back to article Crucial question after asteroid near-miss: How big was rock in Olympic pools?

The services of Bruce Willis were mercifully not required over the weekend as asteroid 2012 DA14 came to within 27,700km of Earth. As we reported on Friday, the space rock measures 45 metres across and weighs in at 130,000 metric tonnes, although it fell to the BBC to put that into proper perspective. The corporation described …


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  1. Benchops

    To further calms the nerves

    Why was the existence of a second meteorite that they didn't know about and /did/ cause plenty of damage on the ground meant to be calming?

    It reminde me of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park -- the big one distracts us while the other one attacks from the side... Clever girl!

    1. Chris Long

      Re: To further calms the nerves

      My thoughts exactly - the fact that *completely unrelated* huge lump of hurtly rock death smashed into the Earth within a day or two of an even bigger one just missing us is hardly reassuring. Not that I'm misunderstanding the level of risk, just amused at the unreassuring reassurance.

    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: To further calms the nerves

      Because the pile of rubble that blew up over Russia is too small for us to care about. We don't even bother looking for anything that small; they can't do relevant amounts of damage when compared to the truly monumental expense of trying to track those things.

      Do you know how many Russia-meteor-sized balls of snow and gravel slam into this planet every century? Rather a lot. Thing is, we're mostly ocean. They tend to blow up over the ocean where fucks are simply not given. If that thing had blown up over New York or London, it would be a Bad Thing. Yet fixing a city's worth of windows and coping with a few additional injuries is actually quite a bit less than the epic amount of money it would cost us to ring the planet with enough high-resolution telescopes with rapid-tracking systems (and enough fuel!) to start hunting Sol's detritus.

      There's roughly zero political capital in funding science to begin with. Funding science at that scale in order to discover (and then prevent?) events that – on the scale of nations – are fairly irrelevant would be political suicide.

      To put it more bluntly; you are significantly more likely to be hurt crossing the street to get a coffee than any of us are being killed by a Russia-meteor-sized pile of space debris. For the same money we'd have to spend fending off this unlikely boogyman, we could build continent-spanning automated personal vehicle networks that would save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

      In reality, we'll piss it all away on superbowl commercials and dodgy lawsuits against people running file locker sites. Because we're human. Are those quarterly reports ready yet? I've got a meeting with the senator from Nebraska at 2:00 to go over them...


      1. Arctic fox
        Thumb Up

        @Trevor_Pott Indeed, the game would not be worth the candle.

        One analogy might be the preparations for keeping transport going during the Winter where I live and in the UK. My neighbours up here tend to laugh hysterically when we hear about Britain being shut down due to a couple of inches of the nasty white stuff. The point is of course that the UK in general simply does not get enough snow to justify the kind of expense that my adopted countrymen go to in order to ensure transport and comms year round.

      2. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: To further calms the nerves

        There's another bit to that.

        When we have ringed the planet with humungously expensive rock detecting kit and find one that is going to blow up over New York or London...........(!)

        I'm not sure that "Incredibly complicated system to cause mass panic" is likely to get its multi-billion dollar funding.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: To further calms the nerves

          Multi-TRILLION. My back-of-napkin maths says 13 Trillion. At least. We could start a dozen Mars colonies with that. Or turn both Vesta and Ceres into completely self sufficient worlds that not only didn't need support from Earth, they could support populations and industry diverty to be true peers.

          I think everyone is seriously underestimating how damned hard these things are to spot, not to mention how many there are or how long you have to watch them to establish orbital trajectories. Or - for that matter - the computer you're going to need to do the calculations. Because it would be the size of Baffin Island (were it made from Fusion IO cards and Blue Gene Qs) and would require more power than North America.

          Just saying, is all...

        2. Ru

          Re: To further calms the nerves

          I'm not sure that "Incredibly complicated system to cause mass panic" is likely to get its multi-billion dollar funding.

          What's the Department of Homeland Security's budget looking like these days?

      3. Lars Silver badge

        Re: To further calms the nerves

        "the ocean where fucks are simply not given"

        Why don't you think of all the ships and sailors. Makes me sad.

      4. Joe Harrison

        Re: To further calms the nerves

        It's not very convincing. DA14 is 45 metres across therefore is worth tracking and warning about. The one that hit Russia was 17 metres across therefore is too small to bother with. There does not seem to be a big difference to me especially given the difficulty of accurate measurement of remote space rocks.

        Meanwhile the population of DA14 is cheering "yay that big planet thing didn't hit us"

        1. Richard Gadsden

          Re: To further calms the nerves

          Energy depends on the mass of the meteorite, which goes as the cube of the diameter.

      5. Elmer Phud

        Re: To further calms the nerves

        " you are significantly more likely to be hurt crossing the street to get a coffee than any of us are being killed by a Russia-meteor-sized pile of space debris."

        So you're saying that by more coffee shops opening up to avoid crossing roads it increases the chance of being struck by a lump from space?

      6. Anonymous Coward

        Re: To further calms the nerves

        Yes but that little turdlette, came in high and on an almost "just miss" trajectory.

        Had there been a SMALL difference in time and location, it may well have come down more or less vertically, onto a big city etc...

        THEN the truly hysterical shit would have hit the fan.

        LOTS of dead, LOTS of damage.

        And to think it was only a teeny little rock.....

        The other one that was the near miss, only a day or two earlier.. was also very small rock... but as small as it was, it was also way bigger - than the one that went BANG in the upper atmosphere...

        And to think, there are squillions of them... in the city destroying size..

        Probably far fewer in the continent destroying size.

        And perhaps even less in the eradication of all life on earth size.

        But they are still bobbing around in space, like blow flies in a huge jar.

        Statistically, mathematically, eventually, all sorts in all sizes, are going to hit again, - eventually.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge


          And we have programs in place already to spkt rocks of a size that matter. Your point?

    3. xyz Silver badge

      Re: To further calms the nerves

      Err...seemingly there was another big one over Japan and yet another over LA. The videos are on the internetty someplace.

    4. Tom 13

      Re: To further calms the nerves

      And remember, "Scientists say this morning's unprecedented solar eclipse is no cause for alarm."

    5. Muhammad Imran/mi1400
      Paris Hilton

      Re: To further calms the nerves

      Russian minister was right... i can think of a plausable technique too... U.S might have de-orbited a rock from metioride belt. And it is very easy to do that.. u dont have stop its orbit.. slightly nudge .. i belive a single small thruster can do that... since tragectory can be calculated of commets millions of miles away... rocks from metioride belt can be used as surgical strike!...

  2. Arctic fox

    "The meteorite has been estimated at 17 metres" A mere pebble in other words :P

    I have to say that the way in which, amongst others, the Daily Fail reported the events in Russia was highly entertaining although also somewhat depressing. They were suitably shocked/horrified/amazed that Russian Air Defence Command sent up fighters to intercept/checkout what the fuck it was. Let me see now, they get reports of lights in the sky, loud explosions etc and they send up a few MIGs to find out what was going on - well what a surprise.

    1. Silverburn

      Re: "The meteorite has been estimated at 17 metres" A mere pebble in other words :P

      Doubly amusing because even if the fighters were airborne at the time, and actually in a position/heading to perform an intercept and travelling at their maximum speed (lets assume a mig does 2.1mach in favourable conditions), the rock was (allegedly) still travelling at 54,000km/hr...

      ...a mere 20x faster than the fighters top speed. It would be like trying to outsprint a TGV when it came past at full tilt (I could have quoted a UK intercity train, but frankly you might actually win).

  3. 123465789

    "It cannot hit our planet"? Well, that is a strange definition of 'can not', if it only means we're sure it won't hit us the very next time. Meanwhile, still some 500.000 other objects are circling around...

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      I heard of one planet that got potted into a black hole, in a game of inter-galactic bar billiards. Killed 10 billion people. Only scored 10 points as well...

      1. Roger Stenning

        I can hear the strains of the theme from...

        "Third Rock From The Sun" even as I type ;-)

        1. Mako

          Re: I can hear the strains of the theme from...

          I could be wrong, but I thought that was a Red Dwarf reference?

          1. spiny norman

            Re: I can hear the strains of the theme from...

            Hitchhiker's Guide, I think.

            1. Rukario

              Re: I can hear the strains of the theme from...

              Definitely HHGG, the closing of the TV series, and I can hear the strains of Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World (which I believe was on the radio series as well), as a tree fades away into a non-computer outline.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Its orbit is now known, lol

    until, unknowingly to us, it is grazed in space by another piece of rock and this happens to change its course a tiny bit the very wrong way (for the humankind).

    1. Tom 260

      Re: "Its orbit is now known, lol

      It's more that the orbit is known within a certain level of error (probably a few hundred or thousand km for it's next close pass), but for each future time it passes the influence of Earth's gravity, that level of error multiplies, until you're once again looking at the extreme end of the possible orbit path crossing Earth, but that is still requiring the outlying value to be the correct one in each case, rather than a value near the mean path.

      As time progresses, and future near passes occur, the level of error can again be reduced until we know that it either will or won't hit us in 2080 or other future dates.

      Back to olympic swimming pools, the major flaw in the Beeb's analogy is that these pools are only 25 metres wide and 2 metres deep (they can be up to 3 metres), for a volume of 2500m³, while the asteroid is 45 metres in diameter, and assuming a perfect sphere (not likely as it doesn't have the mass to self-collapse into a spheroid), that gives a volume of approximately 47700m³.

      1. proto-robbie

        Re: "Its orbit is now known, lol

        Yes, the orbit was known very well; until the fly-past, that is. Now we have to take lots more observations and work it all out again.

  5. TRT Silver badge

    And a few days later...

    this happens. Coincidence? I think not.

  6. nigel 15

    The SI unit for meteors is...

    Double Decker buses.

    well duh.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: The SI unit for meteors is...

      But it doesn't say which model of bus, how are we to cope with such inaccuracies?

  7. breakfast Silver badge

    Failed skywatching

    I'm sorry that I missed the asteroid, but I don't mind that it missed me.

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    In the NASA pics you can *clearly* see the alien craft separate and go into stealth mode... look close to the double object in the first frame, and a little above it in the second...

    I'll just my tin-foil hat...

    1. hplasm

      Re: Hmm...

      Pah- just another day on Metaluna...

  9. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Apparently there was a second meteor

    Over Cuba - and into ocean.

  10. David Pollard

    Swimming pools?

    As any fule kno the water in meteorites is frozen solid.

  11. Nick Galloway

    But how much does it weigh...

    ... in Rhinoceros'?

    I thought the weight standard for really heavy stuff was now Rhinos, as per the weight of a Melbourne tram?

    1. hplasm

      Re: But how much does it weigh...

      In orbit? Approximately 0.

  12. Bodestone

    Has anyone else noticed...

    That 2012 DA14 seems to pick something up on it's way past? Center screen on the animated image.

  13. The last doughnut

    It was the Plutonians, I tell you, getting their retaliation in early

    1. Tom 13

      It was the Plutonians

      Nope. It was the Martians who were attempting to cleverly disguise their attack by using same vector we expect the Plutonians to use. After we successfully beat them back the last time, they don't dare risk us launching a biological attack on their homeworld.

  14. RDW

    Never mind the rock that didn't hit us. What I want to know is the size of the debris field of the Russian impact, relative to an Area the Size of Wales.

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