Meet Asteroid 2012 DA14
FORMER ASTRONAUT RUSTY SCHWEICKART says Asteroid 2012 DA14 isn’t worth getting worked up over.
Three times in the last two years we’ve been promised the end of the world as we know it. But when the Biblical predictions and the Mayan calendar failed to fulfill our worst expectations, and since we are all – comparatively speaking – still feeling fine, it’s logical to assume we can relax, kick back and enjoy a few anxiety-free centuries.
Not so fast.
On Friday, a speedy rock the size of a house will zip past Earth closer than our geosynchronous satellites. It’s called Asteroid 2012 DA14 (for the year it was discovered) and if all the truly expert, unfathomably precise calculations of NASA and other celestial experts are right, it will pass our planet with a cushion of 17,200 miles to spare.
If they’re wrong (and these are the people who put us on the moon and can photograph the license plate of a Volkswagen from 300 miles in space), and if DA14 were to land on or above San Francisco, you can say goodbye to the Giants, the 49ers and Beach Blanket Babylon, because the City would cease to exist.
Rusty Schweickart, the former Apollo astronaut who lives in Sonoma and devotes much of his professional life trying to educate the public, the Congress and private investors to take the reality of Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) seriously, says DA14 is nothing to worry about.
Neither is Apophis, a 1,000-foot-long asteroid due here on Easter Sunday, April 13, 2036.
Were Apophis to defy our understanding of its orbit and actually make contact with Earth, Schweickart has said it would incinerate an area the size of California, or alternatively, land in the sea sprouting 50-foot tsunamis that would sandpaper all life from what ever coasts are in the way.
There’s no reason to believe that will happen either. But there is good reason to believe that something like it will happen in something short of geologic time.
An asteroid the size of DA14 exploded over Siberia in 1908 and flattened 770 square miles of forest. Schweickart says similar events impact Earth on average once every 300 years. That gives us about 200 years to go. Are you feeling lucky?
He also says there are something like 500,000 identified objects that could hit us, which is a fraction of the total out there. “We are living in a shooting gallery,” he says, “and it’s only a matter of time before one hits us.”
Before you call Bruce Willis to ask if he’d like to relive “Armageddon” (the movie) you have to understand that blowing up asteroids doesn’t solve the problem – it just creates more projectiles on the same trajectory.
The trick to saving our tiny blue-green planet from asteroidal extinction is to first detect the dangerous projectiles years before they pose a threat, and second to meanwhile design, test and perfect the spacecraft technology to intercept them just enough to speed up or slow down their velocity so that they will arrive too early or too late for a fatal rendezvous with us.
The technology, Schweickart asserts, is relatively simple. It’s finding the targets and building the global consensus to intercept them that’s hard.
To that end, he has launched the B612 Foundation (whimsically named for the asteroid on which The Little Prince lives) to “find asteroids before they find us.”
The plan includes a privately-financed space launch in 2018 to send an un-manned search party out into the solar system to collect the identities of a lot more dangerous rocks. Simultaneously, the intercept technology needs to be developed and perfected and put in place.
To learn more, go to B612foundation.org.
You may never relax again.