Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Asteroid Protection

I have to take back some of my snark about the National Geographic cable channel, having watched a fascinating hour last night. Seems this scientist spotted something in space, some 600,000 miles away from Earth, and promptly determined that it was going to hit the Earth.

He sent the data to another scientist who confirmed not only that it was going to hit us, but that it was travelling at 28,000 miles per hour and would hit us at precisely 5:14am the following morning. A few more keystrokes on his computer and he determined that it was about the size of a truck, so it would be a pretty big bang but not any kind of "extinction event," and it would hit Africa, specifically in northern Sudan. He didn’t give us the name of the camel it was going to hit.

The thing hit exactly on time and on target, and exploded some seven miles high. These scientists then went to Sudan to try and find the pieces, and were very excited when they succeeded. So was I; that was very cool. They were very confused, though, because the meteor (which was an asteroid before it became a meteor) appeared to have been almost a mile south of where NASA had forecast.

Well, OMG! After it went 600,000 miles, NASA was off by almost a mile? We can’t have that. How dare they miss by one thousandth of a percent?

Actually, they didn’t. Turns out, from studying the pieces, the meteor blew up in stages and the first explosion knocked it off course. Our faith in the NASA scientists is restored.

National Geographic could not resist their fascination with cosmic disaster entirely though, because the whole thing about finding the pieces revolved about being able to evaluate the thing in able to protect ourselves from bigger asteroids, and what had been an exciting scientific piece turned into a “space war drama” complete with spooky music.

Besides, everybody knows it’s Obama’s job to protect us from asteroids, and clearly he’s failing. Case in point; we saw this one coming and it hit us anyway.

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