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A working observatory which tracks "near-Earth objects" (bbc.com)
67 points by MindGods 15 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 21 comments

I made a silly Twitter bot, @lowflyingrocks, that announces close passes of NEOs.


It tweets everything within 0.2AU at the moment of minimum distance. Not that close, but enough to keep it regular.

Every now and again there’s a good one!


It’s written in Elixir, code over here:


Would be nice if it also rendered an animated GIF showing how close it went.

I can't imagine how large a .2AU GIF would be.

This appears to be a human interest piece (specifically a local Welsh one) rather than science journalism. A quick check of the Wikipedia page for "Asteroid impact avoidance" indicates that this is a well-established and well-funded field, and that the lone hero narrative is for effect only.

It would have been interesting to know what people inside the field think - is it like some areas of astronomy where having lots of amateur eyes on the problem is key? Or is this guy sort of a crank?

Astronomy is one of the few places amateurs still regularly make significant contributions. The Planetary Society has a grant program specifically meant to give financial support to amateurs and professionals doing work in this field.

> The world's professional sky surveys alone cannot handle the burden of finding and tracking the estimated 10 million NEOs larger than 20 meters, the size of the asteroid that hit Chelyabinsk, Russia and caused city-wide damage. That's where our Shoemaker grant winners come in. They find new NEOs, track and measure existing ones, and contribute to the field of asteroid science by determining characteristics like spin rates and whether one asteroid is actually a binary pair.

$440,000 across 62 grants to date.


Lots of questions from a layman.

What's our level of confidence that we'll be able to find something that can wipe out cities or civilization?

What's our percentage of detection? Does it vary by size, velocity, and orbit?

How much lead time do we have? Years? Days? Hours?

What can we do about it?

Will we ever attain a complete picture of asteroids in orbit? (Assuming there are no collisions that alter trajectories?)

What's the probability we'll be hit by something big within our lifetime?

Answers from a layperson, while you wait for a proper answer:

1. Low, and high, respectively.

2. Almost all very big stuff, most big stuff, some medium stuff and very little small stuff, where "medium" is around the size of the Chelyabinsk one (~20m).

3. Decades for very big stuff, years for big stuff, very very variable for everything else.

4. Nothing. Plenty, in theory, but we haven't got around to setting any of it up yet. Knocking them sideways so they miss us is the current best bet, iirc.

5. No.

6. Low, assuming you're not going to live past your 90s (which is a potentially dubious assumption).

> this is a well-established and well-funded field

I’ve been following this topic for many decades and I’ve never once heard anyone say that. Last I checked, there were like 30 people on the entire planet looking for NEOs, and they are either volunteering or getting paid very little to do it. I hope that I’m wrong.

Also, there are so many objects that the idea of checking them one at a time is not practical. They are best found and tracked by automated systems.

The article strangely neglected to mention that June 30 is Asteroid Day:


“Asteroid Day aims to raise awareness about asteroids and what can be done to protect the Earth, its families, communities, and future generations from a catastrophic event.”

My understanding is the amount of money we spend on this kind of defense is hilariously low. Like, less than the cost of running a McDonalds low.

NASA has a mandate to address the NEO problem. See https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/

The main tool is change detection in robotic optical telescope surveys, which have scientific uses as well.

When I was a pre-teen I witnessed a phenomenal event that I never saw discussed on the evening news the next day. I saw a meteor skip off the atmosphere.

It was the summertime (northern hemisphere) around the year 1982. I was 'camping' in the backyard with a friend and while we were running around the neighbourhood we saw a very large rocky object in space.

We were facing south and at an angle between 20-45 degrees above the horizon there was a large (size of tennis ball at arm's length) orange-red object covered in impact craters moving towards the horizon. The object bounced twice and then disappeared in a westerly direction past the horizon. The bounce (or skip) was small (maybe half the diameter of the meteor).

The most interesting bits that stick out to me 40+ years later:

-It was a very bright and clear orange/red. (Which I now know is because it was in the Earths shadow like during a lunar eclipse.)

-It was covered in impact craters. As distinct and varied as you see on the moon.

> -It was covered in impact craters. As distinct and varied as you see on the moon.

Are you sure you aren't misremembering or embellishing your memory? That's an incredible level of detail. That sort of resolution isn't even seen in the Chelyabinsk meteor (it was a fireball), and that created a lot of physical damage.

> there was a large (size of tennis ball at arm's length) orange-red object covered in impact craters moving towards the horizon.

That's obscenely large. Something that massive would have caused all sorts of damage. People would have noticed.

I was asking myself the same questions, also how can it bounce twice, it would have to be an elliptical orbit to bounce twice on a spherical (convex) atmosphere

I of course have to conceed to the possibility that I am not remembering it accurately; I sincerely don't think so.

I don't think it entered the atmosphere (I never witnessed any atmospheric entry flames or fireball, I think it missed us (which is why I'm bringing it up here related to 'Near Earth' items.

you probably saw something, do you still have contact with the friend? does he recall the event?

regarding embellishment, if 2 people witness a fleeting (not immediately explainable event) observation, they will typically confirm having also seen facet X or property Y, for not wanting to have missed out, when such a thing happens its best that all parties immediately write down for themselves in as much detail as they can what they think they saw "lock the doors" without consulting each other.

I still remember Armageddon intro: "It happen before and will happen again. It's just a question of when?"

Yeah. True then, and true now.

You could say the same about pandemics. People have warned - but nothing really happens until the threat is imminent.

There's some fun stuff we could be doing re the asteroids. Maybe send a mission up to deflect a non threatening one to check the tech works. If Musk's starship gets working that could provide a platform to lug some asteroid deflecting tech into orbit.

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