back to article Bad news. Asteroid 1999 KW4 flew by, did not hit Earth killing us all. Good news: Another one, Didymos, is on the way

A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth at 70,000 KPH (43,496 MPH), and although the flyby presented no danger to our home world, we can learn from the close encounter to potentially thwart any future menaces from the cosmos. The ground-based European Southern Observatory (ESO) was used to clock the asteroid duo, dubbed …

  1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

    Up with this sort of thing!

    I think DART is a smashing experiment. If I take a crash course in rocketry will they let me have a shot at it?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Up with this sort of thing!

      It would be knockout if I could have a bash at asteroid smashing.

      Back in the day I was quite good at the game of Asteroids.

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Up with this sort of thing!

        I'd be happy to have a bash at asteroid smashing. But CLIs are my comfort zone.

        1. bpfh Silver badge

          Re: Up with this sort of thing!

          Well, seems that the Federation mostly uses a CLI for navigation on most of their vessels. With a Logitech Wingman for backup ...

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Up with this sort of thing!

      Well, it's not exactly rocket science...

      ...Oh, well it's not exactly brain surgery...

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Up with this sort of thing!

        Obligatory Mitchel & Webb

      2. leenex

        Re: Up with this sort of thing!

        Not brain surgery? Does that mean Ben Carson won't be part of the team?

  2. b0llchit
    Mushroom

    That is damn close

    > ...the pair came as close as 5.2m kilometres...

    So, that is 5.2 milli kilometers. The rock almost hit my house!

    1. tfewster Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: That is damn close

      Joking aside, thanks for pointing out the "m"; my (sleepy) eyes hadn't spotted it, and my (sleepy) brain was thinking "Hang on - planes fly higher than 5.2km"!

    2. revenant Silver badge

      Re: That is damn close

      It had me going as well, but because the "m" was lost in the text, so I thought it was actually 5.2 Km away.

      Perhaps it would make more sense to say "5.2M kilometres"?

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: That is damn close

        Perhaps it would make more sense to say "5.2M kilometres"

        Yes...to my mind "M" means mega and "m" means milli. 5.2 milli-kilometres would be 5.2 metres. Eek!

        (Although I also missed the "m" on first reading, and was trying to work out 5.2 kilometres using a familar frame of reference. I must have been subconsciously channeling Douglas Adams, as I was trying imagine space-related distances with in comparison to how far it is from my house to the shops.

      2. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: That is damn close

        Why do we bother having proper SI prefixes if nobody is going to use them. That's clearly just 5.2 Gm. (Gigameters)

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: That is damn close

          Or 5.2x109m if you prefer.

          (thanks for the < sup > tags elReg!)

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: That is damn close

            As is scientifically appropriate!

            :-)

            1. b0llchit
              Headmaster

              Re: That is damn close

              To be pedantic...

              It would be typeset as: 5.2⋅109 m

              or: 5.2 Gm

              Note the non-breaking space before the unit/prefix-unit, as per SI specification (see f.ex. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_prefix for details). Also, combining several prefix, which was quite often done in the old days, is "not compatible with the SI".

              1. ma1010 Silver badge
                Paris Hilton

                Re: That is damn close

                Sorry, I still can't get my mind around those numbers. Can someone tell me how many linguine, brontosauruses or double-decker buses all this works out to?

              2. Crypto Monad

                Re: That is damn close

                My chemistry teacher was always bemused that the "kilogram" was chosen as the SI base unit for mass, and argued that we should weigh small amounts of things in "milli-kilograms"

                1. jasonbstanding

                  Re: That is damn close

                  Ones tends not to meet that many Chemistry teachers socially, does one...

        2. Richocet

          Re: That is damn close

          A missed opportunity to communicate it as 5.2 billion meters.

          If a major catastrophe is not the time to throw around the word 'billion', when is?

          Except we would then have the issue of US vs UK definitions of billion. But this controversy would lead to more comment posts which could be a good thing.

          1. Patched Out

            Re: That is damn close

            Don't blame the U.S., it was French mathematicians that changed the definition (at least according to Wikipedia). Except the French changed their minds and reverted back to the old definition in 1948. The U.S. just adopted the new definition and stuck with it.

    3. Ben1892
      Mushroom

      Re: That is damn close

      Missed the "m" too - need more coffee....

      1. Khaptain Silver badge

        Re: That is damn close

        Didn't see that damned 'm' either and I was thinking, shit 5.2 Km is awfully close for something that big..

        I wonder what kind of correction of angle would it take for one of those things to actually hit us. Obviously you would have to know a fair bit about it's flight path, origin, mass etc I know that 5.2(Million) Kms is pretty far away but in space terms it's actually not for at all. Especially when you consider that the Sun is only 150(Million) Kms away from the Earth..

        1. a handle

          Re: That is damn close

          5.2 mm

          1. a handle

            Re: That is damn close

            Or if big M that's 5,200,000,000,000 mm ?

            1. hplasm Silver badge
              Paris Hilton

              Re: That is damn close

              Thing is... are these distance 'from Earth' measured fro the centre or the surface...?

          2. leenex

            Re: That is damn close

            What are you so worried about? 5.2mm off target is still a 'miss'.

  3. Blockchain commentard Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Would have thought that Earth's gravity would have shifted the smaller meteor away from the mothership and knocked it into the moon or even better put it in orbit around us as a second (visible) moon. Now that would be something to see.

  4. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Boffin

    A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

    At 13.5 times the average distance to the moon. That's not really close, is it? Stuff squeezing through between the moon and Earth would be more like it.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

      That would create a three body problem in terms of predicting it's course as it gets tugged by the Earth and Moon to different degrees. Not something to be hoped for.

      1. ibmalone Silver badge

        Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

        Not exactly, the moon and earth are sufficiently massive they're not going to notice the effect of a tiny asteroid flying by. Not on the scale of thousands of years anyway. The outcome is harder to predict, but modellable.

        1. aks Bronze badge

          Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

          Not for a few more decades but when the orbital predictions get ultra reliable and the capability of gently steering such rocks has become routine, maybe we could simply eliminate such rocks by re-directing them into collision with the moon. A long way off admittedly.

          1. Eltonga
            Unhappy

            Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

            Not for a few more decades but when the orbital predictions get ultra reliable and the capability of gently steering such rocks has become routine, maybe we could simply eliminate such rocks by re-directing them into collision with the moon. A long way off admittedly.

            By that time we could (hopefully) have some lunar base so crashing stuff into the Moon could not be so sound (pun intended).

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

      Stuff squeezing through between the moon and Earth would be more like it.

      God does not play dice trickshots with the universe.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

        Guess again. Currently Apophis seems to be predicted to pass closer than one-tenth of that to Earth in 2029, at 31000 Km - no millions there.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

      Sort of like all the space headlines then from express.co.uk?

    4. Alan Dougherty

      Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

      Considering that (ignoring the laws of physics), you can fit every planet in the solar system in the space between the earth and the moon, then no it's not really that close.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: A pair of asteroids just whizzed past Earth

        You really, really don't want to do that though.

        https://youtu.be/Bqs2lLx31uI

  5. TonyR

    Great Pool Shot!

    So, in 2022, we Hit it.

    18 months later, yes we can confirm we changed the orbital speed by 1%. Unfortunately it is now on track to hit Earth Dead Centre.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Great Pool Shot!

      Yeah, but at least the experiment would be a success. We could record all the details on a gold-plated titanium slab and bury it somewhere where the next sentient species would be certain to find it in 30 million years' time.

      1. Eltonga
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Great Pool Shot!

        bury it somewhere where the next sentient species would be certain to find it in 30 million years' time.

        Yeah! And make expensive earrings out of it!!!

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Great Pool Shot!

          A legacy we can be proud of.

  6. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Mitigate?

    “In the worst possible case, this knowledge is also essential to predict how an asteroid could interact with the atmosphere and Earth’s surface, allowing us to mitigate damage in the event of a collision.”

    This one was 1.3km long. How the feck do you 'mitigate' the damage of something that size? Move to Mars?

    1. Crisp Silver badge

      Re: Mitigate?

      You'd need a really big umbrella...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mitigate?

      Duck and cover. So says Bert the Turtle.

    3. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Mitigate?

      @Pen-y-gors .... fskd if I know how you mitigate against it, but it has been pointed out by others that Mars ain't the kind of place to raise a kid.

      1. Richocet

        Re: Mitigate?

        I hear they have knife-crime well under control on Mars.

    4. hplasm Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Mitigate?

      "This one was 1.3km long. How the feck do you 'mitigate' the damage of something that size? Move to Mars?"

      If you stand in the right place, you could probably get to Mars for nothing!

      Might take a while. Pack a lunch.

    5. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Mitigate?

      I just used Imperial College London's impactor page to estimate a hit by this thing on London. https://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk/ImpactEarth/cgi-bin/impact.cgi?latitude=&longitude=&LocationSelect=1&CraterSelect=0&diam=1.3&diameterUnits=2&pdiameter_select=0&pdens=&pdens_select=3000&vel=&velocityUnits=1&velocity_select=17&theta=&angle_select=45&wdepth=&wdepthUnits=1&tdens=2500

      It made a mess. There would be an 18 km diameter, 700 metre deep, crater where London once was. There'd be secondary weather and climate effects, felt for several years. For speculation about possible long-term effects of a big impact, see among others S. M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers. (Warning: Mr Stirling ain't called 'Buckets of Blood' Stirling for nothing...) See also Lucifer's Hammer, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Fav scene: the surfer dude riding the tsunami into Century City. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein, had a lot more much smaller impactors. They did manage to remove Cheyenne Mountain, though...

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Mitigate?

        "There would be an 18 km diameter, 700 metre deep, crater where London once was"

        So, an improvement then?

        1. LeahroyNake Silver badge

          Re: Mitigate?

          If only it had hit while the state visit was happening.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Mitigate?

            But after the anti-Trump demonstrators had gone to Edinburgh by mistake,along with my family, thank you.

            1. The First Dave Silver badge

              Re: Mitigate?

              Would the anti-Trump protestors be such a great loss?

        2. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Mitigate?

          Well.. fill it with water and you have a lake. Might just work.

    6. Jon 37

      Re: Mitigate?

      You can mitigate the damage by: Move out of the impact zone, as anything there is dead. If the impact is in the ocean, move to high ground to avoid tidal waves. If needed stockpile enough food and/or food-growing equipment to last until any damage to the atmosphere has fixed itself. If needed ensure you have sufficient defences to protect your refuge from other less well-prepared people.

    7. leenex

      Re: Mitigate?

      No worries. I'm sure President Trump will mitigate the catastrophe by throwing out paper towels the way he did in Puerto Rico.

    8. arctic_haze Silver badge

      Re: Mitigate?

      Move to Mars? No. Just fly to a different continent if yours is the one predicted to be hit.

  7. quattroprorocked

    Have these people never played Asteroids? You always die in the end!

    1. Toni the terrible
      Holmes

      We ALL die in the End. Game Over

    2. Carl D

      Back in 1979, a friend and I started playing a doubles game of (arcade) Asteroids at about 5:30pm on a Saturday evening.

      We were still playing the same game when they had to turn the machine off at midnight because the place was closing. Lucky for the owners that there were 3 Asteroids machines side by side or they might have asked us to leave.

      We lost count of how many times we 'clocked' the score over - it went back to 0 at 100,000.

      We also became quite skilled at keeping games of Missile Command and Joust going for hours as well over the next few years. Never quite got the hang of Defender unfortunately although a few of my friends did.

      Those were the days... I still try to relive them on the MAME emulator from time to time. I can keep Missile Command and Joust running for a fair while after a bit of practice.

      1. SonOfDilbert
        Pint

        Ah! You brought back memories of my childhood/early teenage years. Thank you!

        The dark arcade on Saturday morning. 50p pocket money. Chewing gum making the floor sticky. Older kids smoking whilst playing Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Centipede, etc. The rapid clink of notes being changed into coins. The gutsy thrum of Defender as I Press P1 To Start...

    3. cray74

      Have these people never played Asteroids? You always die in the end!

      Only when I got bored of flipping the score over and over.

  8. a handle

    Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

    Land Dart on it then electric propulsion it away into a corner of space that is out of the way. I wonder what effect that would have after 2 years. Sfa I guess, probably move it 5.2 mm

    I'm going to have to Google electric propulsion now.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

      Sounds like a variant of an ion drive, unless the electric propulsion is like a rail gun and accelerates propellant out the back at high speed. The essence of Rocket Science is 'throw stuff out the back, the faster and hotter the better'.

      I'm a Biologist so this level of understanding suits me. Except it means your arse after a vindaloo will need permission to fart.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

        I think that's more or less what it is. AFAICS the advantage must be that any particle slung out is propelled by harvested energy which isn't limited to the energy the same particle can acquire from any chemical reaction it was recently involved in. If the surface of the asterois is sufficiently soft and fluffy I suppose the process could be used to eat the asteroid itself as propellant. That could proceed until it's moved out of range or becomes too small to bother about, whichever happens first.

      2. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

        It doesn't have to be hot; heat is merely a product of a popular class of reactions for turning a small volume of fuel into a very large volume of exhaust gases, meaning very high pressure, meaning more thrust.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

      I'm not sure space has corners.

      1. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

        Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

        It has rounded corners. In every direction.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

          So, basically, we're all living in a simulation running on god's iPhone?

          Let's hope she doesn't start playing Angry Birds on it.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
            Alien

            Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

            Has anyone here read that recently-translated text called the Veritas?

        2. Eltonga
          Joke

          Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

          Please stop with this nonsense.

          Round. That's how turtles are, and we all know we sit on elephants that are standing on top of a big turtle.

    3. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Land Dart on it then electric propulsion

      Or just paint it.

      Really need to do the maths. I don't think there would be much difference in power but painting it would give constant output from a solar perspective.

      If you don't do the maths before coming up eith these ideas... you end up peeing into the wind.

  9. wolfetone Silver badge

    Dave Lister, Super Strength Lager, Pool Cue

    That's all we need to thwart any asteroid.

    1. KittenHuffer

      Re: Dave Lister, Super Strength Lager, Pool Cue

      Prince of the planet-potters!

      1. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: Dave Lister, Super Strength Lager, Pool Cue

        It's sad to see the blank looks I get from the barstaff when I explain that "I'm not pished... just /nicely/ drunk". Kids today, I dunno...

  10. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    Come friendly asteroids and fall on Slough...

    ... or, on reflection, the capital city of a large country who's leader is without merit. When he's back there obv. Oops...

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Come friendly asteroids and fall on Slough...

      on reflection, the capital city of a large country who's leader is without merit.

      Just about any large country will work then as a target area?

    2. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Come friendly asteroids and fall on Slough...

      Or Coventry - Pretty Please? (You may have guessed by now, I am not particularly fond of Coventry, so take every opportunity to nuke it from orbit).

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I know these things have a very low albedo..

    ..but why the Black Power Fist in the first photo of Asteroid 1999 KW4

    Or is my mind seeing things due to not having enough morning caffeine.

  12. ibmalone Silver badge
    Mushroom

    "In the worst possible case..."

    “In the worst possible case, this knowledge is also essential to predict how an asteroid could interact with the atmosphere and Earth’s surface, allowing us to mitigate damage in the event of a collision.”

    This is rather optimistic!

    Pick your worst possible case:

    We don't see it coming.

    We see it coming, five minutes before it hits.

    We spot it and are able to predict its interaction with the atmosphere and Earth's surface; it will look like the Vredefort crater.

    We spot it coming, the Photino Birds launched it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But

    But does it cure climate change?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But

      Probably. Dust in the atmosphere, loss of plants for years, end of human civilisation.

      The few hundred survivors clinging to the coast somewhere in Africa or perhaps Indonesia will be jolly grateful.

  14. SonOfDilbert
    Mushroom

    Actors

    Can't we simply send some ageing actors up on a one-way mission with a spade and a nuke?

    1. Kingbob

      Re: Actors

      Whilst nuking it in space while its still a long way away would be ideal, i wonder what the effect of detonating a nuke in front of it as it enters the atmosphere would be?

      Obviously the timing would have to be exact as it'd be moving fast, but it would slow down a lot once it hits the atmosphere. Could launch a string of nukes at it, with a small distance and delay between them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Actors

        Isaac Newton says it won't work.

        Detonating a nuclear bomb in front of an asteroid will have very little effect because the kinetic energy of a civilisation-destroying asteroid is enormous compared even to the tsar bomba. It just means you'll get nuclear fallout as well as impact.

        If the bomb is not in contact with the asteroid when it goes off, the effect would be less still.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Actors

          Even with equal power in the nukes... Newton says you lose. You just end up heating the rock! Now you have a slighly slower, much hotter (possibly plasma) and a little more widespread target.

          Granted the survival rate of a supersonic bullet the size of an anvil vs said anvil turned into napalm no doubt vary. But I think when we get up to astronomical scales we need to think clearly.

          You can nudge it, the same way you do with giant ocean liners. But you need lots of time before hand!

  15. Aussie Doc
    Mushroom

    I love science.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      She doesn't reciprocate, though.

      If you want anything out of her it takes hard work and a lot of patience.

  16. Tom Paine Silver badge
    Joke

    31 years - that's all we've got

    Assuming, of course, humanity makes it to the 22nd century and there's anyone around who gives a crap.

    Magic 8ball says: chances not so good

    https://www.livescience.com/65633-climate-change-dooms-humans-by-2050.html

    (Don't shoot the messenger, I'm just pointing out this assertion has been made... by "The Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne", who evidently have also hit upon a breakthrough in getting coverage, too. Perhaps some IT vendors could commission them to get more coverage of the latest breakthroughs in network attached storage arrays?

    1. ibmalone Silver badge

      Re: 31 years - that's all we've got

      Better than five years.

  17. BGatez Bronze badge

    ouch

    A one ton (US 2000 lbs) object traveling 44,000 mph has an energy of 4.1944e-5 megatons of TNT (according to calculator at http://www.1728.org/energy.htm )

  18. arctic_haze Silver badge

    "whizzed past Earth"

    They "whized" (no sound in space) "past" Earth ith the speed of 72,000 kph at a distance of 5,200,000 km. That mans that if they miraculously changed their diction ny 90 degrees to fly directly towards the Earth, they still would need 3 full days days to reach us. Not very impressive for "wheezing by".

  19. arctic_haze Silver badge

    Didymos

    This means "tween" in Greek. I am not strong in Greek but recognize the word from my religion lessons ("Thomas called Didymos").

  20. giggler

    These rocks arn't new and we've been lucky until today, ummm and i any worried more so than knowing this? no

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