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The Social Difficulty of Saving Earth From an Asteroid

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the how-to-really-get-godzilla dept.

Earth 391

mantis2009 writes "When it comes to stopping a cataclysmic Earth vs. asteroid event, social science and international political leaders have more difficult questions yet unanswered than physicists do, according to report delivered at this week's American Geophysical Union meeting. Wired has a discussion of an analysis authored by former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who worries that the international community is nowhere near ready to begin the complex and inevitably controversial task of deflecting an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Among the questions to be answered is whether to modify the Partial Test Ban Treaty to allow nuclear weapons in outer space. Another possibility to avoid the destruction of civilization would require the international community to choose an area on the globe where an asteroid might be 'aimed.' Who would decide which nations get placed in the asteroid's crosshairs?"

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391 comments

Simpsons did it... (4, Funny)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484544)

What's your least favorite country: Italy or France?

When life is at stake ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484674)

... nobody care about any treaty anymore.

That astronaut phailed !

Re:Simpsons did it... (2, Informative)

nmg196 (184961) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484714)

France.

Re:Simpsons did it... (3, Funny)

Armakuni (1091299) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484784)

Heh. No one ever says Italy.

Re:Simpsons did it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484980)

yes, we live off being not taken seriously.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/End_of_World_War_II_in_Europe

search here for italy status at the end of wwII. it's almost as we were so irrelevant that we were included in the western allies at the end of the war - without the collaborationist name that the french took afterward.

Re:Simpsons did it... (4, Funny)

ZeRu (1486391) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484734)

If I had the power to decide where to aim the asteroid, I would choose Australia. They're formal penal colony, have low density of population, lots of dangerous animal species, and their government wants to censor the Internet. Also, unlike Italy and France, they don't have famous wines and cheeses. I say go for Australia, asteroid!

Re:Simpsons did it... (4, Insightful)

baronvoncarson (1684844) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484808)

As an Australian I resent that comment. I suggest America, no one likes them anymore anyway.

Re:Simpsons did it... (1, Troll)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484850)

Don't worry, the Americans will be too busy running around being neurotic or praying to a nonexistent god to actually do anything, so we're probably safe.

Re:Simpsons did it... (1, Insightful)

Nathrael (1251426) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485032)

Too bad that the Americans would be the only ones capable of saving your sorry ass should we actually be threatened by an asteroid en route to Earth.

Re:Simpsons did it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30485088)

Yeah right
The size and speed of the average asteroid says phooey to your tiny rockets and puny warheads.
If you think it's possible to play with something that big and fast then I have some scap iron in Paris for sale.

If it's going to hit earth there's nothing we can do except hide
It always amazes me that people waste their time with such pointless activities as figuring out what to do test ban treaties......
The worst part is someone is paying them to produce such garbage

Re:Simpsons did it... (4, Informative)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485188)

Its all about timing. You aren't going to blow up an asteroid of any size worth worrying about. But due to there being no friction in space, we could adjust its trajectory by providing a force on it. Basically just build giant engines on it and burn them for long enough it would be pushed out of the way. The trick is to find the asteroid that would hit earth in time- the earlier you set this up, the longer your force has to work.

Re:Simpsons did it... (4, Interesting)

arethuza (737069) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485150)

I would bet on the Russians - they have an excellent track record of just "getting things done" in their space program and experience in building really really big H bombs.

Re:Simpsons did it... (1)

bigtomrodney (993427) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484924)

Also, unlike Italy and France, they don't have famous wines

Well there's Wolf Blass and Jacob's Creek for starters.

Re:Simpsons did it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30485046)

Agreed. Australians know more about good winemaking than the French. Hell, we're being hired over there to teach them!

Re:Simpsons did it... (1)

Vorghagen (1154761) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484938)

Actually we have some damn good wine. But I can't argue with your other points. To be honest it seems reasonable to aim it at the centre of Australia, incredibly sparse population, not-exactly-habitable environment, no major ecosystems. But in exchange for letting the world crash the asteroid here we get ownership of any precious metals that may be included AND exclusive scientific access. Fair?

Where have the dupes gone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484776)

I just realized I haven't seen a dupe on slashdot for months. Am I just not paying attention? -1, Offtopic

Re:Simpsons did it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30485054)

What? The pacific is not big enough?

Not ready? No, and never will be. (5, Insightful)

GrahamCox (741991) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484564)

If the constant arguing and bickering about what to do about global warming is anything to go by, they never will be ready.

As a teen I read lots of sci-fi, but then I grew up. One of the recurrent themes was the Earth was doomed for some reason so we'd all have to build a fleet of ships and go off and colonise another world. Even as a 13-year-old I was highly skeptical of those stories, not because of the technology or the distances or any of the practical difficulties, but because I knew that politics would never function to the point where a decision could have been reached, let alone acted upon.

If global warming is truly in need of a rapid, urgent and above all united effort to combat (and whether it is or not is your first argument, right there), then quite honestly, we're doomed. Perhaps one reason we've never detected an advanced civilisation out there is because they all go through this stage, or fail to.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484616)

The comparison is faulty.

An asteroid on a collision course for Earth would be a pretty obvious threat. Climate change is:
a) Not necessarily a threat (it might be a benefit for your area!)
b) Not a near enough threat anyways (it's a problem that will eventuate in another generation, hardly a 10 year problem)
c) Something that while a PITA to live through, is survivable.

A large enough asteroid strike that would truly be a global disaster, instead of just one that kills a couple of million people would get a reaction rather quickly. There are enough countries that could do it on their _own_ (China, Europe, India, Japan, Pakistan, Iran, USSR, USA) that international agreement would simply _not_ be needed.

Finally, space travel is becoming cheap enough that it is starting to get into the realm of individuals. Hell, we've got billionaires with access to space.

I am not worried about an asteroid.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484628)

I'm so glad you included the USSR on your list of current countries.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484700)

Yes, that and Europe :p

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (3, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484640)

Asteroid is:
a) Not necessarily a threat (it might be a benefit for your area! When "enemies" will get hit the worst)
b) Not a near enough threat anyways (it's a problem that will eventuate in another generation, hardly a 10 year problem; the window between detection and action (when it's possible) will be huge...and anyways, it's a semi-constant occurrence on Earth, we'll be fine (when it comes to impactors we have a hope of deflecting at all))
c) Something that while a PITA to live through, is survivable. Impacts are happening all the time. We hardly even noticed Tunguska.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (2, Insightful)

dtml-try MyNick (453562) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484840)

the window between detection and action (when it's possible) will be huge

Erm, no.. It doesn't have to be.

There are still loads of asteroids which are unknown to us and possibly with earth in their trajectory.

A few months ago we also had a "near" miss of a asteroid that came out of the blue (black?). And we only knew a few days in advance.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484880)

That's why I wrote "(when it's possible)" there. We can't do anything about impactors that sneak up on us, so they are somehow beyond the scope of this discussion...

And anyway, my previous post was mostly tongue-in-cheek in response to unsubstantiated, IMHO, claims of parent poster. Even directly paraphrasing them, without touching all subtleties of course.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484868)

Impacts are happening all the time. We hardly even noticed Tunguska.

Even an American might notice a fucking great asteroid bouncing off his head. :-P

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (1)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485052)

it's a problem that will eventuate in another generation, hardly a 10 year problem;

Generations are generally averaged out to be approximately 25 years - that's still within the lifetime of a lot of people and not that much different to 10 years in the grand scheme of things!

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (2, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484654)

"An asteroid on a collision course for Earth would be a pretty obvious threat. Climate change is:
a) Not necessarily a threat (it might be a benefit for your area!)
b) Not a near enough threat anyways (it's a problem that will eventuate in another generation, hardly a 10 year problem)
c) Something that while a PITA to live through, is survivable."

I completely agree with the grandparent. The current climate change summit is an excellent case study of what response to a global threat looks like.

I'm sure if some scientists actually announced an asteroid targeting Earth in 10-30 years, arguments a, b, c would be absolutely forwarded by lots of entrenched interests regarding said asteroid. There would also be widespread anti-scientific propaganda bandied about. I could imagine pre-emptive military actions to prevent foreign powers from interacting with it in ways we don't trust.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484710)

You'd be a fool to think that climate change would be a benefit for your area, for certain anyhow.

Once we run out of living space for all of us, there will be war.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (2, Interesting)

MadKeithV (102058) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484974)

Once we run out of living space for all of us, there will be war.

The cynic in my is thinking that's EXACTLY what some of the feet-draggers are hoping for.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484908)

The current climate change summit is an excellent case study of what response to a global threat looks like.

Yes, but not for the reasons you elucidate. I think the most likely non-hysterical reactions will be:

  1. there's nothing our technology can do about it, or
  2. we can do something about it, but it would take way too long to design, build, launch, fly there, alter it's course, or
  3. lots of creatures survived the K-T mass extinction, so maybe the Chicxulub Impact didn't actually cause the mass extinction (after all, how could even small burrowing mammals survive an extended global firestorm?), so maybe this impact won't cause a mass extinction either.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (3, Interesting)

bronney (638318) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484728)

If an asteroid were to hit Afganistan in 3 years time and there's no deflection method for the size or speed, are you willing to take in the refugees. Are any country willing to, and how many. This decision easily takes 3 years with our current state of mind.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484934)

The logic your points on global warming are based on could just as easily be applied to the asteroid.

a.) The asteroid might not be a threat. It might even save you from getting sunburned for a few years! Hell, asteroids are probably an invention of the asteroid science conspiracy who is just out to scare us. I have emails to prove it! Have *you* ever seen an asteroid? I haven't. The number of asteroids killing us has not increased substantially over the past hundred years, and may even have gone down!
b.) An asteroid is not going to hit in this generation (or more specifically our current politicians' terms of office), so the motivation to spend vast amounts will never exist until it is to late.
c.) It might be pretty cold after the impact, but that's not worse than the heat. And people in the immeditate area are killed or displaced by floods from rising sea levels just as easily as by impact.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (2, Funny)

nacturation (646836) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484682)

As a teen I read lots of sci-fi, but then I grew up.

Thanks for clarifying that you are able to age. I was wondering whether or not to rule out this syndrome [whatdoesitmean.com] .

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (1)

your_neighbor (1193249) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484688)

This happens because there is a conflict of interests. If everybody life is in danger by an external cause, everybody will be frightened equally. When a true danger exists, and it is of everybody -real- interest, a very good coordination, something to be remembered for centuries, will exist.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (2, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484944)

This happens because there is a conflict of interests. If everybody life is in danger by an external cause, everybody will be frightened equally. When a true danger exists, and it is of everybody -real- interest, a very good coordination, something to be remembered for centuries, will exist.

Except that it doesn't threaten everybody equally. For example, if the asteroid will hit Earth in two decades, a sixty-year old politician will be far less threatened than a twenty-something. And even discounting that, there's still plenty of incentives to defect, to use less of my resources and count on the rest of you to pick up the slack. Everyone will do this, and as the result, the effort will fail.

And this is all assuming that there even is a coordinated effort. Remember, there are people with ideological opposition to central coordination (government). Now look at the number of conspiracy theories that abound around global warming, despite it being pretty bloody obvious at this point that the weather is out of whack. Do you really think that these people would go ahead with the deflection effort, and the economic sacrifices that requires? No, they'd accuse astronomers of falsifying data, right up until the fiery mountain fell.

No, if we as a species ever come across a crisis that requires us all to co-operate to survive, we're as good as dead.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (3, Insightful)

jamesh (87723) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485174)

No, if we as a species ever come across a crisis that requires us all to co-operate to survive, we're as good as dead.

Yes. If you watch what's going on in Copenhagen right now, it's a pretty good example of how an asteroid impact event will be handled, only more so.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (1)

craagz (965952) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484704)

Well worry not about the political bickering. The US President will order the nuclear strike saving the entire world and its population.

"Thank you, Mr. President!"

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (1)

Tx (96709) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484740)

When the crunch comes, and the number of available options has shrunk down to very few, then we collectively are quite good at making difficult decisions and doing what needs to be done. Look at the process of various allied countries coming together to fight the Nazis in WWII for example. Many did not want to, but eventually when the choice became a) fight the Nazis or b) let Hitler become a major world player, they came on board and threw everything they had into the effort.

The trouble with global warming is that it may not come down to such an obvious crunch, or if it does it may be too late to deal with the problem. And the solutions also aren't that clear in terms of degree. Should we go for an extra half degree temperature rise limit, at great expense, or is a 2 degree limit enough? What share of the burden should be borne by developing versus developed economies. There aren't simple, clear-cut answers to these things, so it is perfectly understandable that there's going to be a lot of wrangling.

However if a large asteroid was on the way and about to wipe our species off the face of the earth, that is pretty damn clear-cut. It's also the kind of situation where not everyone has to agree - for example NATO and Russia say could decide to act unilaterally, unlike global warming, where consensus really is needed. The countries with the greatest capability to protect themselves aren't going to sit around waiting for e.g. the UN to reach a decision if it is severely threatening their very existence, and time is of the essence. I have a lot of faith that that is exactly the kind of situation where we would be able to come together and act decisively.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484988)

I agree. The shit has to hit the fan before the truly admirable traits of human kind are expressed. We never preempt well.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (2, Insightful)

Bragador (1036480) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484816)

I knew that politics would never function to the point where a decision could have been reached, let alone acted upon

Unless each country tries to save itself without trying to save the rest of the world. Then you'd have canadian spaceships, united statian spaceships, chinese spaceships, etc.

The different countries could target different places to land too you know?

I believe that such a scenario would be quite realistic.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484864)

You can't compare an asteroid collision to global warming. That's like comparing a forest under threat of suddenly disappearing to a forest slowly dying away, it just doesn't equate. If an asteroid is on a collision course for Earth I would be willing to bet that some major world power is going to do something about it regardless of any international laws or treaties that exist. Seriously what's the point of following the rules if there won't be anyone left to follow them...

The main problem would be if everyone tried to do something about it at the same time. The effort would need to be coordinated to some extent because the results of that could ruin all of the efforts before that.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (3, Insightful)

LordAndrewSama (1216602) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485062)

Like the story about the frogs? throw a frog in boiling water? it jumps out. throw a frog in cold water and slowly boil it? boiled frog.

Not really (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485056)

We have a VERY easy solution to this issue, that will likely win out: China is desperate that no taxes be done on CO2 emissions, esp. against theirs. But the solution, one that will pass WTO, is a tax by all nations on ALL goods (as in local and domestic) based on the CO2 from where the item and the primary sub-component come from. Ideally, it would have distance as well. That simple solution will force all nations and businesses to lower the CO2 without any chance of cheating.

The problem that we have here, is that every nation is trying to go along with the no tax issue, but that alone is causing the problems. So basically, our issue is that the format is wrong. The real problem here, is that nations and ppl have locked themselves mentally into this idea that we need to regulate this AND that Govs. will do this on their own nation. The simple fact is, that leads to cheating. EU started us down the wrong solution, but I think that a number of nations will head towards the slowly increasing tax approach.

So, does that translate to the issues that you speak of? Nope. The reason is that a large minority still question whether Global Warming is happening. They hear it in the papers, but the simple fact is, that scientists and ppl, in general, do not know exactly WHAT will happen. OTH, if they know that an asteroid is eminent, THEN they will mostly cooperate. I am sure that if the asteroid were headed towards the middle of America, countries like NK, Iran, and possibly China would object to any chance to deflect it. But the majority would be ok with sending it to the middle of the Pacific, or even to the poles, etc. We MIGHT get by with deflecting it to Canada, Sberia, or even Australia, all due to population density and possibility of gettin everybody out. But that is not likely.

Re:Not ready? No, and never will be. (1)

agrif (960591) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485058)

For sci-fi that is not immediately discreditable, read Alastair Reynolds.

In his book Chasm City, he relates (among other things) the story of humanity's first and last generational fleet. The story behind it's launch, the difficulties it faced (which made it the last generational fleet), and the centuries-long war that engulfed the resulting colony all provide for a really compelling story that is also wholly believable. It was hard to launch, hard to fly, failed to make a peaceful colony, so we never tried again. Regardless, something better came along...

I try to get anyone I meet that likes sci-fi to read some Reynolds. Hi! How are you? I think you should read Revelation Space...

Dose of Reality (2, Insightful)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484608)

Yes I'm sure if an asteroid threatens the world leaders will all sit down with their lawyers and fiddle while the Earth burns. What this author forgets is that if your survival is on the line people will generally do what they think needs to be done regardless of what the law, lawyers or anyone else may say. Just look at the US after the 11/9 attacks. The trick is to ensure that you have a leader who can listen to scientific advice and make the right decision based on that and not on what will win them the next election. However, since if they get it wrong there probably won't be another election, they should at least be well motivated!

Re:Dose of Reality (4, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484630)

"Just look at the US after the 11/9 attacks. The trick is to ensure that you have a leader who can listen to scientific advice and make the right decision based on that"

Err... WTF are you smoking? Just about every intelligence agency on the planet said before the Afghan campaign that invading Afghanistan would not yield a positive result vis a vis terrorism, and every intelligence agency AND the IAEA said that Iraq had no WMDs. Both have been proved true.

If going by the 9/11 reaction is how you measure the response by Earth's leaders, then I expect the US to respond to a potential asteroid hit on Earth by contracting some politically tied corporation to manufacture umbrellas.

Re:Dose of Reality (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484694)

then I expect the US to respond to a potential asteroid hit on Earth by contracting some politically tied corporation to manufacture umbrellas.

The way things are going, this may very well happen (the corporation part, not the umbrellas). Private companies seem to be doing a lot better getting into space than our government is.

Which is kind of weird, in a way. In the 60s, the US space program was amazing and efficient, and no private company in the world could have come close to doing what it did. Now it is an overweighted organization with no clear direction. So from this we can see in a single organization that sometimes government does work better than the private sector, and sometimes it doesn't. How can we distinguish which cases it will work better, and which cases it won't?

Re:Dose of Reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484996)

I know it's in fashion to express skepticism at the competence of leadership and act as if you'd know any better but 9/11 and an asteroid on route to wreck the earth are so incredibly different cases that your point hardly makes sense.

When a random stranger has a stroke, you're right that people tend to just stare, take pictures and discuss who should get the blame.
But when your boat is sinking, all of a sudden everybody's willing to help.

If politicians are in actual danger, you bet your sweet toilet muscle they'll beg and listen to the scientists and qualified authorities.

Re:Dose of Reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30485142)

What are you smoking? Few intel agencies had anything to say about invading Afghanistan. Iraq is a different issue, but damn few said anything about that. In the end, had we NOT invaded Afghanistan, OBL and AQ would be there MUCH BIGGER than what they are today and would have launched several more attacks on EU and USA. With that said, I do have to say, that W did a great job of recruiting for them.

I don't understand this (5, Insightful)

saibot834 (1061528) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484902)

Why is there such a focus on asteroids? Do the USA need to justify their nuclear arsenal in the current post-cold-war situation? (yes, "Armageddon", I'm looking at you).
Asteroids are not rare, Asteroids capable of destroying humanity are. It is very unlikely that one will hit us in next 100 years, and after that, we'll probably have completely different means available for trying to avert incoming asteroids.
I'm not saying that research in this area is wrong, but it should be low priority and the risks must not be overestimated.
We already have something threatening human (and animal) existence on earth, it's called global warming. Unlike asteroids, it wont happen by chance, it is happening and will continue to happen, even if we cease to pollute right now (which we nevertheless should strive after to minimize effects by global warming). This is a much more serious threat to our existence than Asteroids.

Who gets to decide where it's targeted? (2, Interesting)

theIsovist (1348209) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484610)

It'll be an international, outerspace game of hot potato. I can guarantee you that if that asteroid is headed towards the US, we'll find a way to knock it off course. Then, say if it's headed towards Russia, I'm sure they'll try to pass it along to. Eventually, it'll be targeted towards an area that is either uninhabited, or too poor to play the game.

Re:Who gets to decide where it's targeted? (1)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484644)

I found that part of TFA to be a little ridiculous. The way they were talking you'd think they could control the asteroid with a Wiimote.

Re:Who gets to decide where it's targeted? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484780)

However, suppose somehow an asteroid were about to hit the earth, the US tried to deflect it and failed, and then the asteroid hit and destroyed, say, Pakistan.

Guaranteed there would be a dozen conspiracy theories about how the US purposefully conjured up the asteroid, and with their high technology guided it directly towards its target. Almost as if with a Wii remote.

Re:Who gets to decide where it's targeted? (1)

cbope (130292) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484804)

Are you really saying that we CAN'T control asteroids with a Wiimote? Who overlooked this? We _are_ screwed...

It's ok, I'm sure the president of the US will save us, just like in Hollywood.

Obvious... (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484614)

Who would decide which nations get placed in the asteroid's crosshairs?
The ones doing the job of deflection, naturally.

And there will another complicating factor - expect quite a bit of people actually working against the efforts, with their expectation of incoming Rupture/Ragnarok/punishment from gods/whatever. Especially if the impact site seems to target their "enemies", though probably also when it targets them..."punishment from allowing the world to fall"/etc.

Quite a bit of unrest generally, on top of what's already there. Escalation of conflicts. All while trying to launch something very sophisticated, quite delicate operation...

Re:Obvious... (1)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484676)

"with their expectation of incoming Rupture"
Yea, you wouldn't want to burst their bubble now would you?

Thanks, I'll be here all week. Try the roast.

An ocean? Antartica? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484622)

I'm not a scientist and I realize that wherever it hits could cause a chain of reactions that affect the entire earth, but isn't the idea to reduce civilian casualties?

Re:An ocean? Antartica? (1)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484786)

I RTFA and it seems that asteroids each follow their own risk corridors (a path of possible impact points) so unpopulated areas are not always an option. The ocean is a more favored place to deflect it but it could produce giant tsunamis that might cause more casualties than a land impact. (either one would be devastating anyway)

Re:An ocean? Antartica? (4, Funny)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484794)

How could you be so callous towards the massive loss of penguin life?! On Slashdot, no less!! You must be a Mac or *BSD fanboi. Or a Microsoft shill. Any truly free-thinking individual would obviously recommend somewhere else [google.com] .

Re:An ocean? Antartica? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484986)

Linux lolitsme 2.6.31.6-166.fc12.x86_64 #1 SMP Wed Dec 9 10:46:22 EST 2009 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Sadly I live near the beast (redmond).

Re:An ocean? Antartica? (4, Funny)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485076)

Antarctica? That'd be one hell of a curve shot to whip it underneath the Earth and up! Don't you know from all of those SciFi shows that asteroids come in perfectly horizontal and that the whole universe is like a plate. That's why ships can't avoid each other by flying higher or on a different plane - because there is only one plane that everything flies along!

A few years notice? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484636)

Try a few seconds. The only sure-fire way to find out if an asteroid is going to hit us is to let it hit us, there's no foolproof way to predict the way orbits are going to meet.

And sending a nuclear missile at it sounds all well and good, but if it fails we'll be hit by the same asteroid, except now it will be intensely radioactive. And just because something works in the movies doesn't mean it'd work in real life...

Re:A few years notice? (2, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484698)

To quote a movie:

"and turn one dangerous falling object into many"...

Nuking the thing isn't at all sensible but it's all we can really do. It's like ants trying to spit at the shoe that's heading towards them though... chances are we'll make things worse but at that point, we're dead anyway. Worrying about an international treaty at that point is like worrying about the lawsuit when the mugger pulls out a gun.

The radiation is hardly a concern at all. More important is how the hell do you survive the 200-foot-high wave, even if it is just a one-off?

Re:A few years notice? (1)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485082)

Nuking the thing isn't at all sensible but it's all we can really do.

Current single nukes probably wouldn't help much. What we need is more like the Earth-launched shuttles and linked multi-nukes in Stratos 4 [wikipedia.org] ! Even that isn't fool-proof, though, and they did lose at least one city when it went wrong.

Re:A few years notice? (2, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485100)

Look, a single large asteroid has a HIGH VOLUME to surface area. OTH, if you break it up into small asteroids, you will burn up a great deal of it in the atmosphere. Likewise, lets assume that you have a 50 mile asteroid that is broken into 10 pieces. The single one would have done the nasty to us, and the 10 MAY OR MAY NOT. IOW, break it apart.

And yea, you are dead on with the radiation.

Re:A few years notice? (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485168)

Split one object into 10... each of which with 5% of the destructive potential due to higher surface area to volume ratio, causing more of it to burn up. And if it's far enough, half of the pieces won't even hurt the Earth at all.

Re:A few years notice? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484802)

Try a few seconds. The only sure-fire way to find out if an asteroid is going to hit us is to let it hit us, there's no foolproof way to predict the way orbits are going to meet.

I believe Isaac Newton worked out the laws of motion and gravity three hundred years ago, and his equations have served astronomers well enough to correctly work out the orbits of every object in space that they could observe. Celestial mechanics is a mature branch of science, and it will doubtless work for determining whether an asteroid or comet that astronomers have observed will hit the earth. It worked well enough for predicting that Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was going to hit Jupiter in 1994. The real problem here is that one has to detect the object first, of course.

doesn't seem to really understand how things work (5, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484642)

His argument seems to pretty grossly overestimate the extent to which international law and institutions are really law and institutions in the sense they are within countries, versus looser arrangements that, when push comes to shove, get overriden by realpolitik.

For example, he assumes that a single country (or, presumably, group of countries) can't just go and deflect an asteroid using nuclear weapons, because of the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Really? If it seemed like the best option, everyone would just stop and not do it for fear of violating the Test Ban Treaty? Surely someone, the US or China or Russia or whoever had the capacity to do so, would simply ignore the treaty. And it probably wouldn't even come to that, because a handful of powerful countries would hash out a backroom deal. This sort of thing happens all the time already. It violated international law to invade Kosovo, for example, but hey look, Kosovo got invaded, and now is de-facto independent of Serbia. Didn't seem to stop anyone.

Then he suggests something about bringing options to the UN General Assembly. Well, yes, if the General Assembly is your idea of international cooperation, then we're doomed, because nothing will get done. Fortunately, however, the General Assembly has no power, and doesn't really matter. Real decisions get made at the Security Council, which is more or less a formalization of the de-facto handful of powerful countries hashing out a backroom deal.

Mostly, it seems like he thinks that a major obstacle to deflecting asteroids is some sort of international apparatus that has never in practice been an obstacle to anything.

Re:doesn't seem to really understand how things wo (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484844)

For example, he assumes that a single country (or, presumably, group of countries) can't just go and deflect an asteroid using nuclear weapons, because of the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Really? If it seemed like the best option, everyone would just stop and not do it for fear of violating the Test Ban Treaty? Surely someone, the US or China or Russia or whoever had the capacity to do so, would simply ignore the treaty.

          Of course. "Sorry, we have a treaty against that, I guess we are all going to die - it's the law!". It's a very bizarre notion, utterly absurd. Of course, so is the notion that you actually want to nuke it, which is almost certainly not a good idea. Which Schwiekart also knows.

Re:doesn't seem to really understand how things wo (2, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484940)

Wait, why is nuking it a bad idea? If you can break it up, the smaller pieces will burn up or make small craters. If you let a large one hit directly, it can cause nuclear winter. I'd rather take destruction of 20% of the surface in small craters than one large hit that blocks out the sun for 10 years (or however long it lasts).

Re:doesn't seem to really understand how things wo (2, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485146)

It doesn't quite work like that. anything that is big enough to be a threat... 1 impact, 1000 impacts, the same amount of energy gets released into the system -- that system being Earth. So, what's your goal here? Liquify a region of the crust, or heat the atmosphere to the point that everything on the surface is incinerated, or both?

Re:doesn't seem to really understand how things wo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30485000)

Isn't the US already working on laser satellites that could be repurposed for deflecting an asteroid? Why even bother with nukes or international treaties? The US would just turn it around, let loose a few seconds of ridiculously powerful laser, and nobody has to even know.

Re:doesn't seem to really understand how things wo (1)

*BBC*PipTigger (160189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485154)

... Mostly, it seems like he thinks that a major obstacle to deflecting asteroids is some sort of international apparatus that has never in practice been an obstacle to anything.

Doesn't that depend immensely on your highly context-sensitive definitions of almost any of those key words in your "never" claim? I'd think it's especially so for "apparatus","obstacle", && "anything".

Additionally, even assuming your seemingly unqualifiable claim correct does not *necessarily* imply "deflecting asteroids" (or any other comprehensibly critical endeavor to deserve global coordination) will remain practical for a single nation (or small group) to dispatch or mitigate effectively forever in the future. That will surely be determined by what we ascertain will be faced ahead && what dealt roles pertaining to successful handling of it lay ahead. In theory, all world leaders && populations could rally together with mind-bending efficiency if everyone knew a mistake would be devastating to all.

At least that's how it seems to me. Maybe you know unspeakably more on such matters though. I don't consider governments competent regarding myriad issues I find important throughout history, however I'm inclined to extend even them the courtesy of optimistic inclusion in prospective responsiveness to openly honest dialog, honorable planning, && decisively harmonized action if sufficiently much were at stake. Even today, there should exist some threshold of blatantly expected severity beyond which it'd be a globally reprehensible crime of negligence or indefensible cowardice to fail to unite in response to. I don't consider global catastrophe (via asteroid or otherwise) of such magnitude at all likely anytime soon, but I'm hopeful even in nested long-shots emerging to protect our living planet (&& hopefully all inhabitants too, if we support such efforts... && maybe even if we don't).

I think you may have come off as too smug && simplistic with your criticism, even though it makes sense, so I hoped presenting my opinions could help at least that here.

Shalom, =)
-PipStuart CPAN

God? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484666)

I wonder how may would argue that this is god's doing and that man shouldn't interfere with God's designs.

(And in turn I'd argue that it's a pretty weak god if man can alter its plans.)

Re:God? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484968)

this is just another way in which god is testing us...

Pick Alaska! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484672)

Pick Alaska for the collision target.

Asteroid != Climate Change (2, Insightful)

ocop (1132181) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484720)

A conspicuous "global killer" hurtling towards us overcomes the basic psychological barriers which inhibit the acceptance of global warming as a genuine, urgent threat (and which currently our hobble cooperative efforts). It's a good deal harder to "deny" that a giant rock is going to strike the Earth than it is to disingenuously claim "the science isn't there" about the highly complex, scientifically abstract climate system.

Re:Asteroid != Climate Change (0)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484770)

Not quite...

You can expect a lot of people saying that scientists got it wrong (remember you can only talk about probabilities of impact), undermining the action as a "wasted effort"; until we will be able to determine the probability much better, and it will be quite late then.

Not absolutely too late though. But deniers will follow through, since the action is so much harder now and there's still no "certainty"; it's easier than admitting (in your own eyes! That's most important!) that you were wrong.

Re:Asteroid != Climate Change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484898)

I don't think it is harder to deny a giant rock is going to hit the Earth.

Basically replace "climate change" with "Giant Rock" and everything that has happened would happen. Objections to the science, objections to the money to be spent, objections to the disruptions to everyday life.

From "I don't trust them sciencey folks!" to "They're going to spend my tax dollars on what?!" and everything in between.

Also, a bunch of assholes somewhere would find a way to get rich off it.

And the target is.... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484738)

-Can't be USA -- I'm writing this from there.
-Can't be Antartica -- We all love them Penguins
-Can't be the Artic -- Ditto for the polar bears
-Can't be France -- too obvious
-Can't be the Middle East -- Our oil comes from there.
-Can't be China -- We'd all die from the toxic dust cloud stirred up from the impact.

So, that pretty much leaves:
                            Quebec

I mean, sure, we all love Canada. Great comedy, good place for NFL up-and-coming players to practice (CFL for those who don't get it), and also home to many polar bears (See Antartic above).

But face it: even CANADA doesn't like Quebec!

I mean, what do they have? Good baseball? Nope. Good football team? Nope. Good comedy? Do Quebecois even HAVE comedy?

And best of all:
Quebec doesn't have UN veto power.

Problem solved!

Religious Armaggedon (4, Insightful)

feedayeen (1322473) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484760)

Those who interpret this as an act of god will be the biggest threat. As recent history has demonstrated, people are willing to kill themselves and civilians in hope that their god's will be done and it may be impossible to insure that sabotage has not occurred in the construction of the super weapon that will be necessary.

Re: who gets placed in the asteroid's crosshairs? (1)

dirtyhippie (259852) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484836)

Why, the nearest available ocean of course, most likely the Pacific. Don't forget the earth's surface is mostly uninhabited, especially since 70% of it is covered in water. Sorry Polynesia...

Re: who gets placed in the asteroid's crosshairs? (4, Insightful)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484892)

Right... Because the potential effect of a massive tsunami wiping out most of the cities cited along Pacific coastlines wouldn't have any significant impact at all on the global population, or one the economy through the loss of port facilities etc. Depending on the size, velocity and angle of impact the effects of an asteroid strike in an ocean could easily exceed the impact of an event like the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. [wikipedia.org]

We're all doomed if a "Disasteroid" happens... (2)

King InuYasha (1159129) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484882)

If it were something like "Disasteroid", I doubt that the world would come together to save the planet like they did there. What is more likely to happen is that the Big Powers That Be(TM) will just go ahead and launch their own independent planet-saving operations. And then something really bad would eventually happen. Like each of the pieces of the shattered asteroid would impact the Earth and shatter the planet anyway.

Aim it for my back yard, please. (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30484912)

I want the mineral rights. Please do kindly tell me when it's due to impact, though, so I can be sure to be on vacation at the time.

Saving Earth From An Asteroid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30484992)

If you're sitting on an asteroid, trying to save Earth, you'd have more than just social difficulties to consider... difficulties closer to the realm of the /. community.

the answer is obvious (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30485006)

Somalia. Their "head of state" doesn't even control its capital and no one recognizes the sovereignty of Somaliland; so guess what country doesn't get a say when the others vote to obliterate it via asteroid? Somalia.

The Allies would just do it. (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#30485014)

If an asteroid were about to hit the earth, the USA would probably, in consultation with its NATO allies, and Russia, launch everything it had it. Anything else would really be just a matter of luck. The third world might get pissed off at not being included, but really, for something like this, the technological nations would just have to take a best shot at it.

Look at it this way (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30485018)

People are arguing about the source of global warming. Everyone for the most part agrees there's global warming now so the argument has shifted to it's just a natural cycle. Everyone agrees that it's caused by CO2 in the atmosphere but one side says a natural source and the other says it's the billions of tons of waste CO2 we pump into the atmosphere. Oddly enough the levels of CO2 are 50% higher than they have been in over a million years so the last time it peaked like this naturally was millions of years ago and it took tens of thousands of years to reach that level naturally. It's done it in 200 years this time. There's shouldn't be much of a debate but both sides are entrenched and we won't do anything until it's far too late.

Why does this apply? Well one side seems to not want to do anything about global warming because at first they deny it's happening, then we aren't the cause and finally it'll be too late to do anything about it. Say an Asteroid has a 1 in a 100 chance of hitting us in 10 years. In five years it's 1 in 10, then in 8 years it's 50/50. Well 1 in a 100 is still a long shot. 1 in 10 is still unlikely and even if it happens it's God's will so we can't stop it anyway. It hits 50/50 and it's too late to do anything about it so maybe if we ignore it it'll go away.

It seems to be human nature and it forms a pattern each time. I remember these same arguments about pollution years ago. It wasn't a sudden event so people did change somewhat but there's still denial even on that. Sea food can poison you from the mercury but few want to change the causes. An asteroid is big enough to see with the naked eye and people will stand there as it closes in still swearing it will either miss us or bounce harmlessly off the atmosphere. It's easier to deny than deal with the hard decisions.

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