back to article 600 tonne asteroid in low pass above Falkland Islands - TONIGHT

An asteroid the size of a bus and massing 600 tonnes is barrelling through space toward planet Earth at terrific speed as this report is written. Astronomers say there is no chance that the object, dubbed 2011 MD, will strike our planet but it will corner sharply through our gravitational field and descend to just 7,600 miles …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Quick! Get Bruce Willis into a rocket!

    Then fire him straight at this asteroid.

    It may not stop the asteroid- which may not need to be stopped- but at least it'd prevent another catastrophe like the last Die Hard.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    What no Royal Navy angle?

    The cutbacks, no aircraft carriers, no Harriers, the Falkland Islands! Is Lewis being restrained by his fellow Register contributors at Vulture Central as he fights hard to get back to his keyboard to finish the article?

  3. Thomas 4

    Don't panic folks!

    If it looks like a threat we can fly a nuclear bomb up to it on one of our Shuttles...

    *whisper whisper*

    What's that?


    Oh. Looks like we're fucked then.

    1. Michael Mokrysz

      Not really...

      I'm sure a nice orbiting Shuttle would be able to do anything about an approaching asteroid. Oh, wait, I think there might be an issue there.

    2. Joe Cooper


      A ballistic missile can deliver a nuke with some reprogramming, though its impact would be limited without much reaction mass. If you carried some propellant with it though... A nuke with a tank of some liquid (water? hydrogen? kitty litter?) next to it, detonated so the reaction mass tank is between the nuke and the target.

      It would give a trajectory altering bump.

      You might do this if you know in advance that it would likely hit the Earth on the _next_ pass, but not the current one.

      But of course our ability to predict these things is not good enough to tell that the nuke won't _cause_ it to hit on the next pass.

      Right now, though, just being able to see these things is good enough. If one were to hit, I dunno, Pakistan, and you already knew it was coming, you'd know it wasn't an Indian nuke (or whatever) and if it were to hit anywhere, you would have a head start on getting disaster relief ready to go.

      Or something.

      I wonder if a larger rock could honestly be mistaken for a nuke? I'm gonna go ask uncle google.

      1. Admiral Grace Hopper


        As per title.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Dave Bell

        Nukes are different

        There's several features of a nuclear explosion that this wouldn't have.

        First, the light-flash will be quite prolonged, even if a satellite sensor can't resolve the shape. Also, there's some distinct clues in the different patterns of the flash in different parts of the spectrum.

        Second, if it does get down to ground level. the seismic signature will be different.

        Third, even with the energy release starting in the upper atmosphere, there's no EMP

        I don't know if there are routinely-deployed instruments which can detect the gamma-ray pulse from a nuclear detonation, but that's missing too.

        The possibility of an asteroid impact being mistaken for a nuke has been the subject of SF stories. It might have happened in the early days of ICBMs, when only a single missile might have reached its target, and most of the attack was bombers. A single big explosion might be mistaken for the (rather fanciful) terrorist nuke, but we have much more awareness of what's out there.

  4. JaffaMan

    Anyone else a little concerned that they only spotted this coming our way a few days ago? Probably a bit late to have a lobbed a nuke at it by then to alter its course/vapourise it. I don't think there's any other alternative feesible given it was so close to us when detected.

    You don't have to think hard what would've happened if it was a little bigger and could've come down in a popluated area/city, Hollywood has done it for you!


    1. Bumpy Cat

      Did you read the whole article?

      It's too small to land - it would burn up in the upper atmosphere.

    2. The Indomitable Gall

      No, you don't have to think.

      "Anyone else a little concerned that they only spotted this coming our way a few days ago?


      You don't have to think hard what would've happened if it was a little bigger..."

      No, you don't, do you.

      If it was a little bit bigger, if would have been spotted a little bit earlier. This cow is small, those ones are FAR AWAY,

      So no, you don't have to "think hard". Maybe just "thinking" would be enough...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yes, I am thinking hard

        Damage - proportional to energy - proportional to mass - proportional to cube of the diameter.

        Radar and vis return - proportional to section area -proportional to square of the diameter.

        Not so sure I like the math...

    3. brym


      They hardly discovered it a few days ago. JPL's Dawn spacecraft has been on an intercept course for 4 years. It's set to orbit Vesta for one year while it gathers scientific data about the early Solar System.

  5. John 62


    Someone from a ridiculously named planet is trying to fling mass packets at us

    1. hplasm

      Mass packets?

      Are you referring to Bug Shit?

      1. John 62

        No, not Starship Troopers

        google thee Stars!, the space strategy game. I wasted manys an hour on it (day? month? I don't know, it all went by in a blur)

  6. DJ 2

    From what I've been following,

    It's only just 156 m/s shy of being captured in orbit. Now if it had hit a GPS satalite, I wonder if it would have been slowed down enough, 2 moons, (all be it a tiny spec in the sky) would be cool :)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      It is a pity we cannot slow it down

      Orbiting at 7000km up it will make one hell of a space station. No need to worry about atmospheric drag either.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Armageddon (The movie) (Don't panic folks)

    To AC & Thomas4, I hate to tell you but that "secret" space shuttle mentioned in the movie Armageddon, DOES exist and probably will continue to exist for some time to come. It doesn't look like the one in the movie, just like a normal shuttle (only Black).

    How else are they going to service the space based nuclear missile and laser arsennal "they " have been putting up there for years? How else can they "bug" cellular satellites or put remote shutdown switches in GPS satellites?

    Don't you know the basics of the "Black" budget? Why build one when you can build two (for the same price and hide the other one)?

    1. Aaron Em


      Because it's just as easy to conceal a full-up STS launch as it is to sneak a military payload into a Titan-II's shroud without anyone spotting it?

    2. Joe Cooper


      I'm 9/10 sure this is a joke but I do love explaining things...

      The Shuttle's white intentionally. If you change the color, you change the thermals, and frankly it cannot be hidden so a black shuttle is superfluous. I saw it launch from about 180 miles north. You are not hiding it with a little paint. Never.

      "How else are they going to ..."

      You de-orbit them into the Pacific and put up new ones.

      "space based nuclear missile"

      They don't have one cause it's a silly thing to do, long story short.

      "How else can they 'bug' cellular satellites"

      Typically by giving the operators a call and asking for the data. But if you want to be more secret, you don't 'bug' the sat, you bug the ground infrastructure.

      "put remote shutdown switches in GPS satellites"

      They build, own and operate the GPS satellites.

      "Don't you know the basics of the 'Black' budget"

      They publicly launch black budget, top secret payloads all the time.

      You roll the rocket out to the pad with a big sticker on the fairing with question mark and the text "DON'T ASK - NYFB". (That is an actual NRO mission patch. (NYFB = Not Your F-ing Business.))

      Final note. The military has used the regular, publicly known Shuttles for secret missions before.

      Enjoy this tale from former Shuttle manager Wayne Hale bout lying about a Shuttle launch:

      1. Aaron Em

        "DON'T ASK! - NOYFB"

        Thanks for the laugh! Bet that patch saved a lot of questions.

    3. M.B.
      Black Helicopters

      The black shuttle does exist ......

      Saw it yesterday at Disneyland Paris - on the Studio Tram Tour, you just drive right past it

      Not very big though - perhaps 20ft long

      Just about big enough to get 1x Bruce Willis into (thats about 0.0000001 Wales'es)

  8. Pypes
    Thumb Up

    Thanks lewis

    "massing 600 tonnes"

    You beat the science-reporting quality curve in the very first sentence, and managed to avoid a pet peeve of mine.

  9. Bumpy Cat


    I'm not a rocket scientist, so please correct me if I'm wrong, but surely they could pin down the size better? If it's 5m across, it's over 9000kg/m3 (denser than solid copper, much denser than iron), and if it's 20m across it's under 150kg/m3 (as dense as styrofoam, or five times less dense than ice). If they know the mass this precisely, 5-20m across is being very vague.

    1. Mike Bell

      @Bumpy Cat

      The mass will be estimated from the estimated volume and density. Which, of course, are both estimates.

      1. Dave Bell

        Density may be the best guess

        If they have enough light reflected to get a spectrum, they'll know what sort of material it is. And that gives them a pretty good density estimate. Possibly a pretty good estimate of the albedo too, It's not spherical, so the brightness varies as it rotates, and that all makes the size a bit uncertain.

        I infer it's low-density and dark, and that's the sort of material which would break up in the atmosphere. You might get some small lumps reaching ground level, but not one big lump. The small lumps have more surface area, relative to volume/mass, so they can slow down more repidly, and radiate more heat as they do.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Objects that small are irregularly shaped.

      I took the dimensions to mean that it's 5m wide at it's narrowest and 20m at it's widest point

      1. johnnymotel


        a flying wedge of overweight coppers?

        1. Sureo


          If its copper its worth a fortune someone should go get it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ...on what it is made from.

      The size is an estimate from its brightness - although they might have made some direct radar measurements by now. If the body is made from iron-nickel it will be much brighter than a carbonaceous chondrite which are blacker than coal - so a smaller iron-nickel object will appear as bright as a much larger lump of tarry space goo.

      And if it was iron-nickel it would stand a reasonable chance of surviving entry to the atmosphere as they are best able to survive the brutal deceleration intact which does for most stony meteoroids.

    4. Charles Manning

      If you're going to be a pedant...

      Then don't use "five times less dense than", but use "a fifth the denstiy of".

      Five times less than would mean it has a density of -4 which is only possible with anti-matter.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: If you're going to be a pedant...

        Antimatter has the same density as its matter counterpart.

  10. JeffyPooh

    Tuesday beer

    Once upon a time, we would go out for a hamburger and beer for Tuesdays' lunches, just in case we (humans) didn't make it through until the expected Fridays' hamburger and beer. The Tuesdays were a sort-of preemptive just-in-case beer, based upon an irrational fear of asteroids between Tuesday and Friday.

    Now this one comes along on a Monday evening. One can't win for trying.

    1. perlcat

      You're falling behind.

      The answer is to drink more beer.

  11. Tchou

    Satellites !

    "as well as being much nearer than communications and TV satellites in geostationary orbit".

    A few satellites might be blown up then.

  12. Andus McCoatover

    Having a bit of a problem..

    ..differentiating this bit of space junk with the other bit of relatively similar space junk. Latter carries a few humans, but...

  13. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    "Size of a bus"

    Also in the form of a cat.

  14. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Only 7,600 miles at closest approach?

    Better take my hat off, then...

  15. Anonymous Coward

    If it was a spaceship

    Then I'd like to be the first to say; that yesterday was a day of rumour and counter-rumour.

    Throughout the day we had no communication from the Government of the Falklands. Indeed, the last message that we received was at 21.55 hours on Monday night. This morning at 8.33 am we sent a telegram which was acknowledged. At 8.45 am all communications ceased. I shall refer to that again in a moment. By late afternoon yesterday it became clear that an Argentine invasion had taken place and that the lawful British Government of the islands had been usurped.

    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are at war with the moon people.

    1. Andus McCoatover

      I thought...

      HMS Trafalgar fixed that.

      Isn't that why they sailed into port flying the "Jolly Roger"?

      1. BryceS

        Not Trafalgar

        That would be HMS Conqueror, who sank the ARA Belgrano (ex- USS Phoenix). Traditionally submarines returning from a war patrol fly a Jolly Roger, with different symbols dictating what sort of action took place. I've seen some good examples in the Imperial War Museum.

        After the sinking of the Belgrano, which picked off one arm of a pincer movement which was being formed to attack the British fleet, the entire Argentinian Navy returned to port and didn't venture out for the rest of the conflict.

        The head of the Navy, Admiral Anaya had been the prime mover in the Junta pressing for the invasion in the first place, but with the Navy now hiding in port, the very brave Argentinian pilots who were suffering great losses attacking the fleet, and the largely conscript Army on the islands had to ask themselves why they were taking all the pain. The fact that the Navy had abandoned them was a massive hit to morale.

        That one attack by an ageing submarine, using WWII standard Torpedoes (the Captain decided not to risk using the new model he had on board) was almost certainly the most important action leading to the success of the Falklands campaign.

  16. Paul Durrant

    Feeling Lucky in 2049?

    It might be going to miss us on this pass, but it seems it has a greater than 1-in-a-thousand chance of hitting the Earth on 18 June 2049. If it does hit, it'll be with the energy of about 10,000 tons of TNT. That's enough to destroy a city of a few hundred thousand people, if it hits in the city centre.

    But we'll have a much more precise probability estimate after it's passed us this time.

    1. Nexox Enigma


      10 kilotonnes seems a bit low to destroy an entire city - that's just a tactical nuke, and presumably the asteroid wouldn't really be too radioactive. Also, some (if you'd read the article, you might suspect that 'all' or 'most' are more accurate) of the energy would be expended in the atmosphere before impact.

      So no, I doubt hundreds of thousands of people will be at stake.

    2. Aaron Em

      10Kt doesn't do a real city, even if it all makes it to the ground

      It only did Hiroshima because the place was made of laths and ricepaper -- you could just about have flicked a cigarette butt in that city and had the same effect. In a modern city it'd make an awful mess, but the place certainly wouldn't be flattened to the bedrock the way you see in the old photos.

      1. bart

        lath(s) and rice paper - nice . . .

        @Aaron Em - Care to make any crazy-as-bung statements about the holocaust next?

        I'll look past your insensitively careless remark about Hiroshima and offer some comparison of scale.

        The approx. 14.5 kiloton (sorry, still not metric here but at least I don't weigh myself in stones . . .) bomb dropped at Hiroshima would have wrought incredible devastation in any populated area. Even a 10 kT bomb is equivalent to the energy of about 910 MOABs, currently the largest conventional bomb (11 ton) in production today (US.)

        Let’s not forget that large explosions inflict massive damage by their aftermath, fire, as well. 10 kT is 2 1/2 times the tonnage thrown at Dresden during WW2, in which an ensuing firestorm raged on, ultimately destroying (destruction, not damage) 15 sq. miles.

        Let’s hope politicians with their fingers on the triggers of “tactical” nukes have a bit better grasp of how much destructive force they have - they still are very much WMD’s.

        1. Dave Bell

          Comparisons with Hiroshima

          I certainly wouldn't dismiss the point about the structures in Hiroshima, but the nuke managed to bring down plenty of concrete structures.

          Firestorms were hard things to create in WW2. It needed a carefully planned pattern of bombing, HE and incendiaries in the right sequence to expose flammable material, start fires, and keep the firefighters in their shelters. A nuke is more nearly everything at once, even in the wrong order. It's just that there so damn much, all at once, that a firestorm would be the icing on the cake.

  17. Steven Jones

    Not an asteroid

    According to the Near Earth Orbit classification system, this thing isn't big enough to be classified as an asteroid which would need to be greater than 50 meters in diameter. A 5-20m object would be a meteoroid. Of course it doesn't make such a good headline.

  18. Bill Cumming

    Wo cares if it hits us....

    I'm more worried that it will take out our FreeSat service!!!

    I can live with it hitting the atmosphere! not a flamin' Communication Satellite!!

  19. dssf

    Might not be an ASteroid, but if it landed somehow, it WOULD be an

    ASS-steroid after it shakes up a few people who didn't get out of the way fast enough.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    So long and thanks for all the fish

    Damn, if I'd heard about this earlier, I'd have set up a cult worshipping the aliens who are en-route to collect the believers and transport them to the promised land, whilst all the infidels who've made fun of us our whole lives will burn in a fiery hell for all eternity*

    But that's just the way it goes, I guess.

    * Subject to a one-off non-refundable (no matter what *might* occur in the future) joining fee of your entire life savings and the deeds to your house. Ta.

  21. davenewman

    Asteroid approach, all right

    with acknowledgements to I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Where is Antipodia, I can't find it on the map?

    1. Stumpy

      You won't

      It collided with Podia and they annihilated one another ...

    2. bob, mon!

      Don't be silly...

      You need to look on the other side.

    3. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Wait

      Don't worry about it. It's in that unimportant bit off the edge of your map of the US of A.

  23. bill 36

    just another reason

    Why we shouldn't be too worried about global warming.

    One of these babies is going to hit us sooner or later as history tells us.

    1. DarrDarr

      BOINC ? That's what *she* said

      You would think there would be some global funding for the BOINC project Orbit@home run by the Planetary Science Institute - - which has as its objective using the idle cycles of computers worldwide to examine data from observatories and search for rogue asteroids with paths that might intersect earth's orbit at some time in the future. Have a look at that site - Pasquale has posted some nice animations showing how far inside the orbits of the GPS network satellites MD2011 will get. With as many of those that there are, it's amazing nobody is concerned about it hitting any of them. I wonder if they're even insured against such a possibility.

      Personally, I would rather donate my spare CPU/GPU cycles to that than to the more-famous SETI@home project.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Bugs Mr. Rico, Millions of Them!

    Fortunately they missed Buenos Aires--this time!

  25. Asgard
    Thumb Up

    “Its war, we are going to war!”

    “Everyone fights, no one quits!” “You kill anything that has more than two legs, you get me!”

    The Bugs have finally launched their attack! The arachnoid war is upon us!

    Ok, where's my bumper pack of raid insecticide. Bring it on! :)

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Burning question

    "2011MD isn't big enough to avoid burning up on its way down, there would be no surface impact"

    Uh, not really, unless it was a long grazing pass thru the upper atmosphere. Most of the heating experienced by a big rock happens while striking air molecules that have a long 'free path,' thus preventing the formation of a protective air cap. Once the rock makes it down to the thicker air it gets the cap which drastically cuts the heating rate and also cuts the drag somewhat.

    A vertical descent wouldn't allow much time in the high heating zone, and after that a 630 tonne rock would have little trouble arriving at the surface a few seconds later with most of its original speed, assuming it has high structural integrity. Kaboom.

    And while it might only directly destroy a few city blocks, substantial damage would occur further out, not to mention all the rocks ejected from the impact landing all over the city. Oy, I hate it when that happens.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Hang on a minute....

    .....this thing is a size of a bus and according to NASA its going to burn up in the atmosphere, right? That begs the question what was the original size of the ones that people keep finding on earth were?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It all depends

      On the relative speed of the Earth and the impactor, the angle of incidence and the composition of the meteoroid. A head on collision tends to produce so much energy smaller particles are consumed. Grazing trajectories expose the particles to long periods of heating and they vaporise, and icy or carbonaceous material simply can't survive the deceleration through the atmosphere.

      For rock and metal, a rule of thumb is that the very small stuff, like dust, survives intact, Things about the size of a grain of sand to a small piece of gravel burn up as a meteor and almost never reach the surface. Up to a metre they tend to burn up a a fireball, bigger ones may produce a meteorite. Above a metre to 10 metres they usually survive intact to the surface, minus whatever is ablated - but they may disintegrate into meteorite showers. Above that to 100m they tend to explosively fragment into pieces because of deceleration stresses, but large amounts of material will hit the surface. Over 100m and the atmosphere is too insubstantial to slow them and they hit with a catastrophic impact.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Hang on a minute....

      I believe that the usual definition of such is "bigger than a bus"........

  28. chedzoir

    Are we declaring war?

    If the asteroid was to make it through the atmosphere and clobber the falkland islands, would we declare war on the solar system?

  29. jai
    Black Helicopters

    7,600 miles above us...

    of course, that's exactly what they would tell us, to stop the mass panic, hysteria, looting and the end of society as we know it

  30. Happy Moose

    "Something the size of a bus"

    It's great that NASA are able to detect something the size of a bus approaching from afar - and moreover, to publish its expected route and the times it will pass various places.

    I hope Stagecoach Bus are taking lessons from them. Whenever they predict the passing of "something the size of a bus" at various points on a given route, it invariably never turns up. Or it transpires to be more than one.

    At least the 6-year interval is in rough agreement.

    Mine's the one with the timetable in the pocket.

  31. John Savard

    I hope they took advantage...

    of the close pass of this asteroid to observe it very carefully, and determine its orbit with great accuracy. So that, by knowing the new orbit the Earth perturbed it into, we can have a clear idea of when we can expect it to return.

    Since any asteroid that passes close by us will always be perturbed by Earth's gravity into another orbit that also crosses the Earth's orbit, if we intend to deflect an asteroid while it's near us (thus getting more bang for the buck by also changing our gravitational effect on it, if we do it before the closest part of the encounter)... we need to deflect it into an orbit that will pass very close by (at least, hitting it would be better) some other planet.

    That would make it no one else's problem, since none of the other planets in the Solar System are inhabited.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Mr Savard

      I took great exception to your comment implying that you could pass off your meteorites onto us. The bombarment 18 of your sun revolutions ago was bad enough (one of my cousins was floating in the area at the time and the resulting firestorm threw him 5 layers down).

      If my home is ever hit by one of your redirections i assure you that we will reply in force, once we've found a way to survive in your ridiculously thin atmosphere.

      Your tentacly


      Red Spot condominium

      you know where

  32. Anonymous Coward

    NIMBY syndrone!

    Not In MY Back Yard!

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @dj 2

    We already have at least 3 moons, why would we want any more??

    @everyone, the shockwave from the explosion would probably do a lot more damage to people and property than the TNT numbers suggest, not forgetting the fireball which would blind anyone stupid to be looking for it (90% of the population??).

    Where is the Paris angle??

  34. Graham Bartlett

    @Aaron Em

    Which is exactly what the USAF did in Tokyo, killing 100,000 civilians in a single night. (War crimes, oh boy, all god's chillun got war crimes...)

    Trouble with concrete is that although it *can* be very resilient, it isn't necessarily done that way. Buildings in LA for instance are quakeproofed, so if it came down there, you'd likely only be in trouble there if the damn thing actually landed on top of you. But most of the rest of the world ain't like that - look at Christchurch, NZ where a not-too-bad quake by Californian standards pretty much killed every building in the city. In Europe where there's no provision for earthquake-type events, you can safely assume that all buildings will suffer major damage.

  35. James Pickett


    "If it were to strike Earth - which it won't"

    I admire your confidence - I shall expect a very big apology if you're wrong , although I realise that may have to be on another astral plane.

    1. relpy

      Don't Panic!

      It missed...

      ... I suggest a celebration.

  36. John 62

    Daily Sport

    Maybe it's the bus the Daily Sport found on the moon. The WWII bomber probably dropped it and Freddie Starr will be piloting the bus while eating hamsters.

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