Asteroid games

Iron sulfide, or pyrite, is a perfect metaphor for spending government money to drag an asteroid to earth and land on it.
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Why is the federal government planning to bring an asteroid into orbit around the Moon? Even in “flush times” that would be a bad investment. It’s a worse investment with the country, and the world, in debt already almost non-repay-able. Especially when the world faces a natural disaster closer to home.

The Asteroid Mission

The liberal magazine Mother Jones first broke the story yesterday. As everyone knows, de facto President Barack H. Obama released a budget. One item of that budget interested their correspondent, Asawin Suebsaeng: to capture an asteroid and tow it to the Moon.

This seems more like a Newtonian (as in Gingrich) idea. But on Friday afternoon, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) blasted out a press release disclosing that Obama’s forthcoming budget includes a $100 million plan to tow an asteroid into moon orbit. And this will be done for freedom—that is, for the purpose of saving the planet Earth from complete annihilation. (This is not about just serving the Democratic Party’s base.)

Kudos to Asawin Suebsaeng for being honest and consistent. And for respecting neither persons nor parties when either one proposes something idiotic.

(Aside: Bill Nelson complained that Rep. Connie Mack, also of Florida, voted against a bill of goodies for NASA three years ago. But why? Not so that Americans would never again go into space. But because Connie Mack felt certain parts of it were a waste of money! Among them: building a heavy-lift rocket. Mack called it a “rocket to nowhere.” And even then-Representative Gabby Giffords voted against it, this although her husband was an astronaut!

Here is Senator Nelson’s press release. Nelson points proudly to the asteroid mission. He calls it part of a “broader program” leading to human beings living in space. Permanently.

That press release is full of:

  • Boasts of bringing home the bacon. Here’s a good name for that asteroid mission: Project Wild Boar. Oink, oink.
  • Fanciful language, meant to appeal to little boys who want to grow up to be astronauts. “Monster rocket”? Is that the language of a United States Senator?

As bad as this is, the actual plan, as Senator Nelson sketched it out, is worse. Of course, if you’re going to capture an asteroid, what will you do with it? Here’s what the plan amounts to:

  1. Go out and capture an asteroid, one weighing at least 500 tons.
  2. Bring it back to orbit the Moon.
  3. Then send an astronaut crew to land on it.

This is their bold plan? Why not a plan to land on the asteroid where it is? Why go to the trouble of towing it in? Just to land on it?

Nelson does mention mining the asteroid. But can we assume any asteroid we grabbed out of its orbit would have mineral wealth? 96 asteroids out of 100 are made of common stone – which means silicon. We can get that from common sand! True, the other four are made of iron, or an iron-nickel alloy. And iron in space would be more valuable than iron on earth – if you’re going to build something in space. But you don’t go somewhere to build a house, or a camp, with whatever materials you find there, just for the fun of it! Not if you have any economic sense, you don’t.

Nelson drops an impressive array of names, including a (for him) home name: Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Why they would have anything to do with space science, Nelson won’t explain. But he drops this quote:

It would be mankind’s first attempt at modifying the heavens to enable the permanent settlement of humans in space.

Modifying the heavens? Ah, ahem, AHEM! Some-One might have a thing or two to say about that:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:4, NASB)

Do asteroids pose a threat?

Iron sulfide, or pyrite, is a perfect metaphor for spending government money to drag an asteroid to earth and land on it.

Iron sulfite, pyrite, or fool’s gold. A metaphor for grand missions to asteroids. Photo: Oregon State University, CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic License

Obviously, politicians (and maybe some grant-hungry scientists, movie makers, and other “suits”) want you to think so. Gull enough taxpayers and investors, and you can live like a king, and each person you gulled would barely feel the pinch. So let’s take anything a politician or a think-tanker says with a few micrograms of sodium chloride. Or iron (III) oxide. Or maybe iron sulfide.

Part of the reason Nelson gave for towing an asteroid into orbit around the moon, is figuring out how to shove an asteroid aside, or blow it up, if it drifted too close to earth. This plays on the fears that:

  • Our solar system is full of heavy and fast rocks, and dirty snowballs, that could break more than windows if they fell to earth.
  • No one knows what might move one of those rocks to come in for a disastrous landing.

So it would help, wouldn’t it, to figure out where these rocks came from, and how they got where they are.

Comets are a separate issue. Men have seen those for all of recorded history. Depending on what they wanted to make of them, they either signaled disaster (or they were the disasters, or “evil stars”) or marked when a dead ruler became a god. (The Romans indulged in such flights of fancy beginning with Julius Caesar). In fact, comets are always falling back to earth. Most of them, dirty snowballs that they are, burn up in the atmosphere. We don’t even notice them.

Asteroids are different. They’re bigger. Some (Ceres and Vesta, to name two) are big enough to have fallen in on themselves to form big balls of stone, “glued” together with ice.

The favorite theories on asteroids are that they are what’s left of a planet that either:

  • Blew up. (Like “Krypton”? Apologies to DC Comics.) Or:
  • Never came together to begin with.

Dr. Walter T. Brown has another idea. He points out that all the asteroids put together, would weigh less than the moon. So they didn’t come from a planet that blew up. As for a planet that started to form and stopped, that doesn’t explain how a rocky planet (like Earth or Mars) was supposed to form, or what could have stopped this planet from forming.

Instead, says Brown, the disaster happened on the earth itself. Thousands of years ago, half the water now in our oceans lay beneath the crust. The crust cracked open – at the Mid-Oceanic Ridge – and spilled all that water in a giant hypersonic jet into space. Most of this fell as rain – the hardest rain that has ever fallen. But enough water, rock and mud escaped into space. Once there, away from earth’s gravity, this “stuff” came together, to form the comets, asteroids, and meteoroids we know today.

Comets stayed in their long, elliptical orbits. Why not the asteroids? Because they were mostly rock with water inside. Shortly after they formed, the sun would heat this water. That water would jet out into space, and kick the larger body further out, like a balloon when you blow it up and let it go. Eventually, most of these objects went far enough out that these water vapor jets couldn’t push them out any further. So they settled into orbit in that broad ban we call the Asteroid Belt. Some went even further out, and fell into the lead and training Trojan Points of the orbit of Jupiter.

And now that they’re all the way out there, they’re not falling back. If they didn’t fall back before today, nothing is going to bring them back now. Not unless we’re foolish enough to take one under tow and have that tow fail at a critical moment.

A disaster closer to home

CNAV talked to Brown recently, not about asteroids, but about a larger threat here on earth: earthquakes. That long-ago disaster did more than launch the stuff of the comets, asteroids, and meteoroids. (And drown all the land, and leave up to twelve layers of mud with dinosaur bones mixed in.) It also caused much of the earth’s mass to settle, and then to melt, and formed the Ring of Fire. Humans have felt the aftershocks ever since; these are the “earthquakes” we record today.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re seeing more earthquakes today than ever. We saw a five-pointer on the Eastern Seaboard in 2011. Michael Snyder at noticed all the “sinkholes,” and decided the New Madrid Fault was winding up to let go with another eight- or nine-pointer.

Instead of an asteroid, the government should look to earthquakes for the next disaster.

Displacement vectors, after the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, all pointing to one point in the Benioff Zone, or fault line, of the Japan Trench. Photo: US Geological Survey.

That’s only part of it, says Brown. After the nine-pointer that shook Japan in March of 2011, the major space agencies (NASA, JAXA) reviewed data from GPS instruments all over Japan. (“Japan is the best-instrumented country in all the world for this kind of study,” he said.) They noticed something ominous: all the motions were toward one point in the Pacific basin.

How could that happen? Unless, of course, something was removing the rock from that point. Which, Brown says, is what’s happening. The earth’s crust, you see, is broken up into plates. They’re not diving under one another at the trenches; they’re too thick for that. But fault lines do form at the trenches, where the crust buckles. This point is just inside the curve of the Japan Trench, a place where a lot of rocks are grinding against one another, creating a melt. If the melt is deep enough, it will drain – into the earth’s outer, molten core.

That core is taking drainage from several points inside the trenches that form the Ring of Fire. So it is growing, and building up pressure. Sooner or later, something has to give.

There is your disaster! Not an asteroid, or even several asteroids, falling back to earth. Instead, the earth will see more quakes, including one greater than any quake felt since that first disaster, 4400 years ago. And we don’t have to land anywhere to understand it. We’re already standing on top of it.

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. (Revelation 16:17-18)