Everything There Is To Say About Landing On An Asteroid


So you want to land on an asteroid. That is you, isn’t it? It looked like you from a distance. If it’s not you, keep these notes until you encounter someone who looks like you from afar. For now I’ll suppose it is you, and congratulate you. That’s the sort of public-spirited ambition that we don’t see enough in these troubled times. It’s the sort of ambition that is sure to get you somewhere. That somewhere is landed on an asteroid. If I have anything to do with it, anyway.

The first and most essential thing is to check that you have an asteroid to land on. If you don’t have anything to land on you’ll get stuck at the last step. Your foot will go swinging around freely and you’ll worry you look like a fool. You might, but who’s going to know? But let’s suppose you have something to land on. Make sure that it’s not a meteorite. That would land you, not on an asteroid, but on a dull argument with pedantic sorts who want you to know it’s very important to tell the difference between a meteor, a meteoroid, a meteorite, a meteoroceros, and a meteorostomy.

Even if you surrender and admit that it’s important to use exactly the right word all the time they might not stop. The truly dull know-it-all will continue to harass you for ever have been fool enough to get the terms wrong. As a recovering know-it-all I can give you this diversionary maneuver. Ask whether it’s better to say “three dollars and forty cents is your change” or “three dollars and forty cents are your change”. Whatever answer they give, point out the change was actually four dollars and fifteen cents and they’re out the difference. If anyone other than me mentions “minor planets” poke them with your largest regulation stick.

(Note that “other than me” slickly put in there. I know how some of these sentences are going to end!)

Suppose you’re already comfortably near the asteroid. Start with a clean desk and spread a tablecloth neatly across the surface, smoothing out any folds as you do. With this tidy workplace inspect the asteroid. You want to see any distinguishing marks or hazards, such as rocky terrain, a thin crust of ice over a great gaping nothing, or 30-minute parking spaces. Stuff starts happening when you’re satisfied you have a clear landing spot and that no competing spacecraft are trying to get to the same place.

Turn the spacecraft around and extend the landing legs. (Don’t tell me you forgot the landing legs! Fib if you must!) Back in slowly. Don’t worry about the warning beeps, which can’t be heard in space. It’s hard to tell how far you are above the surface of an asteroid, so look for clear signs of when to stop. These include the contact light coming on, the landing legs feeling stiff resistance, the landing party yelling that you’re on their foot, the spaceship going right through to the other side of the asteroid (this is really bad as your crew will be joking about you all the way home), or seeing a victory screen and credits listing all the people who worked on this space program. When you get to a stopping point, stop. Going any further will complicate your life and not in the good ways.

Just because you’re landed doesn’t mean you’re done. Most asteroids don’t have very much gravity, what with the cost of importing it all the way from Jupiter. It could be years before any new gravity comes in. Until it does, make sure your spaceship doesn’t hear any hilarious jokes that cause it to reflexively jump and slap its forehead and potentially drift away. Also discourage the crew from doing things like synchronized jumping jacks. Yes, they’ll want to synchronize doing something. Suggest they try out synchronized laying still, or if need be, synchronized worrying about how it has all come to this. They might be doing that already and just need the reassurance that to carry on doing this is as all right as anything can be in these troubled times and on an asteroid.

Anyway, once you’re there go ahead and take care of whatever you needed on that asteroid. I don’t know your business. You’re doing pretty well if you do.

As good as 777,000 misses


I’d just wanted to point folks over again to A Labor of Like, who’s got a nice piece about the discovery of yet another asteroid that isn’t going to strike the Earth and end life as we know it. I don’t want to sound disappointed about the not-ending-life-on-Earth. Mostly I appreciate the proposed standard for measuring the potential impact of asteroids in terms of their cheesecake equivalents and imagine you might too.

A Labor of Like

As good as 777,000 misses

In subjunctive astronomy news, scientists are warning that some kind of dot nobody can see would probably cause problems if it hit the Earth, which it won’t.

Asteroid 2014 HQ124 — the HQ stands for “Hardly Qualifies” — will be a mere 777,000 miles away at its closest approach to our planet.  That’s just over 10,500 times the distance from Providence, RI to Hartford, CT; a close shave by Rhode Island standards.

Astronomers have nicknamed the asteroid “The Beast” because of its blue fur and oversized hands and feet.

Observers assure the public that there is no chance of a collision with either Hartford or Providence, but they do say this fly-by illustrates that it’s a slow news day in Tampa.  “This one would definitely be catastrophic if it hit the earth, which it won’t,” according to Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories.

Since the asteroid is invisible, astronomers could not…

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