Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The asteroid cometh- 2013 TX68

Traveling at 34,000 mph an asteroid is heading this way. Will it hit us, no, but by how much will it miss? Somewhere between 20,000 miles and 10 million miles – apparently your guess is as good as, well, the scientists?

Asteroid 2013 TX68 began in 2013 as a Near Earth Object that was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey, had a three day observation period and then was lost due to its small size. Well, it’s back!

Apparently the asteroid often makes close approaches to Earth as it has a poorly constrained orbit. Its size? About 69-171 feet across which means it is about twice the size of the Chelyabinsk meteor.  It’s is predicted to pass us by on March 7thsomewhere between 5:30 am & 4:06 pm. (and yes, they did predict 4:06 – how they know exactly when the window disappears but not exactly when the asteroid will pass is beyond me!)

It is said that 2013 TX68 originated in the asteroid belt up there between Jupiter & Mars.

This of course brings up the subject, what would we do if it were going to hit us? An important question to be sure.

If the asteroid that was going to impact the Earth were noticed several years in advance (such as this one was except it was then promptly ‘lost’) then this is a job for the ARM. Certainly you have heard of the ARM mission; The Asteroid Redirect Mission. Not yet live tested and due to be launched at the end of this decade, the ARM refers to a robotic spacecraft that has a robotic arm that, in the test scenario, will capture some as yet to be determined asteroid mass (though Bennu is in the lead at present followed closely by Ikotowa and another though they are open to more! )After catching the mass, the spacecraft will redirect it to a stable orbit of the moon. Here is where it changes into a mission to serve our Mars needs. 

The mission to Mars now has a phased approach. Tentively visiting Phobos (but that could later change to Deimos when we get more information about the pair of Mars moons), this allows two opportunities – testing the SEP (solar Electric Propulsion) which we intend to use on tugs sent to Mars in advance of humans & practicing rendezvous and Extra Vehicular Activity techniques which will also be used on a mission to Mars. All in all, though the ARM mission is said to be costly, that it will accomplish three major things with one mission make it seem to me to be worth the money. It is about time that planetary defense became an actual thing, and the two items for Mars, we have to be sure about things prior to a mission 54.6 million kilometers from Earth, so it makes perfect sense!

Do we have any other options? Well yes, we do, and it’s a slamming idea! Really! It is taking a spacecraft of some sort and simply slamming it into the asteroid that’s traveling at high speeds. Of course you need to consider angles and such – like playing pool really, asteroid in the corner pocket. This particular method will be tested in approximately 2022. There’s only one thing, for this technique, the scientists need years of notice.

So apparently it is a very good thing that this asteroid will miss us by 20,000 miles or 10 million miles, whichever.

There are blind spots in the sky, though much smaller than they used to be, and there are other “small” asteroids, that are bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteor but small enough to get lost in the sky. We Earthling have become rather complacent. It’s been 50,000 years since an Asteroid formed a new crater in Arizona, 30 million ears since an extinction event was experienced in Argentina from an asteroid, and 65 million years ago since an asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula, causing a global firestorm, then a cold snap and finally a global warming that extinguishes the dinosaurs. Mammals then move to center stage. So we have experienced a decent period of calm and so perhaps don’t realize that in this Universe things are here this morning but possibly gone by this afternoon.


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