Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 27 January 2012

Where's Lembit Opik when we need him?

A busy afternoon but I couldn't let this one pass unremarked. Opik may have strayed from his erstwhile preoccupation but some of us are still watching the skies:

An asteroid will pass by the Earth on Friday in something of a cosmic near-miss, making its closest approach at about 1600 GMT.

At its closest, the space rock - named 2012 BX34 - will pass within about 60,000km of Earth - less than a fifth of the distance to the Moon.

A near thing, in cosmic terms, but a long way from sending us the way of the dinosaurs; in any case, the asteroid in question, first detected on Wednesday, is a mere 11m in diameter.

There seems to have been some uncertainty about its exact path:

Earlier estimates put the asteroid's closest distance at as little as 20,000km, near the distance at which geostationary satellites reside, but observations overnight showed it will pass at a more comfortable distance.

That's quite a difference; the predictability of Newtonian mechanics is all very well but you can only calculate with the observational data you have available - in this case, that has evidently been subject to a certain amount of revision.

"It's one of the top 20 closest approaches recorded," said Gareth Williams, associate director of the US-based Minor Planet Center.

So quite a rare occurrence, then? Er, no; according to a NASA statement last year, an object of this size can be expected to come this close to Earth about every 6 years or so, on average. They may want to rethink that calculation, though...

The asteroid's path makes it the closest space-rock to pass by the Earth since object 2011 MD in June 2011.

That one, you may recall, passed us by at 12,000km, while in September 2010, one whizzed by a more generous 80,000km away. Certainly these are vast distances when you're talking about a rock a few metres in diameter, but it does suggest there are quite a few of the things up there.

So for all the apocaholics out there, don't worry; there'll be another one along soon! Meanwhile, we in the Tavern always regard a passing asteroid as the perfect excuse for a party; feel free to join us in spirit (or spirits).


  1. Remember seeing Halley'sout at the country property of a friend and I believe a certain amount was imbibed that night as well.

  2. The interval of Halley's is about as depressing as it gets - you don't mind knowing you'll never see Hale-Bopp again (expected interval c.2,500 years) but with Halley's, some might just squeeze two sightings into a lifetime; musing on your chances is a gloomy business.

    This memento mori sounds like an excellent reason to open a bottle.

  3. What do asteroids have to do with trying to have sex with one of the Cheeky Girls?

  4. Nice one, Demetrius; come to think of it, it's a hell of a way to go - vaporised at the bottom of a smoking crater...

    MW, it seems odd thse days to think that Opik was once a rather nerdy aspiring Liberal politician with an inherited asteroid obsession and a sensible meteorologist girlfriend; as an example of the corrupting influence of celebrity, his story takes some beating.

  5. Wonder if he had both of them or just the one. Dolly Sisters spring to mind.

  6. They do indeed, JH, though one mught argue that Lembit was less of a catch than the big cheese of Selfridges.

  7. And then we have these!

    Keep watching the skies!