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 26 November 2013

We will all fry together when we fry

You might like to give a cheery wave today to asteroid 2013NJ as it heads off into the distance following its close approach last night.

Of course, when I say close, I mean a mere 960,000 km away - two and a half times as far as the moon - but, when you're talking about a lump of rock up to 250m across, that's just a whisker in astronomical terms.

If there seem to have been a lot of the things about lately, that's largely because of the recent efforts of a number of observatories; of the ten close approaches last week (less than 30 million km away), five were by asteroids discovered in 2013.

The aim is to ensure that, should the Big One be headed our way, we get enough notice to do something about it. Former astronaut Ed Lu, CEO and co-founder of the B612 foundation dedicated to this cause, is optimistic that, given time, human intervention could deflect an earthbound asteroid.

After all, as he points out in an interview for Slooh.com, it's not as if we have any alternative:
"If you only have weeks or months, our only real practical thing we can do is evacuate the area. Now, if it's a large enough asteroid, we can't evacuate the earth. It's tough luck. And I personally think that as citizens of planet Earth we can do better than that."
Unfortunately - at least for those of a cynical disposition - Dr Lu seems to be of the opinion that that answer lies in global cooperation in the face of a mutual threat to humanity. To a scientist, it makes perfect sense:
"When something big - half a kilometer across - is going to hit the Earth, it's in everybody's best interests to move it."
I wish I shared his faith in human nature and the ability of politicians to see reason and act in concert for the good of mankind. The threat of global thermonuclear warfare may have abated but it's a sobering thought that we could all go the way of the dinosaurs because our political masters can't agree.


  1. I'm sure that all our political masters will immediately agree that we need to do something and mutual co-operation is the way to do it.

    Actually doing something though, will take so long th....

  2. Perhaps, Bucko - though a lot may depend on whether a proportion of the global population views the asteroid as a manifestation of divine will.

    The prospect of belligerent End-Timers (of any religious persuasion) trying, with politics or brute force, to sabotage the efforts is not at all out of the question...


  3. I expect this will be the next reason to take all our money and boss us about.

    After all, they have to do something when the gobal warming bollocks finally hits the buffers.

  4. I agree with Weekend Yachtsman. If UN bureaucrats get hold of it we may be unpleasantly surprised by their ingenuity.

  5. But was it this that caused the fire at London Bridge signal box? Knocking out the system for that station, Charing Cross and Waterloo East (not main) for hours. Chaos reigned and it got ugly. We left forty minutes before it happened. Near miss as you might say.

  6. WY, as well as distracting the populace from the holes in the global warming argument and justifying unpopular policies, an impending asteroid impact would provide the ultimate opportunity to bury bad news; when it happens, it might be an idea to scrutinise the latter pages of the newspapers carefully.

    AKH, I don't think anything done by an organisation which can appoint Tony Blair to a position of responsibility could come as a surprise, however unpleasant.

    Demetrius, difficult to tell, what with all the solar upheavals going on at the moment.

  7. The Beeb this afternoon was salivating at the comet due to approach the Sun this weekend. If it makes it past, it might be quite a lightshow!


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