Are We Doomed?

asteroid Stereo Itokawa
asteroid Stereo Itokawa, Credit: ISAS, JAXA; Stereo Image by Patrick Vantuyne

Asteroid Approaches Planet Earth

An asteroid is headed our way. It’s name is Asteroid 2005 YU55 and according to space scientists, the space rock will make a close pass to our planet on November 8 and 9, 2011. This extra-terrestrial mass of rock has drawn the attention of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, due to the fact that this asteroid will come within one lunar distance (0.85 to be exact) of home. However, since the size of the this rock is only slightly larger than a football field (400 meters), the chances of it having a gravitational effect on earth is just about nil.

Asteroids In Literature

Every since their discovery in 1801, asteroids have fueled the imagination of the scientific and intellectual community including writers. Perhaps, the most notable example comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella, The Little Prince. In this children’s story, the “little prince” lives on an asteroid, called B612, but decides to visit planet earth mostly out of boredom. Since its publication in France during WWII (1943), the book has been printed in over 190 languages and sold approximately 180 million copies, not to mention the numerous stage, music and film spinoffs. The famed French aviator and author has even had a asteroid-moon named in his honor( Le Petit-Prince), as well as a foundation (the B612 Foundation), which honors  the fictional asteroid and is devoted to tracking asteroids that may pose a threat to our planet.

Visiting Asteroids

In June 2010, an unmanned Japanese space probe (Hayabusa) to the asteroid 25143 Itokawa, which is located near the planet Mars, returned to earth and made a successful landing in the vast outback of western Australia. Its contents included a sealed container, which remarkably made it back with a small sample of particles from the small extra-terrestrial body. No evidence of  royalty or any other human habitation was found, but researchers did obtain some valuable scientific. information by examining the tiny grains of asteroid dust. Presently, the Japanese are busy planning to send Hayabusa 2 to another nearby asteroid for more detailed sampling and a planned return to earth. By studying these unusual space bodies, space researchers hope to learn more about the origin of the solar system and even the universe along with some vital clues to how these space bodies can interact with other planets, especially earth.

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