Skip to main content

The recent event in Siberia has given new urgency to a decades old question: Can we stop one of these things or not? The answer depends on several variables ranked in the following order of importance: how much lead time we have, how massive it is, and how it's put together—asteroids and comets vary a lot in composition. Some are icy, some are rocky and/or metallic, there are conglomerates like a cosmic fruitcake, some are self-gravitating piles of rubble.

Given decades of lead time, using existing technology or technology that could be easily developed in 10 years, we could probably divert a dino killer. But not by blowing it up or shoving it somehow—that could simply turn one dino killer into several thousand meteor craters. The more we learn about these fascinating objects, the more we appreciate how incredibly fragile they are. Even the so-called solid ones are likely to be cracked and fissured into hundreds of shards. Some are best described as dust bunnies concealing trainloads of small debris. Shove an asteroid or a comet, even a little, and we might be back to several thousand meteor craters.

Astronomers believe the best way to divert an object, whole and in one piece, given enough lead time, is an idea called a gravity tractor. Planetary astronomer and impact expert Dr. Phil Plait explains:

A gravity tractor is a way of cajoling a hazardous rock into a safe orbit. Instead of landing on the asteroid or pushing it with rockets, you put a massive probe near it. The gravity of the probe pulls on the asteroid, and you can use that as a "virtual tether". The probe has very low thrust rockets that can balance the force of gravity, and the net result is a tractor that never has to touch the asteroid. This is an incredibly weak force, so it takes a long time to nudge the rock into a safe orbit, but if you have a few years lead time, this is a very precise and elegant way of saving the planet.
Obviously the resources of every space-faring nation on earth would be engaged if we detected a dino-killer-sized object heading our way. Play around with this impact simulator and you'll see why: It would be the bloody end of civilization as we know it. But the one that hit Siberia this week was tiny by those standards, about 15 to 20 meters across. Not only would the gravity tractor work great on that—less mass for the tractor to have to attract—there are at least two private companies that might be able to do it at little or no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries have announced big plans for mining asteroids. And they told me the first step in that process is finding and determining the exact composition of candidate Near Earth Objects. That's not to say that NASA or some other nation's space agency couldn't do it alone. In fact NASA or ESA asteroid and comet experts would be calling the shots, in much the same way CDC specialists might manage commercial production and distribution of a vaccine to a new, deadly disease.

But frankly, if your business is detecting and mining these objects, given years of lead time, you damn well better have the specialized hardware on hand to detect, analyze, and divert a smallish NEO, even one substantially larger than the bad boy that hit Siberia. And if you plan on making a profit at this, you ought to be able to do it faster and cheaper than an underfunded government agency acting completely alone, starting from scratch, which is too often controlled or influenced by elected imbeciles who do not "believe in" government, along with evolution, thermometers or the Big Bang.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:00 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech and Astro Kos.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Disclosure (35+ / 0-)

    over the years I've done a number of pieces on space exploration where I take a decidedly positive or negative view in some cases, on NASA as well as NewSpace in general and specific companies and individuals therein, including Planetary Resources mentioned above. Every one of those pieces paid the usual Internet rate of $0.00 dollars.

    I hope that will change one day, I'm working hard toward that goal and have been for the better part of a decade. But alas, today is still not that day.

    •  Have you thought about writing a book? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, Cassandra Waites

      I know it wouldn't be easy, but you have such a wonderful platform at Daily Kos and your other outlets that gives you a head start over most other people when it comes to getting the word out and marketing any book you write.

      Even if you don't find a publisher, there's always the Amazon Kindle store, Createspace, and other self-publishing venues to consider.

      •  I used createspace and amazon kindle.. (0+ / 0-)

        ...and I would highly recommend them!

        Their self-publishing step by step approach is very easy to navigate and quite intuitive.  They allow for republishing and re-editing, with only a couple of days' downtime, if you need to make changes once you are up and running on amazon.

        As I navigated the process, I kept expecting the next page to be the one where the hidden fees have to be paid.  I really expected a fat fee for the paperback publishing aspect, but there were none!  Incredible!  The only fee was a 25. expanded distribution fee, which was neither excessive nor hidden (nor required to publish).

        (Even createspace's preformed book covers are pretty nice.)

        Buy Aldus Shrugged : The Antidote to Ayn Rand, and tear Ayn and the GOP new orifices. ALL ROYALTIES BETWEEN NOW AND MARCH 1, DONATED TO THIS SITE, DAILYKOS!! @floydbluealdus1

        by Floyd Blue on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 07:00:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah (0+ / 0-)

        I actually have one about 90 % written on Newspace. I may be doing some part time work that will give me access to the people I need to get that last 10% this Spring. Those folks are not easy to get one on one interviews with. Mostly because they're incredibly wealthy and thus well insulated.

        •  Good To Know (0+ / 0-)

          Interesting - I wish you all the best for completing the project, and look forward to hearing more about it.

          I decided to go the fictional route -- will be self-publishing a set of short stories all revolving around First Contact within the next few weeks (if I pull my finger out).

          Cuts down on the amount of interviewing and research you have to do :-)

    •  asteroids rotate (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Every scheme I've heard totally ignores that asteroids rotate.  Sometimes fast, around an axis that is unknowable in advance.  Tumble is another word.

      Trying to attach something to a spinning, tumbling object is impossible.  

      Laser beams have the problem that they cannot hit the same spot again.  So the energy is spread out over the surface, with little effect.  

      A gravitational attractor might work, but any scheme that ignores the asterioid's spin, tumble, angular momentum is

      •  Spray paint the asteriod's prime target areas (0+ / 0-)

        with a coating that improves absorption of the laser.

        When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

        by antirove on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:20:12 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  That's the beauty of the gravity tractor, it (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        owlbear1, rb608, The Nose

        doesn't attach to the asteroid but just flies along side it maintaining a relatively constant distance.  Remember, that soda can on your desk has it's own gravitational field though just a very small one.

        You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

        by Throw The Bums Out on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 02:32:57 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  The problem is the energy required, not the spin (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        You don't have to hit the same spot. You don't have to attach anything.  For example, nuclear weapons are like hand grenades: close counts. F still equals ma.  Laser beams don't have to hit the same spot to push the orbit away from the earth. They simply need to add momentum in the same direction.

        The problem with any solution is that large amounts of energy are required to change the momentum of a large object moving at a high speed.

        look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

        by FishOutofWater on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 05:28:06 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hmm ... large amounts of energy ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Isn't that what we are already kinda good at here on Earth with nuclear weapons?

          How about a large enough nuclear device exploded near the asteroid to nudge it into a safe orbit, but not so close as to explode it into dangerous fragments?

          I kind of prefer this route as it would combine brute strength with precision aiming and timing, all of which we should be able to achieve now or in the near future.  

          Obviously it would be preferable to engage the asteroid at a great distance from Earth, the farther out the better, just in case we need to do another take or go to a Plan B.

  •  Can't we just send up (9+ / 0-)

    Superman to block an incoming asteriod?

    "This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around..."

    by cgvjelly on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:02:57 PM PST

  •  I'm just your average guy, but I'd say we'd need (7+ / 0-)

    to line up a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D, etc. going from the subtle to the gross, if need be. Depending on one plan to do the job sounds risky to me.

    "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

    by Wildthumb on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:06:08 PM PST

    •  If (5+ / 0-)

      it were a sizable object the debate over what to do and who would do it would be remarkable to say the least. One of the biggest problems would be gauging the risk, if there are years of lead time, there are deltas, windows of probability, probably big enough to miss the earth with room to spare. And a 500 mile miss is just as good as a 5 million mile miss when it comes to an impact.

      •  Agreed on both counts. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

        by Wildthumb on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 09:21:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I heard on NPR (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        We only need to slow it's arrival by 7 minutes or so and we'll be out of the way when it gets here.

        But my problem is, it seems under current technology, we don't have years lead times.  It doesn't do any good to predict a 50% chance of hitting.  If we slow that object down by 7 minutes, we might turn a miss into a hit.  So for schemes like this, if we have to wait until it's close to be certain of it's trajectory, we'll need lots of force.  Sort of a Titanic/iceberg situation.

        Even Democrats can be asses. Look at Rahm Emanuel.

        by Helpless on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:19:55 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  If we were all in for a penny for NASA we might... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rb608, The Nose, Wildthumb

        ...have some back up plans ready to execute. Right now, what is arguably the most technically advanced entity in the US operates on an annual budget of about 1/2 a penny out of your tax dollar. An agency which during the Apollo program returned to the public sector about $7.00 for every $1.00 invested (full disclosure-NASA received up to 5% of our GDP for part of the 60's until dropping later in that decade). The microprocessor chip and a slew of electronic miniaturization may not exist without Apollo. Try running your PC without those.

        Yeah, that's a source of government funding we should be slashing right now, right?  Especially when we're trying to define what NASA should be doing over the next generation. I like Neil deGrasse Tyson's idea of a heavy booster platform which could be adapted for deep space asteroid stuff or Mars missions, or for the moon, or this, that, or the other thing. Spotting and providing an alternative to asteroid sheparding  could be part of  that vision. We still don't know if private companies can do the job. Cheaply or not. But then you have to ask yourself, what has NASA done for us lately. Nothing good can come out of a gubmint agency.

  •  The Safe Bet Is on the Free Market Saving Earth. (10+ / 0-)

    One has only to see how it's enriched the masses.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:11:05 PM PST

  •  gravity tractor (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Aunt Pat, annieli, Noodles, rb608

    would it be smarter to start building one of those right now, somewhere in the asteroid belt?  

    the purpose of the second amendment is to promote a well-regulated militia, in the same sense that the purpose of the first amendment is to promote a well-informed electorate.

    by happymisanthropy on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:13:13 PM PST

    •  See my above suggestion for using (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Aunt Pat, rb608

      gravity tractors to destroy the earth.  

    •  We could use all that mercury... (4+ / 0-)

      ...we've captured from all the coal-fired power plants here on Earth.

      Oh, wait...

      Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

      by JeffW on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:19:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Massive probe (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ender, JeffW, Helpless, rb608

      At a cost of $10,000 per kilogram to launch. The equation by the way is F=G (M1*M2)/r^2.  If M1 is the asteroid, it is left as an exercise to the reader to calculate the mass of the probe, considering it has to overcome the attractive force of the earth.  It seems to me that outfitting an existing asteroid with rockets and using it to divert other rocks might be a equally plausible idea.  You know, the mass is already out there.

      Or continuing to try to get into space so that someday we will have a group to continue our civilization.  The dinosaurs only died because they could not fly and live on mars.  Perhaps that is the challenge of each wave of evolution.  See if you can solve the puzzle of space colonization before your species becomes annihilated.

      •  No Need (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Noodles, rb608, Sneelock

        Diverting an incoming asteroid is orders of magnitude easier to do than establishing a self-sustaining colony on another world.

        In fact, we'll have solved the asteroid problem centuries before we're ready to permanently slip the surly bonds of Earth -- probably within the next few decades, in fact.

        We've already detected an estimated 31% of all asteroids over 100m in size (IAU figures) and we've barely even started. We've a long way to go yet, especially to find those between 40m and 100m (just 3% so far) that can still cause serious damage, but the threat of an unexpected asteroid strike wiping us out is already receding.

        And I have little doubt that given enough warning, even if we detected an inbound monster killer tomorrow, we'd pull together and find a way to stop it from hitting.

        •  Ah, the head in the sand approach (0+ / 0-)
          ... even if we detected an inbound monster killer tomorrow, we'd pull together and find a way to stop it from hitting.
          This is certainly the current approach.  NASA is detecting but not building or even planning the asteroid mover/buster, from what I've heard.

          Even Democrats can be asses. Look at Rahm Emanuel.

          by Helpless on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:25:34 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Get a small asteroid moving to get a bigger one... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... moving to get a bigger one moving...  Moreover we'd put them into orbits where we need them and we could be studying or mining them in the meanwhile. If the US isn't involved in doing that, eventually someone else will. Let's hope they have a friendly agenda.

      I believe some space based telescopes would be an essential early part of a program to specifically look for even small objects coming out of the deep solar system. The further away an object is the easier it will be to divert it. Only a 5 degree shift could keep a planet killer permanently in a safe orbit.

      And for bonus points,  a few centuries hence a big one like that might make a nice interstellar generational ship if it can be hollowed out and propelled somehow to one of our nearest stellar neighbors. Especially if hibernation, artificial biospheres and radical life extension are possible it might be worth trying with the right engineering advances.

  •  A corrolary question is, (8+ / 0-)

    Can we MAKE a planet-incinerating object hit the earth?  

    And the answer is, yup, and it would be fairly easy with existing technology.  Just sending up a probe to hover near an existing asteroid that regularly comes within the zone of near miss orbits would allow a slight gravitational tug to pull it onto the right course, and then, Tada!  Not even cockroaches and amoebas to start over with!  

    You can now imagine the president asking Dr. Strangelove, "Not even the monkeys?"

    Of course, nobody but a madman would think of doing something like this.  But they might think of targeting the planet with smaller asteroids.  It might even be cheaper than developing a nuclear program and with fewer international controls.  Who could complain if some country wants to send scientific space probes to see the asteroids?  Merely developing the technology for STUDYING the asteroid belt on a regular basis would make such a country more dangerous to the survival of the species than being a member of the nuke club, and not somebody to be trifled with.

    •  I suspect that you need the infrastructure... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rb608, The Nose, Calamity Jean

      ...close to what we, or the Russians potentially have.

      Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

      by JeffW on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:21:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  60 Minutes had a piece on the Israeli "Iron Dome" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        They said it had an 85% success rate of over one thousand missiles launched and expected that rate to be improved upon.

        It was able to hit an object launched from sixty miles away traveling at a thousand miles an hour.  Operated by 18-21 year olds who had five to six seconds to determine whether to launch or not.  The system is able to determine whether the missile would land in a populated area or an empty field and give the 'kids' five to six seconds to decide whether to launch or not.  It was described as hitting a bullet w/another bullet.  They showed actual footage of several missiles being knocked down in flight.  
        It was developed w/American/Israeli cooperation.

        "It riles them to believe you perceive the web they weave." Moody Blues

        by BrianParker14 on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 09:36:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  "They said"... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Calamity Jean

          ...says a lot. If the accuracy of the system was evaluated by another organization and found to be close to that, I'd accept it. But after all the BS from SDI project "tests", I'm dubious.

          Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

          by JeffW on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 10:41:08 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Indeed (8+ / 0-)

      we could. If we can nudge it away, we can nudge it toward us. But if the goal is huge destructive force, it would probably be a lot easier and cheaper to make a bunch of h-bombs and vehicles to carry them. We know how to do that already.

      •  You don't even need a missle... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DarkSyde, annieli, Calamity Jean could stick it in an old freighter.

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:23:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think so... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DarkSyde, JeffW, Helpless, rb608

        It takes more h-bombs than we have, to destroy all microbial life on earth.  Furthermore, there are tight watches kept on nuclear materials and nuclear testing.  And a bomb on a freighter (as Jeff describes elsewhere) would target one city and start a war we would ultimately win.  They would be destroyed, although we wouldn't particularly like losing the city.

        It seems easier to me to send small probes out close to NEO asteroids and leave them out there making scientific "observations."  The implicit threat wouldn't need to be stated, and the effectiveness of the threat wouldn't even have to be verifiably real to be of defensive value.

        A good question then is this: If some other country we don't trust, like China or Iran or Pakistan, were to begin sending such probes up for "scientific" purposes, would we try to prevent it?  

        Or, what if some other country we didn't trust were to send up alleged asteroid deflection probes with the purpose of PROTECTING the earth as some commenters suggest.  Would we even permit that?  And if we didn't permit it, how would we stop it?

        •  I (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ender, Calamity Jean

          have nothing against microbes, I'm not a like metazoanist, but really, the difference between a full nuclear exchange and a K-T impact is rather academic. We'd all probably die either way. But if I had to choose, I think I'd go with the impact.

          •  Of course, there are different sizes of (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Helpless, Noodles, rb608, Calamity Jean

            asteroids, and they all have different orbits with different potential impact appointments.  The Chicxalub meteor that wiped out the Cretaceous was a whopping  6 miles in diameter, but that's actually kind of puny when you think about it, isn't it?  Because there are bigger ones out there.  Ones that are bigger that could incinerate the planet to molten lava or smaller ones that could just wipe out most of a continent, if targeted correctly.  

            A much, much smaller asteroid could be tweaked so it doesn't hit the continent at all, but, instead, targets the ocean and causes massive tidal coastal waves, wiping out major industrial centers on the east coast, for example.  A country that is mostly land-locked and/or that has no Atlantic coastal presence might face a much smaller environmental risk from this.

            It seems to me that as a privatized space industry makes the technology for such things off-the-shelf, the cost of R&D for implementing such a thing will decline.

            Thinking about this some more, there's also the possibility of some country deciding to "mine" the asteroids, for instance by finding some metal-heavy asteroid and bringing it back to earth orbit for "safe" orbital mining and zero-gravity construction.  I've heard plenty of talk about how we need to beat the Chinese to do this if we want to maintain our technological and industrial (not military) edge in the future.  In this case, we would be essentially turning asteroids that AREN'T in close earth orbits into near earth orbits for industrial purposes.  We aren't anywhere near that, but it's worth considering that if and when we ever do have to consider this, that we're also talking about exterminating all life on earth.

            Suppose a multinational like Halliburton decided to mine the asteroids this way.  Who would tell them not to do it?  The Republicans in Congress?  Hah.  And if they screw up and kill us all, who would we sue?

            •  The ultimate environmental impact (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Something like.  

              "We are absolutely certain there is no way one of our captured asteroids will get away and impact Earth."



              "Using the strictest protocols, we will constantly monitor the targeted asteroids' orbits and will never mine one to the point where it's orbit is altered to ever impact Earth."
              Any object whose orbit intersects Earth's orbit will eventually collide with the Earth.  And since the Earth is traveling 67,062 miles per hour in it's orbit, any such collision is not going to be a simple fender bender.

              Even Democrats can be asses. Look at Rahm Emanuel.

              by Helpless on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:44:38 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  You could possibly crash the gold market as well (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              rb608, Dumbo

              Or the platinum market or even the nickel market with the right find. Some speculate there may be asteroids rich enough in those or other heavy or rare earth metals to do so. Which could even lead to economic terrorism of a sort along with the dominance of an actual resource in a given market.

          •  Except that the whole point is that it wouldn't (0+ / 0-)

            be a full nuclear exchange, just one or two nukes by some rogue country.  Now compare a few nukes to a few large asteroids.

            You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

            by Throw The Bums Out on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 02:36:55 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Have you read Lucifer's Hammer? (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FlyingToaster, DarkSyde, dancerat

            Fun scifi read about an asteroid & Earth.

            Even Democrats can be asses. Look at Rahm Emanuel.

            by Helpless on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:31:27 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Think smaller and more precise (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Something just big enough to sink a ship or destroy a tank.

      Your anti-missile defense would be useless against it.

      I will bet that the Pentagon is already working on it. They have probably dropped a few metal objects on the deserts of California and Nevada.

      I wonder if they have solved the re-entry blackout problem? A ball of plasma usually forms around the re-entering object rendering it deaf and blind.

      •  I don't think that would be as effective. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        You would be telegraphing your punch way in advance by doing so because it would take many minutes from pulling the trigger to hitting the target, time in which the target may be moving and your bullet is moving too fast to adjust.  

        It seems to me it would be easier and faster to just use a laser.  A good ol' "Deathstar."  

        •  You keep an inventory of weapons in orbit (0+ / 0-)

          at all times.

          It is very difficult to see the de-orbit burn, especially during daylight hours.

          Yes, it would be very difficult to hit a moving object. Aircraft carriers do not move very fast and maybe just hitting the water near it may be enough to sink it.

          The only military laser that I know of with the capabilities that you mention was the size of a Boeing 707 and could only be fired once without refueling.

          •  Okay, reality check (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Dumbo, Calamity Jean

            Dropping things from orbit is an incredibly stupid weapons systems, for several reasons.

            1. It's a system that everyone can see, all the time, and know exactly where it is. And if you know where it is, you know what it could hit, and when, at any given time.

            2. It's a weapon that everyone and their dog can see coming. You can't hide it. If you do a powerful de-orbiting burn, that makes it easy to detect and determine it's probable impact point. If you do a low power burn to try and make it less noticeable, that means an enormous lead time to track separation...and determine the probable impact point.

            3. If you're using kinetic energy, that means the object is coming in fast, but because it's coming in fast that means it's surrounded by a plasma sheathe that prevents communications or sensors from adjusting it's course other than what it was programmed. You know those few minutes of silence during the Apollo re-entries when they lost the data feed and communications? Same thing. Which means for the last few minutes of its flight the projectile can't change it's target.

            Oh, and that plasma sheathe? Reflects radio waves like you wouldn't believe, which means you get a track on it almost immediately.

            At 30 knots (aircraft carrier cruising speeds), an carrier is moving over 50 feet a second, which means that if you have a three minute blackout window, the carrier will have moved almost two miles, or it might have altered course and be somewhere else.

            Basically, it's a stupid ass weapons system.

            •  I would have rec'd you 'cept for that last line (0+ / 0-)

              Now I'm considering a hide rating.

              Even Democrats can be asses. Look at Rahm Emanuel.

              by Helpless on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:50:07 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  It also is terribly expensive. (0+ / 0-)

              It also is terribly expensive in terms of energy.

              We think of "dropping" thigs from orbit. We detach them from our satelite and they just drop to Earth. Reallu, anything we detach from our satelite will just follow along with it. Verne, wh got so much wrong in From the Earth to the Moon, got that right.

              What you have to do to hit simething is fire a braking rocket to cut it's velocity to the point that it enters the Earth's atmosphere. Then, the atmosphere brakes it further, and that makes its trtajectory somewhat unpredictable. Hitting Texas by dropping something from orbit woulldn't be hard. Hitting Dallas would take a lot of practice. Hitting a single building would be impossible.

              The artillery and rockets we have on Earth are much more practical.

    •  Hit is much more difficult. (0+ / 0-)

      A hit is much more difficult than a miss.

      A lot of the responses to this seem to think of the Earth as this big target.

      The earth is a tiny point in the Solar System. To hit it you have to manouvre something into an orbit that comes within 4,000 miles of the orbit of Earth.
      If you're not in any hurry, that's enough. It will hit sooner or later, maybe in 10,000,000 years. If you want to destroy the earth within the next century, then you have to not only have the orbit intersect Earth's orbit, you have to have it intersect it at just the right time.

  •  what an interesting idea! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    i love the gravitational tether.  it sounds so star trek and so cool.  it is an elegant idea who's time i hope never comes.

    •  Actually... (0+ / 0-)

      If we did detect an inbound killer asteroid, it would not necessarily be a bad thing... assuming we had plenty of time to do something about it -- i.e. a decade or more.

      Think about it -- nothing would concentrate the mind better than an existential threat from space -- it would be a massive boost to NASA and the space industry, and would likely foster a much closer working relationship between the major powers as they all faced down a common threat.

      Of course, we would have to succeed, but I suspect the prospect of the end of the civilization lead to some admirably cooperative efforts.

      •  We'll never be certain that far out (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Calamity Jean

        under current technology.

        Even DA14's track was expressed  (in 2012) as "a cumulative 0.033% risk estimate (1 in 3,030) of 2012 DA14 impacting Earth sometime between 2026 and 2069."

        At what percentage will we futz with an object's orbit?  Who will be the one to push the button, given the risk of turning a near miss into an impact?

        Blowing it to dust on the other hand, shouldn't be too hard, I should think, if they're so flimsy as mentioned in the diary.  Blow it to pieces small enough to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

        Even Democrats can be asses. Look at Rahm Emanuel.

        by Helpless on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 04:06:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Far better to boost NASA now with clear thinking (0+ / 0-)

        Rather than trying to pull off a Hail Mary pass. I get what you are saying, but I'd rather be prepared for the worst. Trust me, we'd still get that world-wide realization of how vulnerable we are. We might not even succeed on the first try. I'd rather have backups ready to go.

        And I'd rather have an inspired generation of young engineers and scientists and adventurers planning to do deep space protection and the back to the moon and on to Mars and all the economic benefits from a well-funded space science program. Not the half-assed funded one we have now. There'd still be plenty of room for international and private commercial ventures as well with the healthy completion against a NASA like we had in the 60's.

  •  I Like the Laser/Mirror Idea of Shooting Hot (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ender, Calamity Jean

    light beam at the object (maybe in short pulses) to make the object create its own rocket to shove it off course.

    But I've not been qualified on the numbers in this field.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:19:42 PM PST

  •  Just make it give the GOP response to SOTU (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Aunt Pat

    That usually stops all fiery retreads from destroying the planet.


    by RVKU on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:21:05 PM PST

  •  Futurama (0+ / 0-)

    We can just hit it with an object of equal mass, ala Futurama.

    Supposedly this was actually being floated around as a possibility for one potential situation like this fairly recently lol

  •  And if the miners cause the asteroid to HIT US (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde, foresterbob, Bob B

    while making money? What then?! Wow -- ironic end to a capitalist world.

  •  I'm pretty sure (0+ / 0-)

    no one asked Steve Buscemi how to tackle this problem -- and he's a genius.

    Now that the big one bi-passed us by not landing in the middle of the Augusta golf course, I can focus on good science.  Thanks for the diary and links.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:26:49 PM PST

  •  We live in a vast, dangerous, impersonal (3+ / 0-)

    universe. A great deal of the material that is the makeup of these hurtling objects is the same stuff that's in our bodies.

    We are stardust. We're not merely residing in the universe, the universe resides within us.

    Makes ya feel kind of big, doesn't it?

  •  Can't we just hire Bruce Willis? (0+ / 0-)

    Or James Gardner?   Or a lot of other options?  Robert Duvall?

    Or, we could also find room for the kids of Rocketship!

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 08:27:50 PM PST

  •  If asteroids are mostly fragments held together (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    by gravity, would it be possible to drill into one and make a ship out of it. You'd have lots of shielding for interplanetary travel.

  •  First sentence is wrong (0+ / 0-)

    DarkSyde your stuff is usually good, but you get it wrong in your very first sentence, "The recent event in Siberia..."

    It wasn't in Siberia. Close, but no cigar. Sorry, no interest to read further after that faux pas.

    •  I thought so too... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and tried to confirm with some googling, and it seems to be that Chelyabinsk is just east of the Ural Mountains, placing it indeed in Siberia.  It is straight east of Moscow (not north) and actually down very near the southern Russian border near Kazakhstan.  I hadn't realized that "Siberia" is actually 77% of Russia. In fact, Siberia, at 5 million Sq miles, is one 40th of the land mass on earth.

  •  Why is breaking up the object a bad thing? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Helpless, Calamity Jean, Sneelock

    The smaller the peices are, the more of them are ging to burn up on entry, and the less kinetic energy the ones that do get through are going have when they hit.

    It would seem to be an improvement over getting the whole object down the pipe in one peice...


    "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
    "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

    by Leftie Gunner on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 10:31:57 PM PST

    •  It's the Difficulty and Unpredictability (0+ / 0-)

      The problem is that there is no guarantee you'll be able to break the asteroid up into small enough pieces. You might want to try it as a last resort, but you're far better off having to deal with one 500m-wide asteroid than, say, a dozen asteroids ranging from 80m to 200m in size all bearing down on us.

      We already know how to steer asteroids out of the way (in theory), and, once we knew the mass and velocity of the object, we would know exactly what it would take to divert it into a safe orbit.

      With all the best will in the world, we would have very little idea of what would happen if we tried to blow up a killer asteroid instead.

    •  Then you've just superheated the atmosphere... (0+ / 0-)

      One of the aftereffects of a major impact is the atmospheric heating caused by the material blasted up into suborbital trajectories coming back in. All you're doing by breaking it up is skipping the intermediate impact stage and doing it directly.

      And even the "small" fragments...the recent airburst was estimated at being 300 kilotons. Tunguska was 10-15 megatons, and would have destroyed a metropolitan area if it had exploded over it.

      Now imagine dozens or hundreds of these things going off at once. Congratulations, no craters to mar the ruins.

  •  If it's so soft... (0+ / 0-)

    If it's so soft that you can't shove it, it's not a killer.

    Don't be so Stupid.

  •  Here's the thing... (0+ / 0-)

    Sometimes they come in "herds".
    Imagine several hundred objects scouring the Earth at once until the atmosphere is super-heated. Hide from that.

    You're welcome.

  •  Fantastic. Thanks DS. nt (0+ / 0-)

    Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

    by k9disc on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 11:08:57 PM PST

  •  You have got to be kidding... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is pretty much freaking science fiction than an actual working solution.

    Too many issues with this concept to make it actually work. The size of the object you would need would have to be pretty large. Too large for us to simply put into a high orbit. And putting that aside for a moment, the energy output we would have to use to move the large object would be equally immense. And that is if we could even change its orbit far enough to get into position in time. You might as well put rockets on the moon's surface and move it instead!

    This is just not possible given today's rocketry and engineering.

    "I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." -- George Carlin, Satirical Comic,(1937-2008)

    by Wynter on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 12:29:23 AM PST

    •  Yeah, just like communication satellites. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And moon shots. And personal computers. Silly stuff with no possible basis in fact. It can't be done; we'll never get there. We only have another hundred years (hopefully) before the next one like the rock over Russia is expected to come along. We could never stop such a thing in ten or twenty years.

      •  Explain then... (0+ / 0-)

        How to put a massive enough object into high orbit to have even a minor level of gravity to create this tractor? Hmmm? And how much fuel would it take to get this object into orbit? We have tons and tons of rocket fuel expended already just getting a piece of light aluminum into space. Yes, those pesky satellites aren't made of iron and steel ya know. They have their weight cut down by the ounce so it can achieve orbit and stay there.

        Then you can go about explaining to the rest of the class about how to alter the trajectory of your massive gravity tractor from it's current orbit which is likely on an equatorial orbit and intercept an object coming in over the poles. Hmm? There is a lot of science to orbital mechanics and it's not just a simple case of putting your massive object into "reverse" and backing it up. It's flying at thousands of miles per hour just to maintain itself in orbit. Altering that orbit by even a fraction costs a lot of fuel due to it's large mass. Then there is the problem of not hitting every one of a million other satellites currently in orbit. It's a damn traffic jam up there now.

        All in all. It's a cute idea. But far from feasible. We would need to make leaps in engine technology far exceeding where we are now with solid and liquid rockets. You are talking somewhere beyond "nuclear fission" to create the thrust necessary to move something like this object. By that time we would be able to fly to Mars in less than a week and commute to the Moon.

        We are talking very large leaps.

        "I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." -- George Carlin, Satirical Comic,(1937-2008)

        by Wynter on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 05:02:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tell these guys it won't work (0+ / 0-)

          Follow the links and let the big brains that spend their life's work on this stuff explain how a ton or two of spacecraft with ion drives is all that's needed to do the trick. BTW, I work with satellites and I assure you a payload of a couple tons is routinely lifted. Even using very light materials. NASA should be upping the ante shortly with a heavy lifter rocket now in development.

          Those with the plan are the ones you want to argue with. And it's all using current technology.

        •  By the way this doesn't happen in orbit (0+ / 0-)

          The tugs are not used around the Earth to 'grab' the object. You go out an meet the object on its trajectory as far away as possible. If we have the option to do so, we might put it later in an orbit. It won't be in a geosynchronous one around the planet. It would be further out or perhaps to sit at a Lagrange point or such. Or send it away for good if nothing else.

          •  Interesting... (0+ / 0-)

            But I still have a great many doubts that this would be feasible unless we knew the precise trajectory of an incoming object a decade ahead of time. And so far I haven't heard of any planet-killers predicted. (probably wouldn't be a good idea to make that public I suppose)

            But let's say that it can be built, placed into a trajectory to intercept and divert the planet killer that is heading our way. Now given all that...

            How are we going to convince everyone to fund this large project years in advance? We can't even get these guys to agree that climate change is real. People in this world are very obstinate when it comes to long term problems that aren't tangible. They need to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt and even then you will have the "Jesus will save us" crowd trying to pray away the problem. The human race is really a pitiful group. We are our own worst enemy.

            "I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." -- George Carlin, Satirical Comic,(1937-2008)

            by Wynter on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 12:31:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  It should be part of our overall space program (0+ / 0-)

              Indeed, it should be an international effort. Putting some small space based telescopes in orbit to look for the smallest or furthest away objects should be our first step. Google Neil deGrasse Tyson's testimony before congress for a robust vision for what our space program could be. One that is versatile and able to achieve a number of tasks.

    •  That's a very good point Wynter (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The asteroids that we'd really need to deflect are huge.  And we wouldn't just have to get our gravity tractor into high orbit.  We'd have to maneuver it to where the asteroid is, then change its trajectory and get it to track very accurately a path close to the path of the target asteroid -- for a long time.  That would take a huge amount of energy.

      Seems to me we'd have a better chance trying to blow it up.  If we could catch up with it a few years before impact and split it into smaller pieces, the odds seem small that all of those would follow the exact path that the whole thing would have for several years.

  •  I can hear the conservative asteroid deniers now. (5+ / 0-)

    It's a hoax!

    There is no asteroid!

    The academics are only saying we need to do something for the grant money!

    It's too expensive!

    It's the height of arrogance to assume that man can intervene in the asteroid affairs of God.

    The Class, Terror and Climate Wars are indivisible and the short-term outcome will affect the planet for centuries. -WiA "When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill..." - PhilJD

    by Words In Action on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:31:35 AM PST

    •  Maybe not. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Words In Action

      There's no fossil fuel barons to promote asteroid denialism.  

      If a planet-killer asteroid doesn't come in the next 50 years it's not going to matter anyway.  Climate change will have gotten us and an asteroid would do no further damage.  

      Renewable energy brings national global security.     

      by Calamity Jean on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:05:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're right about Climate Change. (0+ / 0-)

        But I don't think they'll want to follow the lead of Science on the existence of an asteroid and whether or not we can or should do something about it. After all, wouldn't that divert money from other priorities of the vested interests.

        An infinite number of more and better Democratic legislators will make little substantive difference in the Class and Climate Wars.

        by Words In Action on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 05:11:29 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  no (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Evidence that contradicts the ruling belief system is held to extraordinary standards, while evidence that entrenches it is uncritically accepted. -Carl Sagan

    by RF on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 04:49:28 AM PST

  •  Physics 101 Please... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "but if you have a few years lead time"

    With near space filled with objects waiting to be pulled into the Earth's gravity well, there will never be a "few years lead time".  The resources you would have to put into tracking EVERY near earth object while people are starving on the planet from lack of food would be simply unrealistic and inhumane for the probabilities involved.

    It's just simple ballistics: You can't beat the clock when you have a ballistic trajectory you are trying to intercept.  It gets there when it gets there, not when YOU want it to get there.  

    People think we can just instantly teleport something to get it into position where it can do the dirty deed on an asteroid to save the planet.  But that only happens in the movies.  It can be done, but it takes painstaking time and mathematical planning.  The farther out from Earth it is, the longer it takes to send something to it.  By the time you get to it, it's that much closer.  The closer it is, the less time we have to react and plan.  The only way they are able to dock with the Space Station is through meticulous planning and again,,, MATHEMATICS.

    This is why Star Wars satellite warfare is fundamentally flawed: unless you have something like phasers that can instantly target and fry (which we don't), it won't work with our current ballistic based weaponry.  The Patriot missile system was a farce, didn't hit any of Saddam's scuds, I don't care WHAT you saw on TEE VEE.  By the time you spend gazillions on a missile defense system that doesn't work, it might just cost less to get hit by the missile that might never get fired.

    We don't live in a Star Trek world, folks.  The laws of physics are against us.

    Every tax dollar that ends up in the pocket of the profiteers is a tax dollar not in the service of the taxpayer.

    by Bugboy on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 06:34:07 AM PST

    •  Physics 101 Is What Says You're Wrong (0+ / 0-)
      With near space filled with objects waiting to be pulled into the Earth's gravity well, there will never be a "few years lead time".
      We're talking about actual asteroid orbits, not debris clusters just sort of floating there like in Star Wars. It is quite possible to know more or less where everything will be many years in the future -- the catch is to get enough data to reduce the "more or less" to an uncertainty less than the (relatively tiny) size of the planet.

      On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

      by stevemb on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 07:01:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Is there such a thing as a safe orbit? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde, ThirtyFiveUp

    gravity tractor idea

    cajoling a hazardous rock into a safe orbit
    But don't all orbits decay eventually? Would we just be kicking this problem down the road a few decades?

    And if we were able to tow an asteroid completely out of our planet's orbit, might that cause it to hit some other innocent planet eventually?

    The only thing that can stop a bad asteroid with its gravity is a good guy with gravity. Let's strap Wayne LaPierre to the top of a an Atlas today, so we can be ready.

    •  Orbits (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      are chaotic, as illustrated by a classic physics conundrum called the three body problem and we know planets move all over the place in other solar systems. We see them in strange places where they were unlikely to form sometimes. How exactly this happens is a topic of intense research and debate among planetary astronomers right now.

      Decay is a slightly different deal, the earth's atmosphere actually extends for a thousand or more miles into space but it's incredibly tenuous. It's just thick enough that, over time, it can slow an object down that's orbiting inside that super thin envelope, which causes the object to drop in its orbit, where the atmosphere is ever so slightly thicker and slows it down ever so slightly faster, etc, and eventually it comes streaking in like skylab.

    •  On the Nose!!!! n/t (0+ / 0-)

      United Citizens beat Citizens United

      by ThirtyFiveUp on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 09:45:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Can we stop a meteor? (0+ / 0-)

    Great, Daily Kos! Stir up the old Star Wars debate, why dontcha?

  •  Yes - we can stop objects from hitting the earth (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ThirtyFiveUp, Calamity Jean

    ...if the objects contain any progressive policy objectives, then the government will use every technology at its disposal to prevent it from landing.

  •  Space Trolls (0+ / 0-)

    So if all it takes is a probe with weak rockets and a good guidance system to alter the course of an asteroid...aren't we talking about a real-life Dr. Evil scenario here? What if one of these companies decides to hold the world, or a wealthy continent, hostage by threatening to pull a big asteroid INTO Earth's path?

  •  talk about turning lemons into lemonade... (0+ / 0-)

    ...this truly shows the potential of science at its best...turning a potential catastrophe, which could wipe out mankind...into a way to harvest valuable resources to benefit mankind. Hopefully, this is more than just a theory.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site