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

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Quote of the day - Armageddon edition

NASA Chief Charles Bolden, asked what NASA would do if a large asteroid headed on a collision course with Earth was discovered today with only three weeks before impact:
"If it's coming in three weeks, pray."
Startled into action by recent events that saw our normally quiet area of the solar system transformed into a cosmic shooting gallery, members of the US House of Representatives have been asking awkward questions at a specially-convened hearing.

There seemed to be a slightly aggrieved tone to the proceedings, as if these celestial fragments somehow constitute a deliberate personal affront to the Land of the Free, though it may simply have been a result of the mental contortions required to comprehend the relative probabilities and level of consequences involved.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, said it was "not reassuring" to learn that NASA has so far detected only about 10 percent of the near-Earth objects that are wider than 459 feet (140 meters) across.
It's funny, the way an asteroid or two whizzing past seems to focus the mind; a decade or so ago, asteroid detection was seen as a low priority by comparison with other more pressing issues, the sort of subject better suited to Hollywood or the occasional joke (see our own Lembit Opik). Small wonder NASA are feeling rather hard-done-by:
"You all told us to do something, and between the administration and the Congress, the bottom line is the funding did not come."
There has been plenty of research, of course, and passing rocks are being discovered and named at an impressive rate - always good news for those of us who regard a flyby as an excuse for a party -  but it's clear that the recent near-misses have drawn attention to the fact that, while we may see them coming, there's precious little any of us can do about it.

7 comments:

  1. Interesting development. There are real threats out there, so maybe one day we'll quit inventing imaginary ones.

    Is space.com a good site to keep tabs on this kind of thing?

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  2. Pray? Oooooh, he'll catch hell for that one!

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  3. AKH, it often carries relevant news stories in more depth than the MSM, though how often it is updated can vary, as can which stories it chooses to cover - there was a surprising silence around the time of the fireball/DA14.


    Julia, in the land of political 'prayer breakfasts' they might just take him literally.

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  4. In other news, Arthur C Clarke might have been onto something:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21341176

    "All these worlds are yours, save Europa. Attempt no landing there."

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  5. Julia, thanks!

    Clarke already has a significantly higher 'strike rate' than many other SF writers; perhaps recent events will see the re-release of 'The Hammer of God', a 1993 novel that brings together the twin perils of an approaching asteroid and destructive religious fanaticism.

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  6. I think it would be quite fun to see where it hit.

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  7. JH, sort of like the National Lottery, but in reverse?

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