Space rocks and red tape

A big lump of rock is headed toward Earth:

The space rock, which is called 2011 AG5, is about 460 feet (140 meters) wide. It may come close enough to Earth in 2040 that some researchers are calling for a discussion about how to deflect it.

Talk about the asteroid was on the agenda during the 49th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), held earlier this month in Vienna.

A UN Action Team on near-Earth objects (NEOs) noted the asteroid’s repeat approaches to Earth and the possibility — however remote — that 2011 AG5 might smack into our planet 28 years from now.

If the rock of doom requires a gentle nudge away from Gaia to prevent a very bad day for Earthlings, NASA won’t be riding to the rescue. These days, NASA does dodgy weather research and outreach programs, not stuff in actual space with rockets piloted by flinty-eyed men called Buzz.

*not actual size

In the absence of NASA leadership, any effort to deflect 2011 AG5 may be left to the United Nations.  What could possibly go wrong?

First, the UN would need to determine which of its bodies has jurisdiction over the giant ball of rocky doom.

The program may be led by the Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA), or the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). The Security Council would issue a strongly-worded letter to 2011-AG5, possibly even going so far as to threaten the giant ball of rock hurtling through the cosmos with a Security Resolution. That’ll show it.

In the unlikely event a Security Council letter failed to change 2011-AG5’s mind, or velocity and direction, real action will be required. But who would the UN call in for advice? Earth is 70% ocean and the rock could leave a hefty dent in the seabed, so the International Seabed Authority (ISA) may need to be included. Approximately 50% of human casualties from an impact would be female, so the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE) will need to be called, because it’s sexist to assume women vaporize in the same manner as men, or something.

If a decision was made to nuke the rock out of existence before it arrived on our galactic doorstep, approval might be needed from the UN Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization, even though technically the mushroom cloud would be extraterrestrial. But nuking it may not be even an option in 2040 if the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) is successful in the interim. Oh, the ironing.

Assuming the worst happened and a mighty global bureaucracy somehow failed to stop 2011-AG5’s deadly progress, at least they’ll be ready to handle the consequences.  The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security, the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) would immediately call a meeting. The Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) could chair.

Even though the chance of a meteor hit is slim at best, pray for a miss, or we’re doomed.

Round-Up tomorrow, as usual.

Space rocks and red tape

A big lump of rock is headed toward Earth:

The space rock, which is called 2011 AG5, is about 460 feet (140 meters) wide. It may come close enough to Earth in 2040 that some researchers are calling for a discussion about how to deflect it.

Talk about the asteroid was on the agenda during the 49th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), held earlier this month in Vienna.

A UN Action Team on near-Earth objects (NEOs) noted the asteroid’s repeat approaches to Earth and the possibility — however remote — that 2011 AG5 might smack into our planet 28 years from now.

If the rock of doom requires a gentle nudge away from Gaia to prevent a very bad day for Earthlings, NASA won’t be riding to the rescue. These days, NASA does dodgy weather research and outreach programs, not stuff in actual space with rockets piloted by flinty-eyed men called Buzz.

*not actual size

In the absence of NASA leadership, any effort to deflect 2011 AG5 may be left to the United Nations.  What could possibly go wrong?

First, the UN would need to determine which of its bodies has jurisdiction over the giant ball of rocky doom.

The program may be led by the Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA), or the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). The Security Council would issue a strongly-worded letter to 2011-AG5, possibly even going so far as to threaten the giant ball of rock hurtling through the cosmos with a Security Resolution. That’ll show it.

In the unlikely event a Security Council letter failed to change 2011-AG5’s mind, or velocity and direction, real action will be required. But who would the UN call in for advice? Earth is 70% ocean and the rock could leave a hefty dent in the seabed, so the International Seabed Authority (ISA) may need to be included. Approximately 50% of human casualties from an impact would be female, so the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE) will need to be called, because it’s sexist to assume women vaporize in the same manner as men, or something.

If a decision was made to nuke the rock out of existence before it arrived on our galactic doorstep, approval might be needed from the UN Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization, even though technically the mushroom cloud would be extraterrestrial. But nuking it may not be even an option in 2040 if the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) is successful in the interim. Oh, the ironing.

Assuming the worst happened and a mighty global bureaucracy somehow failed to stop 2011-AG5’s deadly progress, at least they’ll be ready to handle the consequences.  The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security, the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) would immediately call a meeting. The Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) could chair.

Even though the chance of a meteor hit is slim at best, pray for a miss, or we’re doomed.

Round-Up tomorrow, as usual.

Mission Impossible

NASA took time off from freaking out about a trace gas to do some actual stuff in space, and found something exciting. Then they gave it a boring name, Kepler 22b.

Kepler 22b is a newly-discovered planet that has the hallmarks of being a liveable place. It’s close enough to its Sun to be about 22°c, and has an atmosphere. What the surface is like is unknown:

Spinning around its star some 600 light years away, Kepler 22b is 2.4 times the size of the Earth and orbits its sun-like star every 290 days. Scientists do not know, however, if the planet is rocky, gaseous or liquid. The planet’s first “transit”, or star crossover, was captured shortly after NASA launched its Kepler spacecraft in March 2009.

Planets like Kepler 22b probably aren’t rare, but only because the Universe is so,well, infinite. But planets like Kepler 22b in our cosmic neighborhood are rare.

Newspapers have already called Kepler 22b ‘New Earth’, which isn’t terribly imaginative, but sounds exciting. The good news is that there are likely to be lots more potentially habitable planets found as Kepler wanders through space. The Swiss found one even ‘closer’ just last August:

… planet, HD 85512b, about 36 light years away seemed to be in the habitable zone of its star.

The bad news is we can’t get there from here. Consider Voyager 1, the longest space mission so far. Voyager 1 is about to leave the solar system, heading toward the Milky Way. It left Earth 30 years ago and has travelled 11 billion miles, which sounds like a lot, until you stop and ponder just how big space is.

11 billion miles is only 0.001871 of a light year. Which means a craft travelling at Voyager 1 speed would reach planet HD85512b in a tad over 19,241 years. Getting to Kepler 22b would require a journey over 320,000 years at Voyager 1 speed. It’s a journey so long that there’s a chance your destination won’t be there when you arrive, or if it is there, that the once-liveable climate has changed (no doubt due to pesky alien SUV’s). No matter how you look at it, a spacecraft making either journey would need to be huge, just to hold the Tang supplies.

If moving around the galaxy is ever to be possible outside of science fiction, Einstein needs to be wrong about the speed of light being the maximum speed at which matter (or energy) can travel. CERN is working on that after discovering a sprightly neutrino doing things Albert said can’t be done. Whether the boffins at CERN made a mistake, or found something that’ll rock the physics world to its core, remains to be seen.

President John F. Kennedy had a vision in 1962, a grand dream of space exploration that would not only send man into space, but create jobs, invent technologies and create wealth here on Earth too:

And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy, has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel, and this city and this State, and this region, will share greatly in this growth. What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, your City of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.

Today, we’re stuck with a President who canceled manned space flight, dreams only of his father and blames new technology for killing jobs. Not all things improve with time.

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Mission Impossible

NASA took time off from freaking out about a trace gas to do some actual stuff in space, and found something exciting. Then they gave it a boring name, Kepler 22b.

Kepler 22b is a newly-discovered planet that has the hallmarks of being a liveable place. It’s close enough to its Sun to be about 22°c, and has an atmosphere. What the surface is like is unknown:

Spinning around its star some 600 light years away, Kepler 22b is 2.4 times the size of the Earth and orbits its sun-like star every 290 days. Scientists do not know, however, if the planet is rocky, gaseous or liquid. The planet’s first “transit”, or star crossover, was captured shortly after NASA launched its Kepler spacecraft in March 2009.

Planets like Kepler 22b probably aren’t rare, but only because the Universe is so,well, infinite. But planets like Kepler 22b in our cosmic neighborhood are rare.

Newspapers have already called Kepler 22b ‘New Earth’, which isn’t terribly imaginative, but sounds exciting. The good news is that there are likely to be lots more potentially habitable planets found as Kepler wanders through space. The Swiss found one even ‘closer’ just last August:

… planet, HD 85512b, about 36 light years away seemed to be in the habitable zone of its star.

The bad news is we can’t get there from here. Consider Voyager 1, the longest space mission so far. Voyager 1 is about to leave the solar system, heading toward the Milky Way. It left Earth 30 years ago and has travelled 11 billion miles, which sounds like a lot, until you stop and ponder just how big space is.

11 billion miles is only 0.001871 of a light year. Which means a craft travelling at Voyager 1 speed would reach planet HD85512b in a tad over 19,241 years. Getting to Kepler 22b would require a journey over 320,000 years at Voyager 1 speed. It’s a journey so long that there’s a chance your destination won’t be there when you arrive, or if it is there, that the once-liveable climate has changed (no doubt due to pesky alien SUV’s). No matter how you look at it, a spacecraft making either journey would need to be huge, just to hold the Tang supplies.

If moving around the galaxy is ever to be possible outside of science fiction, Einstein needs to be wrong about the speed of light being the maximum speed at which matter (or energy) can travel. CERN is working on that after discovering a sprightly neutrino doing things Albert said can’t be done. Whether the boffins at CERN made a mistake, or found something that’ll rock the physics world to its core, remains to be seen.

President John F. Kennedy had a vision in 1962, a grand dream of space exploration that would not only send man into space, but create jobs, invent technologies and create wealth here on Earth too:

And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy, has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel, and this city and this State, and this region, will share greatly in this growth. What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, your City of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.

Today, we’re stuck with a President who canceled manned space flight, dreams only of his father and blames new technology for killing jobs. Not all things improve with time.

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