December 28, 2012

Orbiting Asteroids Just Might Cause A Commotion

Asteroids have been on the minds of NASA, astronomers, and scientists worldwide lately. As redOrbit presented, the past couple of months the scientific community at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy and NASA have been studying the trajectory of the 140-meter diameter asteroid called 2011 AG5. The initial response was that there would be a 1 in 500 chance that 2011 AG5 would hit the earth in February 2040.

Naturally, this projection worried scientists and astronomers, so research started. David Tholen, Richard Wainscoat, and Marco Micheli from the University of Hawaii Institute for astronomy then used the 8-meter Gemini North telescope to locate 2011 AG5 on October 20, October 21, and October 27 of this year. NASA reviewed the data through their Near-Earth Object Program Office. The review found that the chance of the impact had been eliminated.

We can all take a breath of relief at that. Apparently, the updated trajectory and new observations about the orbit show that the Earth’s position in February 2040 will no longer be in the way of the 140-meter asteroid.

But this is not the only asteroid concern. As the Huffington Post article, “Target: Earth,” notes the smaller asteroids pose a threat as well. We may not be in the path of an asteroid that could cause the type of destruction the likes of what killed off the dinosaurs, but asteroids are still a problem.

There are 40,000 near-Earth asteroids orbiting us. Of those, the majority are small enough to fit on the parking lot at a mall. That doesn’t really seem all that small, though. In reality, something that size could do serious damage and harm.

Huffington Post gave this example to illuminate the danger these “smaller” asteroids pose:

“In 1908, there was a persuasive demonstration of the power of high-speed, low-mass asteroids in rural Siberia. The Tunguska impactor iced millions of pine trees and about a zillion mosquitoes — and was no larger than an office building. Despite its modest caliber, this rock exploded with the energy of 300 Hiroshima-type bombs (although, thankfully, with none of the radioactivity). Imagine how ruinous such an unguided missile would be if it smacked into a major metropolis. And because of the great abundance of these second-tier rocks, you can expect a Tunguska-like collision every few centuries, on average. That’s enormously more frequent than impacts by the larger asteroids, which occur at intervals of 1-100 million years.”

The potential of another one of these asteroids hitting some urban metropolis is enough to make us want to take cover, build some sort of protection, or at the very least watch the sky. For me, it simply means that space is still an active part of our lives.

I can’t get too excited about this possibility because like a tornado or earthquake, there is simply little I can do to prevent an asteroid crashing into Earth. I can’t move the plant out of the way. I can’t build a shield that will automatically protect us all from an asteroid attack. There’s no weapon that will destroy the asteroid. I can be aware of the possibility, but I cannot allow that possibility to run my life. I can’t get paranoid about it.

Instead, I choose to be informed of the possibility and live my life with happiness every second. That way, if an asteroid causes that kind of damage and I’m around, at least I’ll know that I experienced as much as I could. Perhaps that’s why it’s important to know of potential asteroid crashings.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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