Asteroid Defense

I was recently pointed to a brief blurb in the Atlantic Wire that lead me to a post on the Foreign Policy Blog and an article in Nature (I really hate digging through links to find the original source). They (well, the first two at least) ask the question “Why should [the U.S.] be responsible to save other countries from Asteroids.” Personally, I think this is a really dumb question, like the kind of question people writing for the Atlantic or Foreign Policy would ask (stick to your made up liberal arts nonsense please). Here’s why:

  1. Right now we can’t. The article in Nature is about the future of our near Earth object (NEO) detection program, which currently has a budget of about $5.5 million per year and about three people working on it. A panel convened to look at this problem is recommending an increased of funding to $250 – $300 million per year to begin developing methods to prevent an impact.
  2. It’s the right thing to do. It would be a huge dick move to say “Let ’em burn if they can pay the bill.” We are all part of the human race.
  3. We can’t predict with 100 percent accuracy where these things are going to hit. We don’t live in the movie Armageddon. We can model this stuff with a certain degree of accuracy, but there will still be a margin of error. If it comes to the point where we have the technology to prevent an impact, we will use it.
  4. We will (hopefully) be developing better detection and prevention technology anyway. If other countries want to help fund it then let them, but no need to withhold information from them, or not prevent an impact.
  5. There is a higher probability that the asteroid will strike water than land. That means tsunamis. If a large object were to hit the Atlantic the resulting tsunami would most likely affect more than one country (or continent for that matter).

The dumbest comment is this one from the Foreign Policy blog:

And unlike global warming, smaller developing countries can’t say that the United States should accept more of the blame for asteroids.

Here’s the thing, the United States has the ability to develop the technology necessary to prevent an impact, smaller developing countries don’t. It would almost be morally wrong not to develop this technology. With a big enough impact, global warming will be the least of our worries. If the impact is large enough to wipe out a city, it will probably have a global effect, the same way major volcano eruptions do.

The funniest part about the Foreign Affairs blog post is that the author mentions other countries efforts to monitor NEOs after asking why the United States should foot the bill. Um, we aren’t. Others are helping too.

If you want to know more about preventing an impact, check out Bad Universe on the Discovery channel. It’s done by Phil Plait and it’s really good (has lots of fun science).

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