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, 18 September 2013

Small... far away



Exciting news this week; asteroid 2013 RZ53, discovered only five days ago, will be flying by tonight less than two thirds of a lunar distance away.

Sadly for those of an apocaholic disposition, the celestial body about to inflict a near miss upon us would probably fit comfortably into your sitting room and, anyway, would almost certainly burn up on impact long before it crashed through your roof.

It's amazing to think that asteroid detection has now reached such a level of detail that objects less than three metres across can be spotted hundreds of thousands of miles away.

At the opposite end of the scale, the impressive 230km-wide 324 Bamberga passed us last Friday at  the rather more respectful distance of just over 120 million miles.

So which is the more interesting; the near approach of the undeniably dinky RZ53 or the dignified progress of the distant Behemoth? Judging by the coverage, it's more or less a dead heat.

Human nature being what it is, this is merely an extension of the principle that governs our news media; stories are prioritised through an unwritten calculation of scale and distance. The further away the event, the larger it has to be to attract our attention.

It's hardly surprising that our principal concern with asteroids has to be how they affect us, so, perhaps, we should be worried that, of the ten most recent Near Earth Objects (admittedly 'near' in this case means at a distance of between 886,000 and 27,000,000 km), six were  discovered only this year.

Or perhaps, at least here in the Tavern, we should simply for get about it and salute RZ53 in our customary way.

'Drink!'

2 comments:

  1. My super volcanoes are bigger than your asteroids. So there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Exciting news this week; asteroid 2013 RZ53, discovered only five days ago, will be flying by tonight less than two thirds of a lunar distance away.

    Now, just have to get above the clouds to see it.

    ReplyDelete