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A Near Miss: Fending Off Asteroids

A huge asteroid brushes by planet Earth Friday. Closer than our own satellites. We’ll look at our very close call, and asteroid defense.

This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Feb. 15, 2013. The 150-foot object will pass within 17,000 miles of the Earth. NASA scientists insist there is absolutely no chance of a collision as it passes. (AP/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Feb. 15, 2013. The 150-foot object will pass within 17,000 miles of the Earth. NASA scientists insist there is absolutely no chance of a collision as it passes. (AP/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Asteroid alert. And the first thing to say is, it’s not going to hit us.

Close, in astronomical terms. Very close. Closer than our own orbiting satellites. But the big chunk of rock hurtling by Earth tomorrow – big as a big high school gymnasium, big enough to take out a city if it hit – will pass 17,000 miles from Earth. A whisker in space terms.

The last time past it was a million and a half miles away. Asteroids can be lethal. Chicxulub took out the dinosaurs. Tunguska flattened Siberia. They may also be our path to the stars.

This hour, On Point: as a big one hurtles by, we’re looking at asteroids.

-Tom Ashbrook


Edward Lu, former NASA astronaut and founder, chairman, and CEO of the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the Earth from Asteroids. (@astroedlu)

J. Kelly Beatty, senior contributing editor at Sky and Telescope magazine. (@nightskyguy)

From Tom’s Reading List

Slate (Phil Plait) “On Friday, Feb. 15, the Earth is going to get a very close shave by an asteroid. Called 2012 DA14, this 50 meter (160 foot) rock will pass just over 27,000 kilometers (17,000 miles) from the Earth’s surface. This is closer than our geosynchronous satellites, so this really is a close pass!”

Discovery News “The non-profit Space Data Association, which shares satellite-tracking information among its member organizations and companies, said it had looked at the asteroid’s projected flight path and determined none of the spacecraft monitored in its network would be impacted, chairman Ron Busch told Discovery News.”

MarketWatch “Scientists at Deep Space Industries have put a value on an asteroid set to buzz past Earth this week of $195 billion, according to a published report on Networkworld. The number comes from estimates of the value of any recoverable water on the asteroid — worth as much as $65 billion as fuel in space — plus the value of nickel, iron and other metals — worth as much as $130 billion as construction materials.”

NASA Video of DA14′s Close Call


Asteroid Gallery

How to Watch the Asteroid on Friday

Kelly Beatty’s Clay Center Observatory


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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    It’s about time we took an asteroid threat seriously. It is also time to harvest the vast riches the asteroids have to offer and end poverty, permanently ! Quit talking about change and do something meaningful.


    Reduce launch cost by producing a space-plane to take us from a landing strip to orbit on the cheap, let robotic miners do the dangerous work. Read the part about reducing launch cost to 5 million per flight. This is just the beginning.

    See Reaction Engines of England.






    Additional Related Comments:

    This comet may be brighter than the Full Moon in 2013.


    Consider this idea to really get “things” going.

    Take any (only one at this time ) meaningful celestial object that could be mined or lived on someday. Divide it up into parcels of, say, 8 billion, ( more than the number of people on the Earth), assign each person a parcel. Let each person buy or sell or trade their parcel in a free market, property-tax free for approximately 30 years, for a very small trading fee. Use that trading fee to advance the development of colonization or mining or …. This sure would help a lot of poor people and get the world economy moving. Of course it would probably lead to an extremely advanced civilization. I hope that is OK with all of you. Is it ?
    It may me time to quit talking about a minimum wage and start working toward a MAXIMUM wage for all of us !


    • sickofthechit

       Robert A. Heinlein had this idea for the earth in one of his early books.  Under his system we are each born with a “legacy”  of the earth’s resources as it were that pays for our care, upkeep, or education and frees us to pursue whatever activity interests us.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        sounds like communism

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      It is also time to harvest the vast riches the asteroids have to offer and end poverty, permanently ! And how would that help the 1%ers? poverty exists not from a lack of natural resources.

      • Wm_James_from_Missouri

        Sarcasm can make us feel good temporarily but will not solve any problems. Poverty is by its very nature due to disparities in resources of all types. The development of space will force the development of all types of technologies and minds.

  • jefe68

    Maybe we can should send Ted Nugent and 
    Wayne LaPierre into space so they can shoot it.

  • Coastghost

    Large astronomy question for at least one of your guests but unrelated to potential asteroid-Earth collisions: WHEN EXACTLY this year are the latest Planck anisotropy probe all-sky CMB data to be released? I’m highly curious to learn whether the data will support the “dark flow” hypothesis of Kashlinsky, et al., whether in fact we are hurtling at +600 km/s velocity into the maw of the Norma Cluster, the Great Attractor, and/or the Shapley Supercluster. (Just in case some undetected asteroid nudges the approaching fly-by into the Indian Ocean, I’d like to know whether billions of years down the road, our residue will in fact be exiting the known universe.)

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    It’s about time we invested high-tech seed money in preserving our planet rather than perfecting its destruction.

    • Coastghost

      Science giveth, science taketh away.

  • Shag_Wevera

    I’d like to know exactly what we’d do if one of them was going to hit us.  I’m sure the plan exists, I’d just like to hear it.

    • harverdphd

       Get under your desk, put your head between your legs, and….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Spitalnik/606120925 Jason Spitalnik

    Will it be visible?  From where on earth?  And what time?

    • http://profiles.google.com/rickevans033050 Rick Evans

      Unfortunately it passes US during the daytime. At its brightest it should be magnitude 7.4 according to Space.com which would have made it easy at night with binoculars.

  • DeJay79

    After it passes Earth where will it go and what will happen to DA14?

    Is it likely to return?

  • Coastghost

    How did it acquire such a stark N/S trajectory (relative to Earth and the general plane of our solar system)? Also: though it is predicted to miss the planet, if it’s passing within the orbits of our artificial satellites, what are the chances it could take out a satellite?

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      its supposed to go between two “layers” of satalites

  • sickofthechit

    I heard on NPR last night that to divert an asteroid all we need do is to paint one side of it white so its solar gain would actually cause it to fly along an altered path.  I guess we could paint some appropriate greeting for the planet our diversion caused it to eventually run into….with infinity anything is possible.

  • sickofthechit

    I asked an extremely knowledgeable person last night why we weren’t sending an unpersonned probe to land on the asteroid and hitch a ride.  He said how do I know we aren’t.  Anyone know anything on this?

  • fakerbarker

    What’s the confidence interval associated with the estimated distance this asteroid is suppossed to pass over Earth?

  • ToyYoda

    The prevailing theory of how the Moon formed was that an object the size of Mars slammed into Earth, obliterating about half of the Earth which had to re-coalesce and part of it became the Moon.  Can you ask your  guest, how do we protect ourselves against such a catastrophe?

    • harverdphd

      I can’t stop laughing…you made my day!

  • originalname37

    Just think: If we were to avert a collision by a would-be mass-extinction-causing asteroid, humans would suddenly be in the *plus* column for our effect on the survival other species of the Earth.

  • http://twitter.com/SCremedy scott compton

    I’m a filmmaker in SF.  I just worked with Ed Lu on a 30min doc about him and his asteroid hunting that is airing on CNN Sunday.  He is working to launch his space telescope to track and warn.  Here’s the link to the promo for it.  


  • Bruce Hooke

    When he said we did not know about this asteroid in time to divert it if we had wanted to, is that because we would have had to have diverted it on, say, its previous pass near earth, or because it would just take too long to get the necessary spaceship up there to divert it as it approaches earth this time?

  • AC

    i just came in. can’t believe mining companies are ready, willing and able to give it a go…..i’d do it.

  • ToyYoda

    Is it possible to mistake an asteroid/comet to hit the Earth and  be mistaken for a nuclear blast?  (And subsequently start a nuclear war that ends mankind?)

  • ToyYoda

    Is it possible to mistake an asteroid/comet to hit the Earth and  be mistaken for a nuclear blast?  (And subsequently start a nuclear war that ends mankind?)

    • harverdphd

       We can only hope and pray

      • Coastghost

        Hmmm: for or against?

    • ExcellentNews

      Luckily, asteroid impacts do not release gamma ray bursts, which is one of the things orbiting warning stations watch for. Of course, if a big one hits, we will not have to worry about any more wars…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1424976479 Allen Horner

    Any comments what the tangent will be when it passes. What area of earth would be the impact point but for it missing us?

  • DrewInGeorgia

    Ninjas in spaaaaaaaace!

  • JobExperience

    Are they sure this is an asteroid?
    It could be the giant corprolite the FED has been dreading.
    Impact could burst all the financial bubbles at once.
    What goes around comes around.

  • Deborah1926

    Will we be able to see the asteroid, what time is it passing the earth on Friday?

    • Antieeve

      You need binoculars and to be in the right place.

  • Wahoo_wa

    Global warming caused near earth asteroids.  It’s on the news.  It must be true.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_j5PMvI1HSQ

    • harverdphd

       Too late now…the galaxy is pissed

  • drbitboya

    Dr. Jay Melosh, Purdue University, has suggested that, for the KT event 65My ago, damage was done by ejecta being thrown into space and heating (conversion of kinetic energy) on reentry.  The net effect was that every point on the earth was under a 500degF broiler for at least 2h.

    ETA: and the top 10cm of the ocean were boiled off.

  • DrewInGeorgia

    “We’re publicly funded so we’re putting the data out there”
    Bravo Edward Lu! How many problems could we solve if this approach was taken Globally as opposed to the “Keep it Private, Keep it Profitable!” model?

    • harverdphd

       Not many if the bullet has your name on it.

    • ExcellentNews

      The law mandates that any data from federally funded research be put in the public domain. Of course, these laws were enacted in times when Congress was not populated by corporate pansies and uneducated dimwits.

  • Antieeve

    I listened to the show this morning, just a bit ago. I find the information about the 1% of asteroids being “watched” to be rather frightening! And when that scientist said it was too late to do anything about this one if it were headed for Earth due to not knowing about it until a year ago…..yikes and yee gads!

    • harverdphd

       Kinda puts climate change in perspective, don’t it….

  • Jim Cant

    This interesting discussion mentioned ‘calculating’ the new orbit of an asteriod after its orbit is perturbed.  I suspect the calculation is trivial; the hard part is getting observations on the new orbit.
    Can someone comment on how much of (a 360 degree) orbit needs to be observed to make a confident determination of the orbit.  What difference does the orientation of the observation make; i.e. if the line of sight is tangential or perpendicular to the asteroid’s orbit?
        Also, the B612 guest mentioned their telescope was “100x” better than “all other telescopes combined”.  How does one combine telescopes?

    • ExcellentNews

      Neither calculations nor observations are trivial. A good book to appreciate this would be “Principles of Astrodynamics” by Richard H. Battin (graduate-level course as to how orbits are calculated). Of course, today the procedures are automated so the technical complexity is largely invisible, even to the astronomer.
      To determine an orbit with sufficient precision for the purposes of predicting impact is rather difficult, because even small unavoidable measurement uncertainties can translate into significant difference in the end result. A line of sight that is perpendicular to the orbit results in the smallest possible uncertainty, and so is having a long time window for observations. 

  • harverdphd

    OMG!  12/21/12….they were  SO CLOSE!!!


  • http://profiles.google.com/barry.kort Barry Kort

    Events like this are fun to think about.

    Some years ago I wrote this piece, part whimsy, part math, part science, part political commentary on this kind of threat.

    “System Doom”


  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EJPSR7B6BVG2EXE56QLCTZZFKM Om Colasante

    I love your show!  I have a suggestion for a topic.  I am a family doctor and I’ve just closed my medical clinic because I couldn’t find doctors or nurse-practitioners who would work for me after the government raided me in June 2010, taking all the medical charts, supplies, and money.  That was 20 months ago.  There’s been no indictment, no action on the case, despite a hearing at which I requested that the affidavits be opened so I could know what I was charged with (I was denied).  Government agents have incredible latitude, since the War on Terrorism and HIPAA, to raid and wreck businesses in the name of keeping America safe (but really, to take back money for the empty federal coffers).  Four other similarly-raided businesses and I are undertaking a class-action type lawsuit against the government.  We are:  me (Colasante Clinic–FL), Gibson Guitar–TN, Midamor Meatpacking–Iowa, and Mountain Pure Water (AK).  I am certain the other plaintiffs would be eager to participate in a radio interview, if you find it of interest.  My blog about my experience is: solodocssolong.blogspot.com.  Gibson Guitar also has a blog, with a description of the government’s actions against the company.  Mountain Pure Water created a youtube reenactment of the raid at their facility, which is very similar to the one at my medical clinic–it can be found on youtube at Rampant InJustice.  If any of this sounds like good interview material, please contact me at 352-481-9378, or email me at ocolasante@yahoo.com, or colasanteona@gmail.com.  Thanks, and keep up the fantastic work!

    • jefe68

      hmmm… And the this is the fault of asteroids. 

  • Steve__T

    Large meteor strikes Russia. While we are watching the Asteroid coming from the south, that a smaller 10 ton meteor hit from the north. WOW!  

    BBC report:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21468116

    • JGC

      Amazing! What a coincidence to hear this timely show, eh?

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