back to article Hero dev writes the CODE that COULD SAVE THE WORLD

An asteroid collision with Earth could now be less likely thanks to a software developer who created a computer program capable of tracking NEOs (Near Earth Objects). Mark Trueblood of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory spotted that such a coding opportunity would be perfect for a student's summer project. He enlisted …

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  1. dotdavid
    Paris Hilton

    Heroes they may be...

    ...but some of these physics coders really need to get out more. From the PhAst website;

    "The following packages are optional, but required for many PhAst functions:

    - SExtractor, an object extraction package by Emmanuel Bertin.

    ...

    - missFITS, a package for writing SCAMP solutions to FITS headers by Emmanuel Bertin. "

    That Emmanuel Bertin fella seems to have *something* on his mind a lot.

  2. Red Bren
    Mushroom

    Priorities

    "If one of these asteroids and the Earth are at the same point in their orbits at the same time, a collision could occur."

    If the Earth and the asteroid are at the same point at the same time, surely a collision has occurred?

    1. Hatless Pemberty
      Headmaster

      Eccentric priorities

      "If the Earth and the asteroid are at the same point at the same time, surely a collision has occurred?"

      It says here "at the same point in THEIR orbits". Tipically the orbits will only intersect at two points at most. Unless both bodies are in the same position along their orbital paths and that position happens to be an intersection point, no collision will occour.

      Add to that the likely relative tilting of the orbital planes and the precession of the intersection points and it gets far more complicated.

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Methods in the madness

    OK, so you have a Near Earth Object that you want to destroy:

    How about neo.Destroy;

    depending on the language you prefer to save the world, but you get the gist of it.

    1. The BigYin

      You don't destroy

      Because then you have *lots* of NEOs and they may still be capable of causing havoc.

      You throw up a probe and then have it use its gravity to gently pull the NEO into a safe orbit. Or you coat one side in a reflective material so that light/solar wind pushes harder on the NEO. Or you land on the NEO and use a thruster to push it. All depends on the exact nature of the NEO.

      All these would take years, but if you see the NEO early enough, then years one would have.

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Lots of little objects

        > Because then you have *lots* of NEOs and they may still be capable of causing havoc.

        But that's not really a "destroy", is it. More like a fork() or a split().

        Although that could explain why so much code is so flaky - that destroying an object leaves behind lots of little memory fragments that nobody knows anything about.

        Note to NASA; Make sure the garbage collector is running.

        1. The BigYin

          @Pete 2

          For a NEO to be of concern it's going to have to be either very big or very hard (most others will just burn-up or be of no real consequence - just evacuate the strike zone). Very big and very hard are going to be a right bugger to smash up into small enough chunks to pose little-to-no risk.

          You are going to have to coordinate a lot of rockets carrying a lot of bang to arrive at the right time and strike in a predetermined manner (all of which will be compounded by the target moving like absolute buggery and tumbling whilst it does so).

          So one is back to softy-softly, gravity-well-catchy-monkey. You don't have to move it out to beyond Mars or something, just stop it from passing through a "keyhole" (where Earth's gravity *will* cause it to impact at a future time; and even then you'll have a few years to try again).

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        May have years but

        that assumes that we don't have a depression due to someone believing the financial markets advice on regulation, and sound investment strategies.

        Oh sorry that's right can't use the depression. Lets try that again double dip recession, with a couple of eurozone country bailouts, and number of minor governmental bodies going bankrupt.

        Here have a sparkly skyrocket, yes I know we doubled NASA's budget to afford that, enjoy.

  4. Benchops

    And how to destroy one...

    As Arthur C Clarke famously said, The reasons the dinosaurs became extinct is because they didn't have an effective space programme.

    Are we going to send up a Soyuz and hope it explodes nearby?

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge
      Joke

      "The reasons the dinosaurs became extinct is because they didn't have an effective space programme."

      How did the rats survive? Did they have rockets?

      Oh maybe they left the Earth and setup home inside the Moon and evolved into Clangers...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Forgive me if I'm wrong...

        ...and I might be, I'm not entirely certain, palaeontology wasn't big at my school, but the rats weren't the "dominant" life form.

        Hence the quote being about dinosaurs.

  5. _Absinthe_
    Alien

    umm, logic fail?

    "An asteroid collision with Earth could now be less likely thanks to a software developer who created a computer program capable of tracking NEOs (Near Earth Objects)."

    Without wanting to be too much of a party pooper, the chance of a collision is in no way reduced by some chap writing a piece of software!! We'd simply know about the collision in advance whereas we would previously have been oblivious to the impending doom until we saw the approaching fireball. However, if we actually had a means of destroying the huge rock flying towards us, then it'd be a different story...

    (Of course, if I'm wrong, and simply writing a piece of software can alter the trajectories of asteroids just imagine what else we could achieve!!!! :) )

    Alien icon because it's obviously the insectoids that are flinging these asteroids at us in the first place! grr, darn those pesky insectoids.

    1. SteveK

      "(Of course, if I'm wrong, and simply writing a piece of software can alter the trajectories of asteroids just imagine what else we could achieve!!!! :) )"

      Perhaps they're quantum, and the act of observing them changes their state?

  6. peter 45
    Mushroom

    sob

    Wont someone think of the dinosaurs!

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    PDB ..... 111123.1108 An Alien Ping*

    In A.N.Other Parallel would ITs Virtual ProgramMING probably be an APT Tracker for SMART Media Shows ........ Running Digital Displays with Binary CodeXSSXXXX Capture.

    Real Get up and Go Projects in Hoods with IT Controllers in Powerful Commanding Cloud Clusters.

    And every Renegade in a Sharp Zoot Suit's worst nightmare come true in AI Fab Lab of Fabless ZerodDay Dream Time Scenarios ...... Extra Special Phormations.

    * Please, as amusing as it may be for some, let's dismiss any notion of a bong being responsible for that bombe.

  8. hugo tyson
    WTF?

    Less likely?

    "An asteroid collision with Earth could now be less likely" - wtf? Surely the likelihood is entirely unchanged by the existence of new tracking software. ITYM An *unexpected* asteroid collision with Earth could now be less likely....

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Less likely?

      From the article: space probes could carry out steps to tweak the path of the NEO and deflect the collision. It's not just tracking, it's deflection too.

  9. Andus McCoatover
    Windows

    Congress:

    "We've identified an asteroid that's gonna impact Earth, sir!"

    "OK, we can launch an ICBM, fitted with a nuclear warhead to deflect it"

    ...later..

    "Sir, it doesn't threaten America. It seems it'll hit Iraq"

    "Due to budgetary restraints...."

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. TeeCee Gold badge

    Yes, an asteroid impact can ruin your day.

    Now someone's written code that'll tell us exactly *which* of our days is going to be ruined.

  11. MacGyver
    Facepalm

    The scariest part is.

    That not only did someone have to ask someone to make it, they had to ask a student.

    It should have been like this from the start:

    "Hey guys, this program sucks, and isn't working very well at keeping the whole human race from possibly going extinct." - Head telescope guy

    "Well let's tell the world leaders at the next Science Summit." - Other telescope guy

    "We will devote any resources needed to solve this problem." - World leaders in agreement

    Instead it was:

    "Hey, do you guys know anyone that writes code?" - Head telescope guy

    "Sure, I know this student that is really good at that kind of thing, he jailbroke my iPhone for me." - Other telescope Guy

    "Sure, dude, that's easy, just tell me what you guys want. I am getting school credit for this, right?" - Student

    Coder

    We almost deserve to go extinct.

    1. DaeDaLuS_015
      Meh

      erm..

      "We almost deserve to go extinct."

      Almost?

  12. His Glennogginess
    Stop

    Now this is just getting silly

    Completely off topic, but the increased use of shouty shouty capitals in article headlines is getting silly. It's pointless, doesn't help make the point of the headline any better than the usual wit and humourous strap-lines, and to be quite honest is getting annoying. Stop this ridiculous behaviour forthwith.

  13. CowardlyAndrew
    Coat

    My prediction is that it will hit us on a Monday.

    They always are the worst day of the week.

  14. The Fuzzy Wotnot
    Facepalm

    Hmmmm

    "asteroid collision with Earth could now be less likely"

    How exactly? Does this code shift the Earth a few million miles to the left for a bit while said asteroid whizzes past?

    So it should read:

    "asteroid collision with Earth could now be just as likely but we'll a bloody good idea when it's coming and so you can bend over and kiss your arse goodbye 'cos there's still bugger all we can do to stop it hitting us, we'll just know sooner"!

  15. defiler Silver badge

    But does it work?

    XKCD ahead of the curve again...

    http://xkcd.com/937/

  16. deadlockvictim

    ominous music

    It seems to me to be a much better idea to train our radio-telescopes to listen for the ominous music that accompanies all dangerous objects, such as asteroids, imperial cruisers and the like. The more ominous the music, the more trouble were in.

  17. arrbee
    Alert

    what was that ?

    If you keep an eye on a list of NEOs then you'll quickly notice that most of the closer-approaching objects are detected *after* they've gone past. So nice to know they're still improving the analysis software, but it might be an idea to work on better detection tools as well.

    Good to see the old (1920s ?) blink-comparison technique is still going strong.

  18. Handler
    Pint

    Rename PhAST

    In this new world of 'i'Everything, and noting that the PhAST program tracks the relationship of the NEO to Terra, I would have named the program iPHArt. Sorry, there is no app for that (yet).

  19. NumptyScrub

    More importantly

    did he remember to include code to check if the NEO was in line to hit the *moon* as well? I'm pretty sure a big enough NEO to threaten the earth could cause bloody havoc if it whacked the moon instead; knocking that out of orbit a little is going to have a knock-on (heh) tidal effect and could cause just as much chaos as a direct strike.

  20. a_mu

    responsibility

    but what a weight on their shoulders if they got the code wrong !

    oops does not cover it

    1. Count Ludwig
      Coat

      Astronomical Unit testing?

      Using a package called AUnit.

      Alright, alright I'm going

  21. Fred 21
    Facepalm

    ""asteroid collision with Earth could now be less likely"

    How exactly? Does this code shift the Earth a few million miles to the left for a bit while said asteroid whizzes past?"

    FTFA

    ""if a potential future collision were to be identified many years in advance, space probes could carry out steps to tweak the path of the NEO and deflect the collision," the NOAO cheerily noted."

    Why are some of you not getting this?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      cos most read the headline and then jumped to the comments page,and then reacted to the comments.

  22. Steve 13

    @Fred 21

    Everyone gets it, the article is misleading, the software won't in any way reduce the likelihood of a collision, it might give us advance warning and let us do *something else* which will reduce the likelihood.

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