact:Earth!, the interactive website he created that is used for disaster planning purposes by safety officials from agencies that include the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

Check out the website for Impact: Earth at:

http://www.purdue.edu/impactearth/

“We’re talking about an airburst with the power of a mid-size thermonuclear weapon, with similar results,” Melosh said in a Purdue press release. “The worst damage would be directly beneath the explosion – but windows and wood buildings 15 miles out would be imperiled.”

Harvesting asteroids

While doom and gloom is one aspect of an asteroid collisions with Earth, there are groups out to mine these space rocks for all they are worth.

By processing asteroid DA14 could be worth up to $195 billion in metals and propellant – but only if it were in a different and accessible orbit

That’s the claim from Deep Space Industries (DSI), a new startup firm that envisions mining asteroids in the future.

According to Rick Tumlinson, Chairman of DSI: “While this week’s visitor isn’t going the right way for us to harvest it, there will be others that are…and we want to be ready when they arrive.”

DSI believes there are thousands of near Earth asteroids that will be easier to chase down than this one.

“The challenge right now is to get out there soon so we can inspect and sample them,” Tumlinson said in a DSI press statement. “Whether for mining, science or planetary defense, we really need to begin getting close up and personal with these objects.”

By Leonard David

Comments

  • Robert Hux February 13, 2013

    The 23 of March, 2013 is the 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s call for collaboration between the U.S., the former Soviet Union as well as other countries to develop non-kinetic weapons (lasers, particle beams etc.) which could be used to eliminate the threat from thermonuclear weapons, a threat which has only gotten worse since then. One of the leading proponents of the SDI, Dr. Edward Teller, later proposed at many international conferences (eg. Erice, Italy; Los Alamos Laboratory, Chelyabinsk-70) in the 1990s to develop the means to defend the Earth from asteroids. In October 2011 Dmitry Rogozin, then Russia’s special envoy to NATO and currently Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, proposed a joint U.S.-Russian cooperation on a Strategic Defense of Earth (against threats such as asteroids) as an alternative to a strategic confrontation over the U.S./NATO placement of missile defense systems at Russia’s western border.

    Since there are on the order of a million or more potentially hazardous near Earth asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Venus most of which we know nothing about (1), we should recognize that the arrival of asteroid DA14 on February 15 is like the universe giving us a “wake up call”. We need a collaboration between the U.S., Russia and other nations on a Strategic Defense of Earth as proposed by Dmitry Rogozin.

    What would we need to do to develop a mapping of the near Earth asteroids?

    While there has been tremendous progress over the last two decades in discovering new near Earth asteroids from Earth based observatories, and more recently with NASA’s space-based Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), there is a limit to what can be done from the Earth or Earth orbit.

    A Report by the NASA Advisory Council Ad Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense released in October 2010 recommended that one or more space-based infrared space telescopes be placed in orbit around the Sun, but at a distance similar to Venus. This would allow a much better view of the near Earth asteroids between the Venus and Mars orbits. This idea could be extended to put such infrared space telescopes in orbit around Mars, at various of the Lagrange points of the orbits of Venus, Earth or Mars around the Sun, or even on selected asteroids.

    Since in the long run, it doesn’t make sense to try to deal with a million or more potentially threatening asteroids “one at a time”, fundamental advances in understanding how the near Earth asteroids function as a unified system will be needed.

    Other aspects of what will be required to develop such a Strategic Defense of Earth have been described in a recent report by Lyndon LaRouche’s Political Action Committee Basement Research Team.

    See: The Strategic Defense of Earth at http://larouchepac.com/SDE

    Note:

    1. According to a presentation by the head of NASA’s Near Earth Objects program, Lindley Johnson, at a Workshop on Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, it is presently estimated that there are about half a million near Earth asteroids within the range of 30 to 100 meters, and less than one percent have been detected. While a larger percentage of the bigger near Earth Asteroids have been detected (10% of those between 100 – 300 meters, and 50% for 300 – 1000 meters, 94% for those greater than 1000 meters) they would cause much more destruction if a collision occurred.

    (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/neo/2011_AG5_LN_intro_wksp.pdf)