Don’t Taunt the Aliens – Asteroid Shot Sends a Message

Aliens asteroid cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

For many years, scientists and astronomers have been searching the heavens looking to see if there was any life like ours out there. For a long time, this search came up empty.

Coded radio messages containing basic information about humanity and Earth began to be sent into space from Arecibo, an observatory on a mountaintop in Puerto Rico in 1974. Nobody ever replied to these messages.

In more recent years however, we began to discover planets in the universe that could be home to lifeforms like us. Because of these planets’ relationship to their nearby suns, they could easily support balmy temperatures, flowing water and oxygen while circling their suns. The first, in 2010, was discovered by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Later, as telescopes got stronger and stronger, there were more.

By the most recent count, we now believe there are as many as 16 planets beyond our solar system that could be teeming with life. We call them Goldilocks planets. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

I mention this because it seems to me that this year, NASA has thrown caution to the wind as far as Goldilocks planets are concerned by firing off a spacecraft with an explosive device on its nose to see if it could be made to hit an asteroid in outer space and alter its course.

This activity came about because of several movies made in the 1990s. I wrote briefly about this a few weeks ago. It appeared in the issue of Dan’s Papers published on Hamptons International Film Festival weekend, something newsworthy to report because creative people in the industry had caused a piece of their fiction to happen in real life. In the films, an asteroid is heading toward Earth. If it hits, life as we know it will be over. Let’s send up a rocket and see if we can hit it and get it to veer off to somewhere else.

Last week, we learned this real-life effort to nudge an asteroid had succeeded. Asteroid Dimorphos, circling asteroid Didymos and posing no threat to the Earth, got hit and moved by what we sent up. It’s the first time in history that Earthlings have caused something in the universe to do this.

Here are the specifics of what happened. The rocket, the size of a school bus and built by SpaceX, was fired off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on November 24, 2021 at 1:21 a.m. Its target, Dimorphos, an asteroid just 525 feet across and circling Didymos, a larger asteroid half a mile across, completes its orbit every 11 hours 55 minutes.

Meanwhile, the pair were busy circling the Sun once every 2.11 years. This behavior, taking place in the vacuum of space between Mars and Jupiter for who knows how long, took place way, way away — about as far away from us as we are from the Sun. In other words, it was none of our business.

The rocket took almost a year to get to its target. The day before it was to hit, which was September 28, 2022, the rocket spit out a small contraption the size of a shoe box made in Italy that had a camera in it. This camera was programmed to take a video showing whether or not Dimorphos would be moved by the hit.

It was decided that if the asteroid’s trajectory around Didymos were to be altered by more than 73 seconds from its current orbit, it could be considered a success. In the event, it moved the asteroid’s orbit by 32 minutes. Success!

Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on this. Dozens of government agencies, such as NASA’S Planetary Science Division in Washington, D.C., Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Goldstone planetary radar center in California and the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia. Cheers all around. It’s our tax money and they were happy to spend it.

I find this to be one of the stupidest and most dangerous things we humans have ever done.

What is the matter with us? Have we forgotten that there are as many as 16 planets in the universe where creatures might live who could see this happen? And 16 is just a drop in the bucket of what is really there. Think about it.

Sending out radio waves is one thing. Sending out a rocket armed with an explosive to cripple an unsuspecting asteroid in space is surely an act of war.

What are those folks on Earth up to now? Isn’t it enough they’ve sent enormous amounts of gas into their own atmosphere to cripple themselves? Now they have to go on the offensive and nail some harmless little asteroid minding its own business?

And this asteroid is even in Earth’s own solar system. It might have been in another galaxy, of which there are many. It might have even been in another universe, of which there are many. But no. It’s near their home. A lesson to the locals there about who’s boss? Maybe a prelude to something much bigger.

What to do? There are going to be intergalactic council meetings. Decisions about how to react. How to get those dumb pirates on Earth to stop doing this. Ignoring them until now apparently has not worked.

I have no doubt that at some of these council meetings, it will come up about what North Korea is doing amidst all its trembling neighbors. Japan. Taiwan. South Korea. Even mainland China. Also, about Russia invading Ukraine.

They will want to stamp this out real quick. God forbid what else these 1,780 council members will decide to do.

I have to tell you that they are not going to be taking this lying down. Hang onto your hats.

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