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William Tell's Son
William Tell's Son
We've all gone to a show at the county fair to watch marksmen perform. We watch them do quickdraws, hit moving targets, shoot while riding, even shoot the spade out of an ace at 200 yards. But now they have for their grand finale, a sharp shooter who will hit an apple from 1 mile away using a very precise and high powered rifle. This is very difficult because at this distance even a slight crosswind that is not calculated in can cause a miss.
The sharp shooter is so far away that we can barely see him. The MC directs our attention to the apple and we see the apple sitting on a very small platform. A hush falls and suddenly the apple explodes and the crowd goes into a roar. It was a great show, but now the MC is asking for a young volunteer to come up and sit with the apple on his or her head for the same shot.
Do we have any volunteers?
Recently, I've been reading about an asteroid that was discovered in December 2004. They've named Apophis. It's also known by 2004 MN4. It was discovered last Christmas and after charting it for a few days, thought to be on a collision course with the Earth.
A little later they found a photo from 8 months prior that had the asteroid in it. That gave them a much larger scope of locations that helped them to recalculate its' trajectory. They now estimate that 24 years from now, on April 13, 2029, the Asteroid Apophis will miss the earth by about 22,600 miles. In spatial terms, that's like a bullet whizzing past your ear....it's very very close.
***technical stuff*** Keep in mind that this is an estimate. They needed 3 points in space over a large enough period of time to calculate it's trajectory and effectively they have 2-3/4 points. That is...they have 3 dimensional December 2004 locations, 3 dimensional March 2005 locations and a 2 dimensional "photo" of a March 2004 location.
Without going into a longer explanation, they really have to wait until the asteroid comes back into view again so that they can more accurately calculate how close it will actually come to Earth.
This is all interesting, but the real twist to the story is that the astronomers are quite confident that it won't hit the Earth in 2029. Rather they are thinking that since they don't know exactly how much this thing will miss the Earth by(whether by 10,000 or 30,000 miles), they are concerned that the Earth's gravity may sling this thing into a new orbit that will bring it back to hit us in 2036.
There is currently a debate about what should be done about this asteroid or if anything at all should be done. One thing that is agreed...if we act soon, then the trajectory of the asteroid can be pushed easily away from Earth. The closer it gets, the more effort it would require to divert it. Thus a quick decision needs be made out of incomplete information.
Most of us will be too old to care by the time it actually gets here, but this is an apple on our kid's head so to speak.
Just something to think and talk about.