Fun with asteroids

I haven’t played Asteroids(tm) since the days when Atari was computer games King and 124K was an incredible amount of memory. And before any young gamers out there laugh at what an old geezer I must be, I will insist that that says much more about how fast computers have evolved than it does about how old I may or may not be!

But as the subject of asteroids was raised here in the comments recently, I thought I might play a climate customized version of that game today.

Before we get started, I would like to answer crakar’s referenced comment seriously because it may indeed resonate with some folks out there unfamiliar with the standard distractions we deal with all the time in the climate wars. If climate advocates want to engage in outreach, we really must avoid coming off as too dismissive of anything that someone somewhere might sincerely believe or even be inclined to believe. Immediately after, I will break the rule I just defined and have little fun (sorry crakar!).

The argument is something like this:

Taking actions towards mitigating climate change in the face of an uncertain future and imperfect models is invoking the Precautionary Principle. Similarily, we know there is a risk of an asteroid strike ELE though we can not predict when or where such a strike will occur. Now, if the world really took the precautionary principle seriously there would be well-stocked underground bunkers all over the place to ensure the survival of the human race. There aren’t, and climate advocates don’t call for constructing these, therefore the world should not try to avert warming and we are hypocrites for advocating doing so.

The argument is a failure on many levels, the most striking of which is the fact that the search for killer asteroids is very active and discussions of what to do if one is identified in time are serious and ongoing. And although bunkers for the masses have not been built, bunkers for our fearless leaders to hide in have been. (warning: unvetted link from a lazy google search!). Alot of money goes into these endeavours (granted underground bunkers are good for nuclear armageddon too). As providence would have it, I recently came across a lovely animation showing just how many asteroids have been discovered and orbits plotted in the last 50 years, have a look!

But that failure aside, we can also argue that two wrongs don’t make a right, so if humanity is failing on the killer asteroid issue why does that mean it is okay to fail on climate change? Another easy objection is that action on mitigating climate change is not simply money tossed down the drain if it turns out that some magic negative feedback or magic techno-pixie dust will dial down the global thermostat just in the nick of time. Weaning ouselves off of oil has to happen sooner or later and coal burning produces plenty of other pollutants and problems.

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The relative risks are also very different. The odds of a large asteroid impact are in the order of 1 in thousands or even hundreds of thousands over the next century. Dramatic global warming is a certainty, though the consequences are as hard to define as they are very likely to be badly negative. And finally, there are many issues one can agitate about and just because I, or any other individual, have chosen to focus on climate change does not imply anything about my awareness of or concern for other dangers or injustices.

Okay, lecture over, how about the fun I mentioned? I thought it might be a kick to apply a climate denialist mindset to the issue of an asteroid impact. What arguments might the likes of Lord Monckton make? What junkscience would come from The Heartland institute? Let’s say that we have one monster in our sights set to strike in 2020.

I’ll start off with a couple of easy ones:

“Asteroid strikes are completely natural and have occured many times in the past! In fact, humans would never have evolved to what we are today without them.”

“Asteroids are great sources of mineral wealth, the more the merrier.”

Bonus points for complexity, opacity and equations!

70 thoughts on “Fun with asteroids

  1. Yap.

    I am an Ayn Randian superman. My truth is my own reason and will. I am subordinate to no man; nor do I ask any others’ subordination.

    The sniveling mediocrities who resent my prowess are using state-sponsored action against the asteroid threat as a way to destroy my achievements.

    However, I will not live as a slave. I will stop the motor of the world before I let the collectivist cannibals feed of my greatness with their asteroid pretext.

    (Reading the latest biography of Rand and couldn’t resist. Yap yap.)

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  2. Despite all the protestations and discussions to the contrary, I own a cattle dog – blue heeler – by the name of Ernie.

    He definitely goes ‘woof’, not yap.

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  3. Wrong thread I know but I can’t be bothered to find the ‘correct’ one.

    Looks like Trenberth’s travesty could be explained: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n9/full/ngeo938.html

    If there’s less SLR due to isostatic adjustments being incorrect then that could mean there more SLR due to thermal expansion, thus more of the ‘missing’ heat accounted for.

    Not sure if anyone’s done the calculations yet but it does seem feasible?

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  4. I had a red heeler once who was infact more Dingo than anything else and he could neither woof or yap which some may think was a good thing except when there was a full moon he used to howl, usually at about 3 AM.

    Chris,

    Do they factor in magma flows when they measure gravity?

    By my calculations SLR will not be a problem when the asteriod hits as it will vapourize many giga tons of sea water thus reducing sea levels way below current levels. Therefore confirming asteroids pose no threat and NASA is all but a travesty.

    On the other hand the asteroid may hit land in which case we can use NASA’s bloated budget to deflect it into the sea thereby saving the planet whilst simultaneously raising NASA’s status from “travesty” to “Has its moments”.

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  5. Furthermore, there is a log linear relationship between the damage the asteroid will inflict and its size, so the larger the asteroid, the less additional damage it will do.

    But there’s more. The residence time of an asteroid in the atmosphere decreases with its size and velocity, as it moves faster. The problem thus ends more quickly the larger the asteroid.

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  6. The Medieval Asteriod Maximum Anomaly (MAMA!) shows that the current threat of asteroids is neither unusual nor threatening.

    What? You want evidence of MAMA?

    Well, what proof do you have that there was *not* a MAMA?

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  7. As asteroids are denser than air molecules, they will have already settled to the surface of the earth by now, and everyone knows that all available instruments detect no asteroids.

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  8. We could set up giant CO2 scrubbers on the top of volcanos (as that is where all the CO2 is), by doing this we could control the weather. All the CO2 collected could be used to fill ginormous balloons, when released these balloons would float on the winds throughout the atmosphere and deflect any incoming asteriods.

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  9. The concentration of small asteroids and large asteroids has been converging. Even though the asteroids are increasing in frequency, they are less larger, or more smaller, or something.

    I’ve taken down giants; watch the asteroid myth crumble by the time I’m done with it.

    (First let me fix the wicki link.)

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  10. There is no evidence that summer AstMax has increased in the 20th century–whether in southern Canada, Melbourne, or Perth and thus the trend holds for the globe.

    I bet Judith Curry would find this interesting.

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  11. Joe Romm says natural market forces will solve the asteroid problem, and that’s good news–not that I’m saying I agree with Joe Romm, mind you. Besides, if you have not done your homework then there is no point discussing the matter on a mere blog–not that that this will prevent me from posting or discussing it.

    You might object that what I just wrote is utterly nonsensical. To that I respond that you are a kook and should learn to be more polite.

    On another matter, asteroids profit everyone. Can you tell me how?

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  12. Quite funny.
    Quite illustrative.

    (And point taken)

    (In a live setting with people present, these types of prompting usually serve well to open up a discussion with each persons honest thoughts or mindset at the moment.)

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  13. “On another matter, asteroids profit everyone. Can you tell me how?”

    Apparently, it can’t, skip.

    It can only demand explanations, never give one.

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