18 May 2008

Billions for Global Warming--But Not One Cent for the Defense of Earth From Space

The US Congress, such as it is, directs the space agency NASA as to its goals and missions. The Congress in its perverse incompetence has decided that "global warming" represents a larger threat to the nation and the world than threats from outer space--falling rocks.
In 1980, only 86 near-Earth asteroids and comets were known to exist. By 1990, the figure had risen to 170; by 2000, it was 921; as of this writing, it is 5,388. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, part of NASA, keeps a running tally at www.neo.jpl.nasa.gov/stats. Ten years ago, 244 near-Earth space rocks one kilometer across or more—the size that would cause global calamity—were known to exist; now 741 are. Of the recently discovered nearby space objects, NASA has classified 186 as “impact risks” (details about these rocks are at www.neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk ).
And because most space - rock searches to date have been low-budget affairs, conducted with equipment designed to look deep into the heavens, not at nearby space, the actual number of impact risks is undoubtedly much higher. Extrapolating from recent discoveries, NASA estimates that there are perhaps 20,000 potentially hazardous asteroids and comets in the general vicinity of Earth.

...A team of researchers led by Richard Firestone, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California, recently announced the discovery of evidence that one or two huge space rocks, each perhaps several kilometers across, exploded high above Canada 12,900 years ago. The detonation, they believe, caused widespread fires and dust clouds, and disrupted climate patterns so severely that it triggered a prolonged period of global cooling. Mammoths and other species might have been killed either by the impact itself or by starvation after their food supply was disrupted.

...just a century ago, in 1908, a huge explosion occurred above Tunguska, Siberia. The cause was not a malfunctioning alien star-cruiser but a small asteroid or comet that detonated as it approached the ground. The blast had hundreds of times the force of the Hiroshima bomb and devastated an area of several hundred square miles. Had the explosion occurred above London or Paris, the city would no longer exist. Mark Boslough, a researcher at the Sandia National Laboratory, in New Mexico, recently concluded that the Tunguska object was surprisingly small, perhaps only 30 meters across. Right now, astronomers are nervously tracking 99942 Apophis, an asteroid with a slight chance of striking Earth in April 2036. Apophis is also small by asteroid standards, perhaps 300 meters across, but it could hit with about 60,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb—enough to destroy an area the size of France. In other words, small asteroids may be more dangerous than we used to think—and may do considerable damage even if they don’t reach Earth’s surface.

...Comets, asteroids, and the little meteors that form pleasant shooting stars approach Earth at great speeds—at least 25,000 miles per hour. As they enter the atmosphere they heat up, from friction, and compress, because they decelerate rapidly. Many space rocks explode under this stress, especially small ones; large objects are more likely to reach Earth’s surface. The angle at which objects enter the atmosphere also matters: an asteroid or comet approaching straight down has a better chance of hitting the surface than one entering the atmosphere at a shallow angle, as the latter would have to plow through more air, heating up and compressing as it descended. The object or objects that may have detonated above Canada 12,900 years ago would probably have approached at a shallow angle....This winter, I asked William Ailor, an asteroid specialist at The Aerospace Corporation, a think tank for the Air Force, what he thought the risk was. Ailor’s answer: a one-in-10 chance per century of a dangerous space-object strike.

...when it comes to killer comets, you’ll just have to lose sleep over the possibility of their approach; there are no proposals for what to do about them. Comets are easy to see when they are near the sun and glowing but are difficult to detect at other times. Many have “eccentric” orbits, spending centuries at tremendous distances from the sun, then falling toward the inner solar system, then slingshotting away again. If you were to add comets to one of those classroom models of the solar system, many would need to come from other floors of the building, or from another school district, in order to be to scale. Advanced telescopes will probably do a good job of detecting most asteroids that pass near Earth, but an unknown comet suddenly headed our way would be a nasty surprise. And because many comets change course when the sun heats their sides and causes their frozen gases to expand, deflecting or destroying them poses technical problems to which there are no ready solutions. The logical first step, then, seems to be to determine how to prevent an asteroid from striking Earth and hope that some future advance, perhaps one building on the asteroid work, proves useful against comets....Congress...ought to look more sensibly at space priorities.

Because it controls federal funding, Congress holds the trump cards. In 2005, [Congress] approved the moon-base idea, seemingly just as as budgetary log-rolling to maintain spending in the congressional districts favored under NASA’s current budget hierarchy. The House and Senate ought to demand that the space program have as its first priority returning benefits to taxpayers. __Atlantic__via_Kurzweilai.net
Bonus: Check out this graphic video portraying the dangerous world of space rock.
The Congress is preparing to throw the US economy (and by extension the global economy) into a tailspin over global warming, based upon less evidence than would be necessary to convince most intelligent people to drive to the corner market. Yet when it comes to potentially apocalyptic hazards such as extinction-event asteroid and comet falls, Congress has an inadequate scope and vision to protect the US. What about the UN? Puhlease! The UN is all about stashing away untraceable cash in numbered Swiss bank accounts. Not being helpful or useful.

Is the risk of a serious space rock incident as high as 1 in 10, as stated above? There are too many assumptions to give a clear estimate. What should be obvious to anyone with a brain who is paying attention, however, is that the threat from space rocks is several orders of magnitude higher than the threat from anthropogenic greenhouse warming.

Americans, when you go to the voting booth in November, remember that it is you who is partially to blame for the unaccountability of your government. Because you never held your Senators and Congressional members to account. You never asked the hard questions, nor insisted that the weasels really answer the questions. You passively believe that you pay taxes so that the government can take care of the country. That is your first mistake. The rest of the list is too long to publish here.

Congress is ready to sell the US economy down the river for a little "international acceptance". Congress is an ass. But then you knew that already.

Meanwhile, Oynklent Green is preparing to test its pilot plant, at a secret, undisclosed location that has been hardened against asteroid impact.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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