Mr. President, An Asteroid Impact Is Imminent…. As reported by Dr. David Whitehouse of BBC: Some scientists believed on 13 January that a 30m object, later designated 2004 AS1 [SciScoop aside — also known as AL00667], had a one-in-four chance of hitting the planet within 36 hours. It could have caused local devastation and the researchers contemplated a call to President Bush before new data finally showed there was no danger. The procedures for raising the alarm in such circumstances are now being revised. At the time, the president’s team would have been putting the final touches to a speech he was due to make the following day at the headquarters of Nasa, the US space agency. In it he planned to reset the course of manned spaceflight, sending it back to the Moon and on to Mars, but he could have had something very different to say. He could have begun by warning the world it was about to be hit by a space rock. Bush would not have known where it would impact — only somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Experts would have been bouncing radar signals off the huge rock as he spoke in order to get more information about its trajectory. At about 30m wide, the asteroid was cosmic small fry, not the type of thing to wipe out the dinosaurs or threaten our species, but still big enough to cause considerable damage after exploding in the atmosphere. Potentially, the loss of life could have been much worse than 11 September. In the end, Bush made no such announcement, but astronomers have admitted they were on the verge of making the call. In a paper presented at this week’s Planetary Protection conference in California, veteran asteroid researcher Clark Chapman calls it a “nine-hour crisis”. He explains how word reached the astronomical community of an asteroid that had just been discovered by the twin optical telescopes of the Linear automated sky survey in New Mexico. [SciScoop]
I’m not so concerned about the possibility of almost giving a false alarm. What I’d like to know is, if a rock really was going to hit us, would the astronomers at some point tell ordinary people, or would they just tell the President?