by Jean-Jacques COURTEY, Doctor in Economic Geography, Ph. D
One can wander why being interested by an asteroid in Economic Geography : the answer lies in the great damages it can provoke on Earth geography and worldwide economics.
The asteroid "2012 DA 14" as it has been named was discovered just recently by the Spanish Astronomical Observatory of La Sagra (Granada) : on last february 16th, it almost collided with Earth in full ignorance. As a matter of fact, it was identified by Spanish only 7 days after the avoided catastrophe, on february 23rd 2012 ! According to the Spanish scientists its diameter is 45 m for 60 m length. It has got an elliptic orbit which is sticking to Earth by now. And it is forecasted to come back 365 days after exactly on february 15th 2013, and normally miss it narrowly - within the range of a calculation error -, making difficult to ignore a possible blast in our atmosphere (if not successive and multiple blasts on the ground after).
As this will happen only 8 weeks after december 21st 2012, it is giving unwillingly a new credibility to Maya prophecy, which was actually a mathematical and astronomical calculation first.
A lot of calculations about the trajectory of this asteroid have to be made in the meantime, as nobody actually knows really where it is with enough precision, except it must be above 27 000 km in our space. "2012 DA 14" is far too near Earth. As a matter of fact it has got a high speed of 49 600 km/h ! Theoretically, with such a speed, at this minimum distance of 27 000 km it would only need about 32 minutes and 40 seconds to reach our planet, if it was becoming a target.
And it is most likely at less than one hour from Earth at the moment: it's the first recorded time in our history a so big asteroid is circling so near Earth, and it has to be noted !
However, a lot of things are illogical in the display of this asteroid.
First, its size has been appreciated with a certain variability with the approximate method of "brilliance". However it is admitted its mass is around 120,000 t, which is quite impressive.
Second, its minimum distance from Earth : 27 000 or 28 000 km according to another source seems too short, as it could reach Earth anytime if not following anymore an ellipse, and then blast on its surface or in the sea - or both if parted in smaller pieces after the entrance in our atmosphere.
And third, how come it would miss Earth by 22 000 km, after running a so limited distance then, at a such high speed ? Is it a "vessel" and not an asteroid in that case to be able to decelerate or brake, and change the direction at the last second ?
If "2012 DA 14" just avoided Earth on last february 16th, with its speed it should be already very far, and not strangely so near ? Is it terribly attracted by Earth gravity not to be able to go away, circling in an ellipse around it like a new tiny moon ? Its distance from Earth is lower than an important part of the almost 1 000 artificial Earthian geosynchronous satellites in the space. And it is the first official time a celestial object is shiveringly remaining over our heads this way.
Something seems missing or at least partial in the informations released.
And if it would miss Earth between 7:28 PM (GMT) and 7:34 PM (GMT) on february 15th 2013, why preparing a mission to protect Earth then ? Is it because of what might happen the day after a few hours later, on february 16th 2013, if "2012 DA 14" was suddenly falling back on our planet because of a too strong Earth attraction ?
As a matter of fact two options have already been envisioned by NASA, either breaking it in two by blast, a bit like in the 1998 "Armaggedon" US movie (but at a distance), or in a funny artistic variation, painting it with a big spray-gun (which colour : blue, grey or pink ?) to deviate its trajectory from Earth with Sun reflection. In this anticipation picture eighteen days were left only to avoid the final collision with Earth, after several European capitals amongst which Paris were destroyed by smaller pieces. But in that case, the asteroid size was really enormous.
So to us, it is important to know precisely the size and the shape of this hazardous body, because the attraction power of Earth, leading to an eventual collision with Europe where it was detected first - or elsewhere -, can be very different. It's not the same to have a length of 40, 60, 65 or 100 meters according to various sources.
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), admitted the Spanish figure of 45 m as a diameter. Nevertheless, the associated JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) suggested another measure of only 40 m for its animated demonstration of Earth narrow missing next february 15 th 2013 : a difference of 5 m can change a lot of things.
Is it to demonstrate it's so small and insignificant that it would rebound on Earth magnetic field, just like a ball ? In that case, there would be no need of a mission at the difference of Armaggedon movie scenario - written by Jonathan Hensleigh and J. J. Abrams.
Why is coherence lacking so much in the informations released for this funny asteroid, which we are not told anything about a potential electromagnetic power ? And about the date for a possible collision with Earth, were december 21st (or 23rd) 2012 avoided to disconnect it from Maya calculations ? Where will it be those very days ?
Earth circumference is about 40 000 km - with an axial tilt of 23°26' - and the speed of this asteroid following Earth revolution with its elliptical orbit is 49 600 km/h. The inclination angle of "2012 DA 14" is 10°, and when it will approach Earth 5° more will be added according to calculations because of Earth attraction power. But it could be 6° instead, changing everything.
Actually, this period of exactly one year from february 16th 2012 is more or less a preselected one, as the hazardous asteroid may suddenly change orbit, either going away or directly aiming at Earth. It's first a convenient mathematical period to reduce the "area of uncertainty" envelopping the localisation of its unknown precise position in our space.
Or would it mean this delay of 8 weeks is already including a discrete rescue operation by NASA, which would have first to try to deviate if not "cutting" in two this hazardous celestial moving body, before it's coming back again and again ?
But for that we need one or two shuttles to be ready and adaptated to this special mission ; and some people - whom we don't believe - say we need two years to prepare it. They mean it could be already too late for that. Let's be more positive !
As usually a mountain may deliver a mouse, except if the mouse was hiding in fact a mountain ("Absinth Star" for instance). Human beings have a special talent for following wrong tracks, because they can understand them at least.
One of the most surprising thing about human beings is this exaggeration about secrecy with "top level 1A", for completely un-astonishing things : how to play hide and seek with the most casual progression of un-exciting discoveries and a hard stuff technology ! The "without wheel" Maya civilization can still beat it by just lifting the small finger, or playing with a mysterious pink laser ray over the Kukulkan pyramid (Chichen Itza, Mexico, july 24th 2009).
The celestial body "2012 DA 14" could be the "touchstone" of a new appreciative world, knowing at least what is really valuable and great on Earth. Whatever will happen, it may provoke a rehearsal of what human beings intend to put aside, pure intelligence, re-lifted to its superior rank then.
Human beings will have to think about the best way to approach it without provoking themselves the catastrophe they want to avoid. Or else it would be twice as much the impact of 'Tunguska" one (Siberia, Russia, june 30th 1908), because the celestial object mass is multiplied by two : apart the blow consequences, its noise when it exploded in our atmosphere was heard 1500 km away till Spain.
By circling over human heads like a tiny new moon of Earth instead of going away into the far cosmos, the Asteroid "2012 DA 14" could be saying : "Let me adjust the right timing to do what I have to complete about you !"
And personally we wouldn't criticize the budget rise of NASA because of it : the rescue mission is most probably necessary. As a matter of fact this hazardous asteroid seems telling us : "Study me better, and you will discover unusual things not only about my "variable" size and trajectory, but also about what I am made of : if you know it, why nobody didn't want to say it then ?!"