2036 Party Over (What, Again?)
Vol: 65 Issue: 20 Tuesday, February 20, 2007
It wasn’t that long ago that the world was holding its collective breath in anticipation of “Planet X” — also dubbed “Death Star 2003.”
There was lots of breathless speculation about gravitational disturbances causing 200 mph winds, catastrophic seismic disturbances including violent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and even a 90 degree shift in the polar axis that would turn the planet over onto its side.
There were lots of important-sounding scientific explanations offered by important-sounding scientists about magnetic pull, repulsion forces, gravitational influences and, of course, the inevitable charges of conspiracies and coverups in high places.
“Death Star 2003” was scheduled to wreak its havoc upon Planet Earth in June, 2003.
June 2003 ended on schedule. The destruction of three-fourths of humanity was rescheduled by NASA for 2036. The deadline for avoiding destruction was moved forward to Friday the 13th in April 2029. After that, it is too late to do anything but get your affairs in order — or buy a really big umbrella.
The new Doomsday Rock threat is Asteroid 99942 Apophis. (Let me be the first to point out that “999” is “666” upside down.)
The “999” Rock (unless gravity reverses itself and makes it the “666” Rock) was discovered last June (June. Again. Hmmm.) and at first, the fear was that it would hit the earth on Friday the 13th, 2029. But later, NASA recalculated it and decided Doomsday would instead happen in 2036.
(It reminds me of a Henny Youngman joke. “The doctor gave me six months to live. I told him I couldn’t pay his bill in only six months. So he gave me ANOTHER six months.” Bada bing!)
As it turns out, we only have until Friday the 13th of April, 2029 to send Bruce Willis and his team into outer space to deflect it. According to NASA, the “999” Rock will have to be deflected by about a half-mile to avoid colliding with Earth on its next pass in 2036.
If it isn’t moved by 2029, the only hope of avoiding collision will require moving it a distance equal to the circumference of the earth. Evidently, one is doable, the other is not.
NASA’s review of the issue was triggered by a letter from the B612 Foundation, (which has no relationship to the vitamin of the same name).
According to the Christian Science Monitor, the foundation’s handful of specialists hope to demonstrate controlled asteroid-diversion techniques by 2015. (Bruce Willis had only a handful of oil drillers on his team. Great things can be done with just a ‘handful’ — if they have the Right Stuff.)
Representatives from the B612 Foundation (the astronomers, not the vitamins) have already met with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to “review the issue” — according to a report in a July 2005 issue of the Christian Science Monitor.
“We understand the risk from this object, and while it’s small, it’s not zero,” says David Morrison, the senior scientist at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute at the Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.
(Actually, it is one in fifteen thousand, give or take a decimal point.)
Noted the Monitor’s Peter Spotts, “The call for a reconnaissance mission also illustrates how far the field of asteroid-hazard assessment has come.”
There is a “field” called “asteroid-hazard assessment”? Sure is.
They wear cool uniforms with a logo of an exploding planet embossed on their pocket-protectors and they have yellow helmets with a flashing red light mounted on them.
(Ok. You got me. I made that part up)
Noted Donald Yeomans, the head of NASA’s NEO project at JPL, “Ten years ago, we would have been blissfully ignorant.”
But thanks to the emergence of at least FIVE different world-wide NEO projects (Near Earth Objects) there will be no bliss for you.
If the “999” asteroid doesn’t get you, one of the other NEO’s being tracked by NASA might. NASA claims it will have catalogued 90 percent of the potential killers larger than a kilometer by 2008.
(This raises a couple of new questions for those of us who remain blissfully ignorant. How will they know they have 90 percent of them if they don’t know how many they are? And how do they know they will have reached that goal by 2008 if they don’t know now?)
That’s easy. They fill in the blanks by guessing. I mean, by considering “several factors.”
Noted the Christian Science Monitor, “JPL’s analysis will look at several factors. One involves estimating whether additional ground observations will be sufficient to resolve the question of whether the asteroid will pass through one of the keyholes. The asteroid belongs to a class known as Atens, which orbit the sun in less than a year and pass through Earth’s orbit.”
But it won’t be easy. That’s where the guessing comes in. . .
“Because Atens spend so much of their time in the direction of the Sun, observations from Earth are difficult. After next year, the next opportunity to gather data on the asteroid from the ground will come in 2012-2013.”
But we’d better hurry. Still quoting the Monitor;
“In addition, questions remain over how long a tagging mission – and if necessary a deflection mission – would take to plan and execute. If missions can be mounted in six years or less, NASA could postpone a decision to tag the asteroid until 2014.”
By postponing it, (still quoting) “This would give astronomers time to incorporate their latest observations as they refine calculations of Apophis’s orbit.”
Of course, the Monitor warns” . . . if a tagging mission took seven to eight years and a diversion mission took another 12 years, the case grows for launching the tagging mission sooner rather than later.”
In other words, something MUST be done. Soon.
We’ve spent much of the past three weeks wrapping our RV’s plumbing with insulation against freezing while we were in South Carolina and Florida while the world’s carefully selected weather forecasters confidently predicted global warming in fifty years or so that demands UN intervention sooner, if not later.
Since we were so vulnerable to sub-freezing temperatures, we kept a close eye on the five day forecasts. Not one of those five-day forecasts was accurate 48 hours later.
We can’t be sure what the actual temperature will be 48 hours from now, but we can bet our sovereignty that, if one adds forty-nine years and fifty weeks to the forecast, it will be 100% accurate.
The “999” Asteroid is like that. We’re not sure now, but we have five different global space agencies scanning the stars for the next killer asteroid like the one that destroyed all the dinosaurs 85 million years ago.
However, notes the Monitor, this isn’t a sure thing — not like global warming.
“Dr. Yeomans, the head of the near-Earth-object program at JPL, says the next step is to examine whether additional ground-based observations are likely to solve the collision riddle in a timely fashion.
“I can’t stress this enough: The overwhelming most-likely scenario is that radar and optical data this year and next or in 2012 and 2013 will completely remove the impact probabilities,” he says.”
“If this is the case, why are we worried now? If it’s a 1-in-15,000 shot and we come up a loser,” there’s still time to mount a tagging and a deflection mission, he says.”
In other words, “of course you know, we could be wrong.” But at least we aren’t blissfully ignorant.
If you are looking for sound investment advice, I am not sure which would be the better place to put your money. Giant space deflectors? Or heavy duty sun-block?
“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” (Luke 21:26-27)
Me, I’m betting on the next wave of anti-anxiety pills to hit the market. I’m headed out right now to ask my doctor which ones would be right for me.