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The Buckhorn

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Winters Express
312 Railroad Avenue, Winters, CA 95694
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Remember, you read it here first in the Express


By Margaret Burns
Citizens of Winters! Citizens of the world! Beware! Prepare! Mark your calendars: March 16, 2880. Asteroid 1950DA will strike the earth! Maybe. There is a 1 in 300 chance that this will happen. That is a much higher probability than winning the lottery.
This collision was reported in Science magazine at the beginning of April. In typical science speak, the articles does not use a lot of hype. The title says merely “Asteroid 1950DA’s Encounter with Earth in 2880.” Then the summary of the article reports, “Integrations reveal a 20-minute interval in March 2880 when there could be a non-negligible probability of the 1-kilometer object colliding with Earth.”
Sounds tame, doesn’t it? No so! In another study in the same issue, the authors write, “Although not civilization-threatening, objects of this size have the potential to destroy cities.” They were talking about a lump of asteroid that is only 300 meters in diameter – one third of the size of 1950DA. (Where do they get the names of these asteroids, anyway?)
We all know about the asteroid that hit earth near Yucatan, Mexico and changed the climate of the whole world so drastically that dinosaurs became extinct. Asteroid 1950DA was named for the year it was first seen and then everybody lost track of it until it was photographed in a crowd, incognito, in 1981.
More recently, it was located on New Year’s Eve 2000 by an automatic telescopic search for threatening asteroids. Nothing like a little gift to commemorate the millennium.
Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are taking this very seriously. They have done a zillion calculations and show that 1950DA (let’s call him Big Dave) is going to bang around our solar system over the next 878 years and have 15 close encounters with Earth and Mars before 2880. They calculate a Close Approach distance, a Minimum Distance and a Maximum Distance (in Astronomical Units, which are equal to about 150 million miles).
All the early banks off the cushions of the billiard table on which we live are pretty far away and have no real probability of hitting us. Bt the last line in the table says March 16.836 (I guess they know exactly when), the Minimum Distance is 0.000000 Astronomical Units. Arghhh! The relative velocity of Big Dave is going to be around 30,000 miles per hour.
We’ll be rockin’ on down!
If they can do these calculations with so much accuracy, they must also know exactly where Big Dave is going to spin into the Earth — Antarctica? Davis? Outer Mongolia? Winters?
There are some uncertainties in the calculations. They just don’t know enough details about Big Dave. He is spinning fast, about two hours per rotation, making him “one of the fastest known rotators among objects that large.” But they don’t know on what axis he is spinning and this, among other things, could change the calculations. They could be off by as much as days.
This will make for a lot of suspense when March 2880 rolls around. Space Tourism will boom. Tour buses will leave every hour on the hour from Cape Canaveral to see Big Dave as he heads towards Earth. It sure beats trips to Antarctica to see ice-bergs calving.
NASA may have to change its mind about space tourists — there is a lot of money to be made in souvenirs — Big Dave Replica Rocks, Galactic Ice Cream, Krypton Dusted Popsicles, T-shirts that say, “I was there at the End of the Earth.”
There is hope, however. A century ago Dr. I. O. Yarkovsky published the Yarkovsky Effect, which says that energy from the sun hitting on the surface of a celestial body can change its direction. It could be possible to change Big Dave’s surface and change his direction. Suggestions made are to coat him with “250,000 tons of dirt, the mass of roughly 90 fully loaded Saturn V’s.” Or bombard his galactic mass with a ton of TNT. Or maybe coat him with black soot or powdered white chalk to change his shiny surface, so the sun gets reflected differently, thereby changing his direction.
The next Close Encounter with Big Dave is due March 2, 2032. Buy your space tourist tickets now! Remember — you read it first in The Winters Express.

 

 

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