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

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Fly-by night

After a quiet few weeks, the Tavern doors are open again to celebrate the 27-metre wide 2014 WC201, which passed a mere 540,000km above our heads this morning too early, in the UK at least, for anything but a bleary wave.

For those sorry to have missed it - though you could always have a drink to speed it on its way - there may be consolation on the way in the shape of the 2014 WX202, a mere 5m tiddler in cosmic terms but due to pass 380,000km away on the 7th at the decidedly more congenial time of 7.56pm.

I say 'may' because, rather embarrassingly, its low relative velocity and trajectory suggest that this latter visitor may not be quite as extra-terrestrial in origin as originally thought.

Along with the space-rocks, there's a fair bit of our own litter out there and it's quite possible that 2014 WX202 is actually a bit of orbiting scrap like the one temporarily mistaken for an asteroid last year in the spacegoing equivalent of an angler landing an old boot.

If Professor Hawking's predictions about artificial intelligence are accurate, our future robot masters are likely to find us more than a little risible (always assuming they have developed something that passes for a sense of humour); we shove a load of metal into an interesting variety of orbits, then get all excited thinking it's an asteroid when it sails past - at least until we discover it's coated in titanium paint.

And should ET and his chums be out there, it's a fair bet they will take one look at the assorted scrap metal that litters our immediate environment and decided that we really aren't the sort of beings they want to get acquainted with, at least until we've done some housework.


Update: The Astronomer Royal, former astronaut Ed Lu and Queen guitarist Brian May have just unveiled plans for a global Asteroid Awareness Day on 30th June 2015. While we like to think that, here in the Tavern, every day is Asteroid Awareness Day, we certainly aren't going to pass up the excuse for a massive party!

4 comments:

  1. So in mid late June we will be getting a big hit then?

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  2. Demetrius, although the date was chosen to commemorate the Tunguska event, there happens to be a significant flyby the week before; 2010 NY65 is about 200m in diameter and will be passing by an estimated 7.6 lunar distances away.

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  3. I believe the nickname is Steptoe and Son?

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  4. That's certainly how it's starting to look, JH.

    Alternatively there's the imagery of James Blish's 'Cities in Flight', in which entire terrestrial cities lift off and travel the galaxy, camping out at handy Lagrange points to exploit local resources, with the evocative municipal motto, "Mow your lawn, lady?"

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