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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lembit's Legacy

Lembit Öpik may be in the political wilderness for the time being but his legacy lives on if this report on CNN is any guide.

They say that a small asteroid passed within the moon's distance from the Earth on Wednesday morning, and another will do likewise later in the day. The double encounter is an unusual event that shows the need for closer monitoring of near space for Earth-threatening encounters, according to NASA.

Donald Yeomans, who is the manager of NASA's Near Earth Program, which tracks potentially hazardous asteroids and comets within 28 million miles of Earth, says that the objects don't pose a threat to Earth, and they will not be visible to the naked eye. However, they can be seen from Earth as tiny specks of light with the help of moderately sized amateur telescopes.

CNN report that roughly 50 million objects pass through near-Earth space each day:

Yeomans described the discovery as a warning shot in a field of study of low-probability events with global, high-impact consequences. He said that it was only when scientists began looking for near-Earth objects in the 1990s that they realized there was a "problem."

"We have only recently appreciated how many of these objects are in near Earth's space and [it's] best that we keep track of them and find them," he said. "I think this is Mother Nature's way of firing a shot over the bow and warning Earth-based astronomers that we have a lot of work to do."

I don't know about anybody else but that does not sound particularly reassuring.
I'm pretty sure that Lembit's interest in asteroids came from the Spaceguard Centre in Knighton ( see website here: http://www.spaceguarduk.com/). I took my son to visit it a few years ago, because I wanted to see their orrery, which turned out to be disappointing. I was expecting a model of the solar system with brass balls flying around other brass balls, powered by clockwork. This was a flat set of disks run on electricity. My son was unimpressed.
Lembit's interest in Romania however requires no explanation.
Bloody hell for a minute I though you were suggesting we fire Lempic into space if one of those lumps of rock came to close.

I think it would be a good idea to fire him into space anyway.
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