Saturday, 8 June 2013

10:50 – Frances is visiting Dutch today, so Barbara and I are taking the day off to build science kits. She’s out in the den now, watching Private Practice on Netflix streaming while she tapes up bundles of wood splints. When I ordered 10 boxes of 500 splints, I figured that’d last us a long time. Now, as it turns out, it may not last out this year.

Among other things, we’re putting together 57 small parts bags for the chemistry kits. We’d planned to do 60, but as it turns out we had only 57 9V batteries in stock. So I need to order a few hundred more of those. And some more wood splints.

Last year at this time, I noticed while working in the unfinished area of the basement how humid it was down there. I thought about buying a dehumidifier then, but never got around to it. Barbara is running some errands this afternoon, so she’s going to stop at Lowes or Home Depot and pick one up. It’s comfortably cool down there, but the humidity must be up around 80% or 90%.

14:24 – The most recent NEO missed us, as we knew it would. Still, this one, an object somewhere between the sizes of a garbage truck and a large house, passed closer than the moon’s orbit. If you consider that earth’s diameter is about 8,000 miles and the moon’s orbital diameter is about 480,000 miles, then if the moon’s orbit is the outer ring and earth the bulls-eye, that makes the diameter of the bulls-eye about 1.67% that of the entire target and the area something like 0.03%. Considering the object to be a point, that means that if you know only that a large object is going to pass inside the moon’s orbit, there’s still only a tiny probability that it will strike earth, something like 3 in 10,000. Still, given the disturbing frequency of these NEOs, we should be doing a lot more to track them and to devise and implement planetary defenses. As things stand, an object large enough to wipe out civilization may not be detected until a few weeks before impact, too late to do anything but have the party to end all parties, literally.

The farther out an object can be detected, the less force must be applied to it to make it miss the planet. All that needs to be done is to change the velocity–speed, direction, or both–slightly to cause the object to miss. How the velocity changes–faster, slower, up/down, left/right–doesn’t matter. Any change is effective, as long as it’s great enough that the orbit of the object no longer intersects our own orbit when we’re at the same point the object would otherwise have been. A high-power laser impinging on such an object may alter its velocity (orbit) in one or both of two ways. First, if the object is distant enough and the laser is powerful enough, light pressure alone can be sufficient. That works even on metallic objects that don’t ablate significantly. Second, on objects that contain frozen gases, the impinging laser causes outgassing, thereby altering the orbit.

I don’t see how anyone can dispute that it’s long past time that we had some serious space-based planetary-defense assets up there, including an array of nuclear-powered beam weapons. The US government currently wastes trillions of dollars on programs that are simply money down a rathole. It’s time they started investing in real infrastructure, before a planet-killer shows up. We should fund it ourselves if we must, but we should also encourage the rest of the first world to participate, both in funding it and in developing and deploying these planetary assets.

10 thoughts on “Saturday, 8 June 2013”

  1. NASA Radar Shows Near-Earth Asteroid Bringing Its Own Moon:

    Reminds me of a short story by Alan Dean Foster about aliens visiting the Earth for their war skills and turn off the field containing the Earthies. The Earthies then follow them out of the Solar System and bring the moon. One of the aliens quips “I guess over time you get attached to your moon”.

    NASA is going to be able to tell us about a week before we all die. The rocks coming in above or below the ecliptic plane are the worrisome as they hard to detect for some reason.

  2. All this assumes that the world is worth saving.

    It also almost assumes that any State entity like our own will be able to muster up the political will and finances to undertake a project of this magnitude in these days and times. They seem capable of doing it for endless wars, and they once upon a time had NASA going pretty good, but I have serious doubts now. Especially considering that our economy is gonna tank and hit the Great Default at some point; no one will be worrying about errant NEOs.

    Oh, and our Texas friend made a huge assumption: that NASA will even tell us anything prior to a hit. We’re all gonna die but our idiot State will be worried about mass panic, guaranteed.

  3. NASA has smaller fish to fry: CO2 accumulation & global warming.

  4. On the subject of our tax dollars at waste, what dollar spent by NASA was not wasted?

  5. Western Europe didn’t want to spend much money to help defend against as immediate and dangerous threat as the Soviet Empire. Are they really going to write a check for the sort of scheme our kindly host proposes? And which countries, exactly, are going to cut their welfare state spending to pay for it? Or would they just raise their already high taxes, causing capital, knowledge, and talent to flee?

  6. This could be a real hoot: watch the State, as exemplified by our own gang of criminal thugs and degenerate chickenhawk sons of bitches and bloodthirsty Lady MacBeth bitches, do the following:

    Cut welfare to the most vulnerable and defenseless and then tell the middle class, us, that it’s our fault. Then raise taxes again on us and spend it frivolously and foolishly, as is their wont, on dumbass global warming bullshit that hasn’t got a prayer of affecting anything. At some point during all that, a piece of rock from space hits the earth like a .22 Magnum hitting a rotten apple.

    I, for one, will be LMAO all the way to Hell or Purgatory.

  7. There are efforts underway to find and catalog NEAs that are a threat, started fairly recently. NASA had been asking for money for this for years, but Congress refused. IIRC, they have done a fairly comprehensive sweep for larger bodies, and have ruled out most probable planet-killers. City killers like the near miss in Russia are still not well surveyed – they take the most sensitive instruments to find.

    The most interesting method for deflecting asteroids is the “gravity tractor”. You send a spacecraft to rendezvous with the asteroid and fly alongside it. The gravitational force of the spacecraft will deflect the orbit enough to make it miss. However, you need years of advance warning.

    And forget using nukes to deflect the asteroid. All you might do is turn a planet killer into a swarm of continent and city killers.

    If you could capture and park an asteroid in orbit near earth, in one of the Earth-Moon libration points it could be mined. A reasonable sized metallic asteroid might contain enough platinum group metals to supply industrial needs for years. And make some investors really, really rich. A carbonaceous chondrite could contain a large amount of water, which can be used to make rocket fuel, provide life support consumables in orbit.

  8. On the subject of our tax dollars at waste, what dollar spent by NASA was not wasted?

    One NASA program has paid for the entire space program many times over: weather satellites. (Weather sats are run by NOAA, but NASA builds them and pays to have them put in orbit.)

  9. ech wrote:

    “And forget using nukes to deflect the asteroid. All you might do is turn a planet killer into a swarm of continent and city killers.”

    A single planet killer heading for anywhere on earth is very bad news, no matter where it hits. Some will ablate in the atmosphere but not enough to make a difference. If it gets nuked far enough away several good things might happen:

    Many of the resulting city killers might land somewhere harmless, or even desirable, like Mecca or the wilds of Kanukistan. Some might just head off somewhere else in the solar system. And all those thousands or millions of chunks will ablate in the atmosphere separately, exposing a greater surface area than if it was intact. And if we’re lucky they’ll try setting off a nuke far enough away that it won’t shatter the NEO, just push it somewhere else.

    The most desirable action is to send a space shuttle full of politicians to it with a snorkel to direct all their hot air at the NEO. That’d destroy it for sure.

  10. The most desirable action is to send a space shuttle full of politicians to it with a snorkel to direct all their hot air at the NEO.

    Wouldn’t work. The politicians talk out of so many corners of their mouths and all of them in different directions the effects of any such gusts of worthless hot air would cancel the other streams of worthless breath. The effect is to nullify any such effort.

    The only good point is the we get the politicians off this planet and make them someone else’s problem. We at least rid the earth of one problem. So if we all perish we perish knowing we did something worthwhile.

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