2011 AG5: A football-stadium-sized asteroid we need to keep our eyes on

2011 AG5 is a rock 140 meters across on an orbit that brings it near Earth. We don't have its orbit nailed down well enough to say yet, but using what we do currently know, there is a 1 in 625 chance it will impact the Earth in 2040. It's behind the Sun until September 2013, but more observations taken then will probably reduce the odds of impact to something close to 0. But does it make sense to wait until then to start investigating a mission to deflect it away our planet?

I have written an extensive description of the situation on my blog: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2012/03/06/asteroid-2011-ag5-a-football-stadium-sized-rock-to-watch-carefully/

I don't usually ask, but I worked really hard on this. Please +1 it and share with others. Even if we're safe from AG5, as we find more asteroids we'll be running into this situation more often, and we need to start a dialogue on what to do.

[Image credit: NASA, from the 2005 Deep Impact mission to comet Tempel 1]
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64 comments
 
Obama is too bury comforting an incompetent Georgetown law student to give a crap
 
Looks a bit like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies.
 
Can we not just get a guy to stand on a tall mountain with a very big tennis racquet?

/think outside the box
 
that was a reasonable and well thought out comment +Ari David. i' m sure you thought it was witty, though
 
I wonder if we could slow it down enough to get pulled in by the sun or something?
 
Thanks for this Phillip. I'll be 98 then and I do want to make it to 100.
 
Nice piece! A question:

Is the plan to deflect it away from the keyhole in 2023, or wait and see if it hits the keyhole and deflect it away from earth in 2040?

I guess we get two chances in some sense (though it would be nice not to have to take the second one).
 
we can slow it down using gravity, parking a small mass by it. failing that by kinetic means
 
The best idea is to deflect it FROM the keyhole, much easier to do. +Philip Plait I think Ari is a troll, note the typos and complete lack of connection to the topic at hand. The question is could any kind of mission make its way through Congress without being twisted by political machinations and pork spending? And BOTH parties are guilty of this enough times that you cannot single out a party for 'adjusting' things for their own ends. THat is the nature of politics.
 
+Frank Dabek That gets complicated, but the best plan is - if we need to - to hit it before it passes through the keyhole, since a much smaller velocity is needed (mm/sec instead of cm/sec). If that fails, there's time to try again.
 
+Sionyn Jones Ha! I had a similar (but cartoony) thought about placing a mass in line with it. Think like the asteroid is a cue ball and the mass (construct or big chunk of moon rock we carve out) is the "9" ball. Of course the placement would have to be so crazy perfect that it prolly wouldn't even be possible unless it was guided somehow. Like I said, cartoony.
 
+Philip Plait in addition to your response for +Frank Dabek the idea is that at the end of 2013 would should be able to know with pretty close measurement, if it will pass through the keyhole in 2023 giving us about 26 years to prepare with a confirmation about 16 years before that are efforts are on track, and with quite a few chances at deflection before the actual impact (should there be a possibility of one). Did I read that correctly?

My questions is, how long would it take to set up a deflection method to help prevent this from happening should it become an apparent issue with further research?

I like the idea of further research into this, but how much can we really do with its current position being out of observational view?
 
Why is the asteroid behind the sun until 2013? The earth is rotating around the sun, so does that mean the asteroid is rotating around the sun as well?
 
why haven't we moved to mars yet? lol
 
All things in our solar system revolve around the sun or the parent body that does.
 
+Christopher Robbins the view will most likely be skewed because the two are missing each other in orbit. While we revolve around the sun, it is taking the asteroid longer, and it has a wider elliptical orbit around the sun. The two will conflict us from proper viewing until 2013 when we can do more research (as is my assumption based on what I read).
 
I like it with the light effect !! Very cool piece!!!
 
What a great platform this would be for a deep space observatory, assuming it didn't decide to do a splashdown.
 
Better alert Bruce Willis and his team so they can start training for the event! lol GT ;-)
 
Ohhh pretty pic lol I like it its learning and looks cool
 
Crack heads have there eyes on it already.so don't worry.
 
I think I once read a comment here about applying white paint on an asteroid to increase its reflectivity. I'd love to hear more about that method- would it work for such a small timeframe?
 
Not sure, plus if it is tumbling, it would be harder to predict how the extra light pressure would affect the orbit
 
I agree worrying is not going to push an astroid off course, and if it's going to strike the earth , what we going to do about it. Calling Bruce Willis is not going to help
 
I embrace the end of the world.
 
I like the tennis racket idea. Tiger Woods might also be a good guy to go to.
Can't we throw some nets around it, and use some thrusters to ease it into orbit? We could mine that sucker.
 
+Sarah King The amount of time needed to start a deflection campaign is at the heart of this issue. It may be 7 or so years from the investigation starting to being able to launch, so time is a bit tighter than I'd like. You want to make sure the rock misses the keyhole, so the earlier you hit it the better.

Mind you,we may not need to do anything at all about this asteroid. Odds are, as we get better data, we'll find that it'll miss us. But we won't know at least until September 2013. So looking into this now, even having the debate at all, is a good thing IMO.
 
Don't forget that we don't really have any very heavy lift launch platforms available. What you'll probably want is that shuttle that was able to slingshot around the moon in minutes with a heavy drilling vehicle and a nuclear missile, and Bruce Willis.
 
hahaha...^ she said bloody..she's british
 
Why the heck is there a big rock in front of my beautiful son??? HUH? i'm blaming you when you die of coldness!!
 
+James Brooks that made my day....lol...+Philip Plait great research and a worthy topic.
 
I wonder if we could get the fundamentalist crowd to deny it exists? That seems to work for everything else which doesn't fit into their paradigm.
 
the whole world need to get together and do something to deflect it if its really coming towards earth.
 
Well.... There are a lot of people that might like a meal on their table between then and now. If we are so intelligent, and if there is an exponential growth in that intelligence I really think that perhaps the money may be spent elsewhere. Wait a while, closer to 2040. It would be worth a couple of bucks then for sure and that will allow time for the unknown aspects of our intelligence to develop into a solution. If we don't have it together to confront this at a later date with far greater knowledge and resources then we just ar not who we think we are.
 
+Philip Plait so in other words, even though knowing will not come later, the point is for awareness, is this correct? If so, then I completely understand. And thanks for the article and all the time you have put into it!
 
+Chris Esterline I see what you did there - +Ari David had to take a potshot at Obama out of nowhere on this story, so you wanted to do a bookend move and put up something contemptuous at the fundies. Now +Philip Plait has well-balanced comments in his post. Very nice!
 
Hopefully this'll mean more action towards really dealing with stuff like this, and not more bad movies.
 
+Jon Pederson Since we struggle to even pick up space junk, which is much smaller and already orbiting Earth, grabbing something that orbits the sun at almost the same rate as Earth, much larger than any space junk... it seems like we'd be as likely to plunge it into the earth as effectively capture it.
 
Send the political campaigners there then it will have no idea where to go and will head back to where it came from. LOL
 
1 in 250,000 chance asteroid Apophis can collide with earth in 2036 . Do we need to start preparing for this one too?
 
+Chris Moschini I suppose there would not be a lot of margin for error (although, on the far side you just lose the asteroid, a risk that's easier to live with than the goodbye-Australia scenario)
 
(Oversimplified) The flaw in the 'blow it to smithereens' plans is that the mass/energy doesn't change. Even if it hit the Earth as dust, all of its energy would be transferred to the planet. (Modulo the bits that were shifted into non-intersecting orbits, of course. Probably not enough to matter.) So instead of a big splash, tsunami, and storms, we get disruption of the planetary heat cycle, long-term massive damage to the structure of the upper atmosphere, and decades, if not centuries, of heavy-duty UV radiation reaching the surface.
 
I find it very interesting that we're learning to track these near-approach objects at a time when we just barely (or maybe almost but not quite) know enough to go out and mine them for resources. Eventually some of them could be nudged into even more stable paths, and we could put equipment on them, such as solar powered factories, that we then "harvest" from every six months, or whatever the encounter period is.
 
I don't even want to ask the 'what if' question... but just maybe we need the threat of imminent extinction to come to our senses...
 
It seem to me that, no matter whether this particular asteroid ends up being a threat or not, some day one will. We need to start seriously working on solutions before that head slap moment happens.
 
1 in 625! In 2040!! Now, that's really a news to worry about.
 
I must admit that the whole "keyhole" thing is well fabricated. You, +Philip Plait are creating the impression, that one can actually make the calculations that I hear so far we cannot. I didn't see any math there to back anything up. That 1:625 is entirely made up until I find some.

So how much funds to do they need to protect my life? I guess it's cheaper now. Should we make a fund raising campaign for them, right?

It's people like them who are creating rightful doubts in the minds of well educated persons like me. This is creating what you call denial.

To me, climate change has become more unlikely now. It's like that, every time I observe outright lying or misrepresentation of facts in science. Every single time that happens, my hope increases that it's the same thing.

Yours,
Kay
 
+Kay Hayen ... or, instead of accusing me and other astronomers of making stuff up, you could actually go to the links I provide (or use Google) and find out more information.

I have to admit, attitudes like yours are baffling to me. Why go out of your way to accuse someone of nefarious dealings when you haven't even done the basic research yourself to see what's what? Do you have any idea of how those odds are calculated, how orbits are determined, how uncertainties in the position measurements are calculated?

And if not, what gives you the impetus to accuse those who do?
 
The TED talk you gave on these things was fascinating. And, +Kay Hayen, I would remind you our future is in the stars. You bring up the problem of money. Mining these asteroids could completely change our perception of valuable elements, such as platinum, gold, copper etc. That would certainly shock our extremely fragile, and in my opinion, backwards, and incompetent world economy. Perhaps shocking it into giving up capitalism earlier rather than later. I can only speculate. But I at least admit these are speculations.
 
+Dean Crawford , I'm not as articulate (by a long shot) as the science writers who have dealt with your question many times before, but I'll say my $.02. I think there is a huge disconnect on what we get when we look up (space), down (cellular or subatomic), and sideways (can't think of a good analogy here.) Either way, the money is never spent "up there." The money is spent here, usually in American companies with American employees discovering new technologies that are first used by us. Second, a lot, and I really mean a LOT of technologies we take for granted today (transportation, healthcare, communications, etc.) are a DIRECT result of the money we have spent on NASA and other science organizations in the USA.

The problems we have down here need some pretty new solutions, and they come by finding new ways of doing things. That can be climate change, defense, education, etc.

Again, I know, I really know that I'm not articulating myself well. Look up on YouTube some Neil deGrasse Tyson videos and checkout NASA's spinoff site http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/ to see how we are solving problems down here by looking up and all around us.
 
+Dean Crawford If you're looking to save money, I would suggest looking at the military budget and the department of defense, homeland security, etc.
 
+Dean Crawford I don't have hard facts to back this up. But it does stand to reason that if we're creating new technologies that they can't be outsourced because they've never been done before. We outsource stuff that's already been done before and can find a way to do cheaper.

I think the country has unrealistic expectations that we can continue making the same things, the same way, for the same price and the jobs not be exported to somewhere that can make it better, faster and/or cheaper. 
 
+Philip Plait you have a brilliant article here. I know any time an astronomical event is mentioned, I can count on you to give the facts. keep up the great job of educating the masses. there are people out there who REALLY appreciate the work you and other astronomers constantly do :)
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