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Tags comets , meteors

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Old 16th February 2013, 03:07 PM   #1
Travis
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Should we have a meteor/comet interdiction program?

This came up in one of the other threads but I thought it deserved its own line of discussion.

Do you think there should be a program of ongoing meteor/comet interdiction?

Personally I am thinking of a small program, possibly overseen by the US Air Force, that would conduct a few launches per yer to test out various interdiction techniques on known NEOs.

What does anyone else think?
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Old 16th February 2013, 03:35 PM   #2
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Yes.
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Old 16th February 2013, 03:55 PM   #3
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My concern with tampering (for lack of a better term) with the orbits and mass of NEOs is that it may actually cause a collision that otherwise wouldn't have happened. Unintended consequences and all of that.
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Old 16th February 2013, 03:56 PM   #4
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Since you mentioned in the other thread that you'd done a fair bit of research on the topic, why don't you start by summarizing the interdiction technologies which are available today, and which you think might be developed in the near future.

I have a hard time imagining what we could possibly do that would be effective against a mountain moving at three times the speed of sound, given the limitations on the mass we can reasonably expect to bring to bear. Since that may be merely a failure of imagination on my part, I'm hoping you can bring me up to speed.
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Old 16th February 2013, 03:56 PM   #5
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Tricky question. There's not many space projects that I wouldn't like to see happen, especially if it gets NASA more funding. But infinite funding isn't realistic, and some things have to be dropped. While the recent event highlighted the reason we could use the program, still, it's been a rare event, hopefully will continue to be rare, and so interest is bound to wane. and funding will go away.

Still, I'd be in favor of at least getting something going, even if small. Maybe the next comet probe could do double duty with some gravity-tow experiments at least.
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Old 16th February 2013, 04:00 PM   #6
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I expect this to be one of those things where we'll have a huge amount of additional benefit from the work done on this project. I'm thinking asteroid resource gathering could become plausible as a result of this kind of work.
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Old 16th February 2013, 04:02 PM   #7
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I think some work in the theoretical and practical applications dept. would be a good idea. I think spending valuable and precious NASA funds on repeated "practice tests" would be a terrible waste.

Let the physicists and engineers do the work and test it on computer models. Much cheaper.
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Old 16th February 2013, 04:07 PM   #8
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I think we should. Everyone seems to agree that a major impact is unlikely to happen in any given time frame, but it is entirely possible, and it could be a global disaster worse than anything the human race has ever experienced.

NASA just put that rover on Mars, which I think the public largely supports as a worthwhile expenditure. We have the Large Hadron Collider. We're doing big science anyway.

I suspect the Russian meteor will generate some activity in this regard.
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Old 16th February 2013, 04:09 PM   #9
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We should just ban them along with other scary things.

Problem solved.
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Old 16th February 2013, 04:40 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by IMST View Post
I expect this to be one of those things where we'll have a huge amount of additional benefit from the work done on this project. I'm thinking asteroid resource gathering could become plausible as a result of this kind of work.
I agree, 100%.
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Old 16th February 2013, 05:05 PM   #11
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In particular, I would like to see that the "Who makes decisions and what criteria do they use for interdiction efforts?" issue is resolved. Asteroid strikes are international issues, and international decision-making is, by its nature, slow and complex. If we see an incoming object of worrying size and projected path, we will need to have the decisions made quickly and rationally, using pre-established criteria. Also, it makes sense for us to have at least tested the "gravity tractor" technology on a non-threatening object BEFORE we need it all to work to prevent a major impact.

Hopefully, the Russian event will act as a wake-up call for the US government and the rich nations to get together and put a little money and resource behind this. If that meteor had come across, say, Tokyo instead of less-populated areas in Russia; if it had buzzed Beijing or New York, the impact (and the death toll) would have been much more substantial. There are a lot of glass panes at considerable height, and falling object damage would have been much higher. Now add in the possibility of multiple airplanes approaching multiple airports suddenly having half-blinded/dazzled pilots dealing with shockwaves, and you could have a lot of trouble over quite a wide area.

It's never going to be possible to remove all the risks; but a small investment can reap a wide return of increased safety. Diverting, oh, 2% of the military budgets of the 10 largest world economies would produce an immense amount of funding relative to what the program gets currently.

Just my thoughts, Miss_Kitt
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Old 16th February 2013, 06:37 PM   #12
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I found a Wikipedia entry for asteroid impact avoidance, which lists various technologies which are being considered.

It seems like as long as there is enough lead time, a one-ton spacecraft could park near the asteroid (or rubble pile) and its gravity would be enough to move the asteroid into a safe trajectory. The task then becomes to insure enough lead time.

The estimates are that most of the sizable rocks with Earth-intersecting orbits have been identified. I guess objects with more eccentric orbits, like comets, could still sneak up on us, and if there is some interstellar object which is just passing through, we could still be extinguished.

So far, none of the rocks catalogued represent a threat. I guess my support for a "program" would only extend to continuing to look for potential threats at this point. Most of the rocks that might hit us are orbiting the Sun, so they would likely cross the Earth's orbit many times before they happened to intersect at the same time we did. So as long as we look thoroughly, we should be able to give ourselves all the lead time we need.

And it shouldn't cost that much.
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Old 16th February 2013, 11:45 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by zeggman View Post
Since you mentioned in the other thread that you'd done a fair bit of research on the topic, why don't you start by summarizing the interdiction technologies which are available today, and which you think might be developed in the near future.

I have a hard time imagining what we could possibly do that would be effective against a mountain moving at three times the speed of sound, given the limitations on the mass we can reasonably expect to bring to bear. Since that may be merely a failure of imagination on my part, I'm hoping you can bring me up to speed.
Project Icarus is the most promising. It uses something we already have (big old nukes) and uses them to good effect. MIT seemed quite confident it would work. The only problem is we need a booster that can get the nukes on their way to the impactor.

In the screenplay I'm working on this is what ultimately dooms humanity, a lack of a large booster and not enough time to build one. Of course it does give me an opportunity to fill most of the script with humanity tearing itself apart as the end approaches. Lots of drama.

Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
I think some work in the theoretical and practical applications dept. would be a good idea. I think spending valuable and precious NASA funds on repeated "practice tests" would be a terrible waste.

Let the physicists and engineers do the work and test it on computer models. Much cheaper.
It probably wouldn't be a NASA project though they would certainly help. The Air Force has more money than it can even spend. I say we let them foot the bill.

Originally Posted by zeggman View Post
I found a Wikipedia entry for asteroid impact avoidance, which lists various technologies which are being considered.

It seems like as long as there is enough lead time, a one-ton spacecraft could park near the asteroid (or rubble pile) and its gravity would be enough to move the asteroid into a safe trajectory. The task then becomes to insure enough lead time.

The estimates are that most of the sizable rocks with Earth-intersecting orbits have been identified. I guess objects with more eccentric orbits, like comets, could still sneak up on us, and if there is some interstellar object which is just passing through, we could still be extinguished.

So far, none of the rocks catalogued represent a threat. I guess my support for a "program" would only extend to continuing to look for potential threats at this point. Most of the rocks that might hit us are orbiting the Sun, so they would likely cross the Earth's orbit many times before they happened to intersect at the same time we did. So as long as we look thoroughly, we should be able to give ourselves all the lead time we need.

And it shouldn't cost that much.
Lead time is something we might not have. An Oort Cloud comet might only be discovered a few months before impact. We will need a well tested, well rehearsed and reliable system to interdict and divert such an object ready to go on little notice.
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Old 17th February 2013, 02:08 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Travis View Post
In the screenplay I'm working on this is what ultimately dooms humanity, a lack of a large booster and not enough time to build one. Of course it does give me an opportunity to fill most of the script with humanity tearing itself apart as the end approaches. Lots of drama. .

I think your screenplay should involve a motley crew of unlikely heroes who are conscripted to deliver the nuke to the asteroid. For some additional human drama, the team should contain both the father and fiance of a beautiful woman. The father only learns of the relationship between his daughter and his teammate while the crew is enroute to making the delivery... this ratchets up the drama and tension considerably, and also leads to some witty banter. The father would have to be played by an actor skilled in the art of exasperated sarcasm. Also, Steve Buscemi, because he is awesome.

Hope that helps
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Old 17th February 2013, 04:25 AM   #15
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Yes, we should.

But I think, primarily, the best defense against extinction is to be at several places at once, i.e. colonies.
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Old 17th February 2013, 07:03 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Belz... View Post
Yes, we should.

But I think, primarily, the best defense against extinction is to be at several places at once, i.e. colonies.
I agree. We should have colonies in asteroids ASAP.

As for incoming asteroids, how about a series of railguns that fire solid projectiles at imminent threats. High speed railroads that can launch locomotives at meteors.
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Old 17th February 2013, 07:12 AM   #17
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NPR's Science Friday devoted it's first hour to ongoing efforts and proposed programs to do this:
http://www.sciencefriday.com/playlis...y/segment/9047

One idea being floated is one that launches a spacecraft loaded with litterally millions of tiny "impactors" which would home in on the errant rock and by dint of gradually-accumulating momentum deflect it.
Advantage... The rock doesn't break up into multiple impactors.....
Disadvantage... Very slow. Object has to be detected early.
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Old 17th February 2013, 07:28 AM   #18
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Should we have a meteor/comet interdiction program?


Yes, we should.


Will we have one in the near future?

No, we won't--because political and bureaucratic inertia is the strongest force in the universe. Second is humanities short-term memory in an infomration age.

Unless some very dramatic (see Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama) happens, this story will disappear.

Hopefully we won't disappear someday due to this.
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Old 17th February 2013, 07:29 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Travis View Post
Project Icarus is the most promising. It uses something we already have (big old nukes) and uses them to good effect. MIT seemed quite confident it would work. The only problem is we need a booster that can get the nukes on their way to the impactor.
The plan apparently involved sending into space on Saturn Vs half a dozen nuclear bombs which were more than twice as large as any nuclear bomb ever built. These would have detonated over a period of time in hopes of nudging Icarus away from its impact with Earth.

Originally Posted by Travis View Post
Lead time is something we might not have. An Oort Cloud comet might only be discovered a few months before impact. We will need a well tested, well rehearsed and reliable system to interdict and divert such an object ready to go on little notice.
I'm definitely opposed to developing a "Project Icarus"-style system. The odds that even the objects we will catalogue (Icarus-style asteroids) will strike Earth are astonomical. To build a system that involves developing more massive nuclear bombs, launching them into space, and detonating them to deal with an even less likely hypothetical threat just seems like a foolish waste of money.
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Old 17th February 2013, 08:05 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Travis View Post

In the screenplay I'm working on this is what ultimately dooms humanity, a lack of a large booster and not enough time to build one. Of course it does give me an opportunity to fill most of the script with humanity tearing itself apart as the end approaches. Lots of drama.
I have to ask: does your story include some members of congress believing the whole thing is a hoax designed to siphon money away from the U.S. economy (ala Global Climate Change)?
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Old 17th February 2013, 09:10 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by zeggman View Post
The plan apparently involved sending into space on Saturn Vs half a dozen nuclear bombs which were more than twice as large as any nuclear bomb ever built. These would have detonated over a period of time in hopes of nudging Icarus away from its impact with Earth.


I'm definitely opposed to developing a "Project Icarus"-style system. The odds that even the objects we will catalogue (Icarus-style asteroids) will strike Earth are astonomical. To build a system that involves developing more massive nuclear bombs, launching them into space, and detonating them to deal with an even less likely hypothetical threat just seems like a foolish waste of money.
That is one thing that we have developed down to a fine science.
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Old 17th February 2013, 05:29 PM   #22
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Only if Bruce Willis or Robert Duvall are in charge....
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Old 18th February 2013, 03:07 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Travis View Post
In the screenplay I'm working on this is what ultimately dooms humanity, a lack of a large booster and not enough time to build one. Of course it does give me an opportunity to fill most of the script with humanity tearing itself apart as the end approaches. Lots of drama.

Not particularly original...
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Old 18th February 2013, 03:20 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by zeggman View Post
I'm definitely opposed to developing a "Project Icarus"-style system. The odds that even the objects we will catalogue (Icarus-style asteroids) will strike Earth are astonomical. To build a system that involves developing more massive nuclear bombs, launching them into space, and detonating them to deal with an even less likely hypothetical threat just seems like a foolish waste of money.

This. The odds of a significant impact event are much lower than the odds of a significant volcanic event that could be equally as devastating. It seems totally nonsensical to invest billions of dollars into trying to prevent something that *might* happen some time in the next 50 million years.

Given how much humanity has developed just in the last ten thousand years, it's impossible for us to even conceive of what humanity might be capable of, what it might look like, or even whether it will exist when and if the next ELE impact occurs.

It's also worth pointing out that only one impact event is associated with a major extinction, and it's still debated just how much of that extinction event was due to the impact, given other factors occurring at the same time. By contrast 11 flood basalt eruptions and 7 sea-level falls are directly linked to major extinctions.

Perhaps most importantly, all major extinction events appear to occur when an already-stressed biosphere experiences a short-duration shock event that acts much like the straw breaking the proverbial camel's back. Given the low probability of an extinction-causing event of any type it makes much more sense to invest our resources in trying to prevent the biosphere from experiencing long-term stress which will mean if one of these potential ELEs does occur, the biosphere will be able to absorb the effects without significant extinctions.
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Old 18th February 2013, 05:19 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by zeggman View Post
The plan apparently involved sending into space on Saturn Vs half a dozen nuclear bombs which were more than twice as large as any nuclear bomb ever built. These would have detonated over a period of time in hopes of nudging Icarus away from its impact with Earth.


I'm definitely opposed to developing a "Project Icarus"-style system. The odds that even the objects we will catalogue (Icarus-style asteroids) will strike Earth are astonomical. To build a system that involves developing more massive nuclear bombs, launching them into space, and detonating them to deal with an even less likely hypothetical threat just seems like a foolish waste of money.
I think the Project Icarus system is the best option we have against a cometary threat.

Originally Posted by Ladewig View Post
I have to ask: does your story include some members of congress believing the whole thing is a hoax designed to siphon money away from the U.S. economy (ala Global Climate Change)?
Oh you bet, really deluded right wingers. The twist is that they team up with eco-terrorists.

Originally Posted by gumboot View Post
Not particularly original...
Eh, you'll have to trust me that it is different.
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Old 19th February 2013, 08:27 AM   #26
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At present, I do not see any point in a metorite interdiction program.

After all, the larger ones that we can see months before they get near are so large that we cannot properly interdict them before they would contact the Earth. And the smaller ones appear so quickly and so close to the Earth that we cannot properly interdict them before they would contact the Earth.

Therefore, I think that a better approach is to watch for both the larger ones and the smaller ones in order to try to provide the maximum amount of warning time. And by the way, this activity is going on right now.
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