Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Last month on January 13, 2004, "astronomers Clark Chapman and David Morrison, chair of the International Astronomical Union's Working Group on Near Earth Objects" came within minutes of alerting President Bush about an impending asteroid strike. Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were tracking an object which they believed had a 25% chance of striking the Northern Hemisphere in a few days. Although the asteroid was only 30m in diameter, if it struck a populated area "the loss of life could have been much worse than 11 September." Fortunately the astronomical community decided to wait. After additional observations, "[i]t turned out to be bigger than anyone had thought - about 500m wide. It eventually passed the Earth at a distance of about 12 million km - 32 times the Earth-Moon distance, posing no danger to us whatsoever." As a result of this event, "[t]he procedures for raising the alarm in such circumstances are now being revised" but the article does not go into further details.