Perhaps we should get our priorities straight. While here on earth humans argue and quibble about all manner of things, the universe will fling a couple rather large boulders in our general direction tomorrow, and most of us won’t have any clue we were this close to getting clipped.
The two asteroids will travel inside the distance between the earth and the moon, according to NASA:
Asteroid 2010 RX30 is estimated to be approximately 32 to 65 feet in size and will pass within approximately 154,000 miles of Earth at 5:51 a.m. EDT Wednesday. The second object, 2010 RF12, estimated to be 20 to 46 feet in size, will pass within approximately 49,000 miles at 5:12 p.m. EDT.
This is a near-miss in terms of distance; the moon’s average orbit is only 238,600 miles from the earth.
The size of these asteroids falls well below the one kilometer threshold of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Survey program. It was determined that an object one kilometer in size or larger would pose a considerable threat if it were to impact earth.
Some reports indicate these asteroids were discovered only recently; NASA says these were spotted on the morning of September 5. The popular Sky and Telescope magazine gives no mention at all of these asteroids in its weekly Sky at a Glance report; StarDate by the MacDonald Observatory doesn’t mention them, either.
A glance around the internet suggests that the public has been given a mere 12 hours notice of a near-miss. How much advance notice will we get next time, and how close will the next asteroid, meteroid or comet-chunk be to our planet? Would answering these questions be worth more than a few million dollars we spend every year?
Yes, that’s millions of dollars. We spend a whopping $18 billion on all of NASA (pdf) — a real bargain — and the portion spent on near-earth objects detection is a paltry $4 million dollars a year.
One wonders how much damage a 20-foot wide asteroid might do if it hit a populated area, and how much we might be willing to pay for near-earth object detection after such an event. It’s rather like the disdain for volcano monitoring expense before the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano this past spring.