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A series of Doppler snapshots of the asteroid (101955) 1999 RQ36  (Source: NASA)

RQ36 is a 510 meter-wide Apollo asteroid, a group of near-Earth space rocks.  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
(101955) 1999 RQ36, a 500 meter wide meter could do quite a bit of damage

NASA and other international space agencies are slowly growing more concerned about the risk of a collision of asteroids orbiting the sun with Earth.  Such a collision could range from disruptive to catastrophic.  It was such an impact that was thought to be responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs.

María Eugenia Sansaturio of Spain's Universidad de Valladolid (UVA) has coauthored a new study that indicates that an asteroid discovered in 1999, named (101955) 1999 RQ36, has roughly a 1-in-2,000 chance of colliding with the earth in the year 2182.

RQ36 measures 510 meters in diameter.  It is among the largest of a class of near Earth objects known as Apollo asteroids.  Apollo asteroids occupy a close, circular orbit around the Sun, regularly crossing the Earth's orbit.  While relatively few in number, given their orbit they are among the biggest concerns for observers trying to predict possible collisions.

The new evaluation would indicate that RQ36 presents perhaps the greatest known risk to the Earth in the near future.  

Previously, the highest known collision risk was with the asteroid 99942 Apophis.  Apophis, a member of another group of near-Earth asteroids called the Aten group, was estimated to have a 1-in-233 chance of hitting the earth in 2029.

Since then, then the threat of a 2029 collision has been bumped to virtually nonexistent.  Based on further observations, though, there is still a 1-in-250,000 chance on a second pass in 2036, and a tiny one-in-three million chance  during a third pass in 2068.

Apophis only measures 270 meters, though, so a collision wouldn't be as painful as if RQ36 impacted the Earth.

Professor Sansaturio estimates, "The total impact probability of asteroid '(101955) 1999 RQ36' can be estimated in 0.00092 -- approximately one-in-a-thousand chance -- but what is most surprising is that over half of this chance (0.00054) corresponds to 2182."

He used two mathematical models to estimate the probability of collisions of various near Earth asteroid groups in the twenty-second century.  Of the objects he looked at, RQ36 by far posed the greatest threat.  The probability is still highly speculative as its based mostly on the effects of gravity to calculate a projected trajectory.  A number of other factors can influence asteroids' paths.

According to Professor Sansaturio, the early detection is critical as it gives mankind the time to prepare for a deflection attempt if necessary.  He states, "If this object had been discovered after 2080, the deflection would require a technology that is not currently available.  Therefore, this example suggests that impact monitoring, which up to date does not cover more than 80 or 100 years, may need to encompass more than one century.  Thus, the efforts to deviate this type of objects could be conducted with moderate resources, from a technological and financial point of view."

In the worst case scenario of a collision, mankind might be rocked, but would almost certainly survive.  After all, the asteroid that is believed to have cause the extinction of the dinosaurs is estimated to have had a diameter of 10 to 14 km -- at least 20 times as wide as RQ36.

The new research is published in the journal 

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By inighthawki on 8/1/2010 7:19:01 PM , Rating: 1
Surely this is a typo right? I mean it's supposed to hit in 2012, not 2182. I mean, it HAS to happen in 2012, the Mayans predicted that it MUST happen exactly then!

RE: Typo
By Gul Westfale on 8/1/2010 7:22:48 PM , Rating: 5

RE: Typo
By InternetGeek on 8/1/2010 7:27:37 PM , Rating: 5
This is a good opportunity to quote a wise man.

Never tell me the odds

RE: Typo
By Icehearted on 8/2/2010 2:21:21 AM , Rating: 2
Well played sir.

To the "lol 2012 derp herp" commenters, the Mayan calender resets at that date. That's all. It's as if they found one of our Gregorian calenders and assumed the end of the world would come on new years eve.

It's happened many times before already, and last I checked the earth was still here.

RE: Typo
By gmyx on 8/2/2010 8:07:19 AM , Rating: 1
Sign. The Mayan calendar does not reset. It rolls to It's people misreading stuff that continues this myth.

RE: Typo
By Paj on 8/2/2010 8:14:02 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Typo
By VahnTitrio on 8/2/2010 12:22:05 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed, I marked my calendar.

No really, I'm impressed Lotus Notes let me schedule that far into the future. I'll be disappointed if my coworkers don't show up though

RE: Typo
By wired00 on 8/4/2010 1:18:40 AM , Rating: 2
haha. well I just tried to add to google calander and no dice. it only allows adding to 2050... does google know something we don't? Google calander = new mayan calander?!

RE: Typo
By AstroGuardian on 8/2/2010 10:04:01 AM , Rating: 1
If they were so smart why did the freakin' die?

Mayans my a$$. Another thing. How can a calendar end? There is no end with calendars. They last till infinity...

RE: Typo
By ClownPuncher on 8/2/2010 1:09:58 PM , Rating: 2
They didn't die. There are some 7 million Mayans living in Mexico and Central America right now...

You're right about their calendar not ending though, it doesn't.

By Mitch101 on 8/1/2010 7:44:32 PM , Rating: 5
Its a longshot but gimme $50.00 on it hitting earth and another $50.00 on it hitting one of the Baldwins homes.

By Maverick2002 on 8/2/2010 11:18:13 AM , Rating: 3
Skynet should go live before then, so I agree this is irrelevant.

By majBUZZ on 8/2/2010 4:48:26 PM , Rating: 3
So long and thanks for all the fish,
So sad that it should come to this,
We tried to warn you but oh dear!

You may not share our intellect,
Which might explain your disrespect,
For all the natural wonders that grow, a-round you,
So long, So long, and thanks, for all the fish.

The worlds about to be destroyed,
There's no point getting all annoyed,
Lie back and let the planet dissolve. (all around you)

Despite those nets of tuna fleets,
We thought that most of you were sweet,
Especially tiny tots in your preg-nant, wo-men,
So long, So long, So long, So long, So long,
(High voice) So long, So long, So long, So long, So long, So long,
So long, So long, and thanks, for all the fish.

By Gul Westfale on 8/1/2010 7:19:20 PM , Rating: 2
wide meters have been known to do that.

By BZDTemp on 8/2/2010 6:02:15 AM , Rating: 2
Firmly in the problem zone defined as "Not my problem" :-)

I'm more worried about the flying objects we have not spotted and of course the banana republic know as Russia (increasing political unsuitability, little restraint in attacking other countries and lots of nukes!).

Typo 2
By Aenslead on 8/2/2010 11:28:11 AM , Rating: 2
According to Professor Sansaturio, the early detection is critical as it gives mankind the time to prepare for a deflection attempt if necessary. He states , "If this object ha..."

It's a SHE. Professor is a SHE. Maria Eugenia.

By ZachDontScare on 8/2/2010 2:10:19 PM , Rating: 2
It's probably for the best

I wanna see this
By HoundRogerson on 8/2/2010 2:54:59 PM , Rating: 2
If anyone knows a way to let me live for the next 200 years, I'd be grateful. I think It'd be interesting to live through a large-ish meteor impact.... Provided we haven't wiped ourselves out by then.

Really worried
By deeznuts on 8/2/2010 3:42:32 PM , Rating: 2
I am really really worried ... for my great great great grandchildren. Oh my.

But we're safe? Woohoo!

This is completely...
By LordSojar on 8/1/10, Rating: -1
RE: This is completely...
By gigahertz20 on 8/1/2010 10:34:06 PM , Rating: 2
I agree.

By 2182 if humans haven't killed themselves off, we should have technology that should be able to easily obliterate any incoming asteroid or move it out of the way so that it would no longer be on a collision course with Earth.

Stories like these are still very interesting though, look how much empty space is out there in our known universe, but still some asteroid roaming through all that empty space can still have a small chance of hitting Vizzini from The Princess Bride would put it......inconceivable!

RE: This is completely...
By Rookierookie on 8/1/2010 10:52:46 PM , Rating: 5
If humans haven't discovered the technology to deflect such an asteroid by 2182, we deserve to be extinct.

RE: This is completely...
By fleabag on 8/2/10, Rating: 0
RE: This is completely...
By B3an on 8/2/10, Rating: -1
RE: This is completely...
By bhieb on 8/2/2010 9:58:18 AM , Rating: 2
As much as I'd like to hope this would be the case, we are a very reactive society. There will be no defense for this, unless there is an imminent threat. There is a plethora of things that can wipe out life on this rock, but we do very little to defend against them.

Just the way the world works not one cent will be spent until there is a confirmed threat. Think 1 in 5 not 1 in 2000. Very few people will vote to spend the vast sums of money that would be required to prevent this, unless it is close to a 100% chance.

RE: This is completely...
By bhieb on 8/2/2010 10:00:37 AM , Rating: 2
Just to clarify I'm talking a dedicated production level defense system, not the R&D systems that are all theory now. We will always have an "idea" of how too, but I'm talking a fully tested production device.

RE: This is completely...
By bhieb on 8/2/2010 10:00:41 AM , Rating: 2
Just to clarify I'm talking a dedicated production level defense system, not the R&D systems that are all theory now. We will always have an "idea" of how too, but I'm talking a fully tested production device.

RE: This is completely...
By Shadowself on 8/2/2010 11:23:49 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, if by 172 years from now we don't have the technology to deflect this thing slightly (remember we only need to deflect its trajectory a small fraction of a degree) I'd be more than shocked! (Of course it is extremely unlikely anyone alive now will be alive at that time, so none of US will be shocked.)

The reality is with 25+ years warning we can right now with today's technology deflect almost any asteroid known. This includes the 5+ years to build the system; the <10 years to get it there; and the 10 years of constant thrusting as low thrust using ion or hall effect thrusters.

Starships? Not unless we figure out how to travel without just throwing crap out the back. Even with the most efficient engines envisioned in the next few decades (specific impusle on the order of 10s of thousands [e.g., the space shuttle has a specific impulse of 461]) it would take the amount of propellant on the order of a small planet to get from here to the nearest star and back in under 100 years.

RE: This is completely...
By ShaolinSoccer on 8/2/2010 4:06:52 PM , Rating: 2
Why should we deflect it? How about just guide it into orbit around Earth then either turn it into a spacestation or mine the ore from it? Would seem like a wasted opportunity if we just let it fly by...

RE: This is completely...
By niva on 8/2/2010 5:08:39 PM , Rating: 2
The penalty for failure is a bit extreme if we fail to put it in orbit properly, the energy it would require is much much larger too. Easier to just deflect it and hope it never comes back around.

RE: This is completely...
By Josett on 8/2/2010 10:16:13 PM , Rating: 2
(...) Our production of anti matter is growing geometrically, so it should be assumed our technology regarding said antimatter will also begin to grow geometrically.

Humm?! Antimatter?! Geometrically?!

Maybe an intro at both:

Highly unlikely in the next 20 decades, including the "what ifs" and the "even ifs".


RE: This is completely...
By LordSojar on 8/3/10, Rating: 0
"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch
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