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TOPIC: Dismissed as Doomsayers

Dismissed as Doomsayers 17 Feb 2013 19:38 #1

  • StarsChildren
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Vindication for Entrepreneurs Watching Sky: Yes, It Can Fall

For decades, scientists have been on the lookout for killer objects from outer space that could devastate the planet. But warnings that they lacked the tools to detect the most serious threats were largely ignored, even as skeptics mocked the worriers as Chicken Littles.

No more. The meteor that rattled Siberia on Friday, injuring hundreds of people and traumatizing thousands, has suddenly brought new life to efforts to deploy adequate detection tools, in particular a space telescope that would scan the solar system for dangers.

A group of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who helped build thriving companies like eBay, Google and Facebook has already put millions of dollars into the effort and saw Friday’s shock wave as a turning point in raising hundreds of millions more.

“Wouldn’t it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren’t looking?” said Edward Lu, a former NASA astronaut and Google executive who leads the detection effort. “This is a wake-up call from space. We’ve got to pay attention to what’s out there.”

Astronomers know of no asteroids or comets that pose a major threat to the planet. But NASA estimates that fewer than 10 percent of the big dangers have been discovered.

Dr. Lu’s group, called the B612 Foundation after the imaginary asteroid on which the Little Prince lived, is one team of several pursuing ways to ward off extraterrestrial threats. NASA is another, and other private groups are emerging, like Planetary Resources, which wants not only to identify asteroids near Earth but also to mine them.

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I don't like to think before I speak.
I like to be just as surprised as everyone else by what comes out of my mouth.
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Dismissed as Doomsayers 17 Feb 2013 23:07 #2

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The Strange Twisted Tale of Asteroid Hermes

In 1980 the idea of an asteroid hitting the Earth was somewhat of a joke. This was a time before Jupiter was accosted by bits of comet SL9, and before movies like Armageddon. Earth was safe from space. In mid 1980 asteroid Hermes passed within 300,000 miles from Earth's orbit, barely more than the distance to the Moon. No one saw it. It wasn't the first time Hermes had come close to Earth's orbit and it wasn't the last. Hermes is visiting us now.

The story of Hermes the asteroid is a strange one. It is a large, easy to see asteroid and visits Earth's neighbourhood frequently. But astronomers just kept missing Hermes. It was discovered originally in 1937, but lost and not re-discovered until October 2003!

The time was October 28, 1937, in Germany just before the start of World War II. Astronomer Karl Reinmuth noticed an odd streak in a photograph he had just taken of the night sky. He figured it must be an asteroid, but it must also be close to Earth because of the speed it was moving. It was because of the asteroid's speed that Karl gave it the name Hermes, the herald of Olympian gods. At that crossing, Hermes was about twice the distance of the Moon.

In 1937 astronomers knew about many asteroids and thought them all to be slow moving bodies beyond the orbit of Mars. But Hermes was different, it came very close to Earth, and it came very fast. Perhaps if WWII had not happened, more attention might have been given Hermes. It certainly illustrated a rather grave concept about perils to Earth but just then, Earth had it's own perils going on and no one gave a distant asteroid much thought. Reinmuth observed Hermes for five days but then lost it. No one gave Hermes further thought.

Sixty-six years after Reinmuth discovered and then lost Hermes, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory found the asteroid again. On October 15, 2003, Brian Skiff re-discovered Hermes and astronomer have been carefully tracking it ever since.

With orbital data, astronomer can calculate Hermes orbit, and see where it's at, where its been and where its going. As it turns out, Hermes approaches Earth's orbit twice every 777 days. Most of those times Earth is far away, but in 1937, 1942, 1954, 1974 and 1986, Hermes came perilously close to Earth and we never knew it.


Those two 'binary' objects are both the size of small mountains and are travelling at something like 40 miles per second (over 100,000 miles per hr). Just a little fractional nudge out of line caused by a slight collision with another object during the period when their orbit takes them within the crowded asteroid belt - a not uncommon occurence - and one or both could hit us, with disastrous consequences....a scenario portrayed in the (fictional?) book The Hermes Fall :hide:
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