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What A Crowded Solar System We Live In

edited August 2006 in Nature
The Near Earth Object Map

The image below is an up to date map of the solar system displaying the orbits of the terrestrial planets and the estimated position of thousands of known asteroids. This diagram is missing comets, space probes and, of course, the undiscovered asteroids. Even conservative estimates would suggest that for every asteroid on a dangerous Earth-Approaching orbit there are hundreds more which have yet to be discovered. There are over 300 known objects on Earth-crossing orbits, the majority of which are potentially capable of causing death and destruction on a scale unheard of in human history.

(only a very small section of the full map)

The terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) are shown on the diagram by Cyan or White squares, and their orbits are represented by the blue ellipses around the Sun (the yellow dot at the centre). The Earth is highlighted because of its special importance to us. Small green points mark the location of asteroids which do not approach close to the Earth right now. This does not exclude the possibility that they will do so in the future but generally we can consider the Earth to be safe from these for the near future. Yellow objects (with the exception of the one in the middle which we astronomers call the Sun ;-) are Earth approaching asteroids which are called Amors after the first one discovered. Amors have orbits which come close to the Earth but they don't cross the Earth's orbit. However, their orbits are close enough to the Earth that they could potentially be perturbed by the influence of the planets and begin to cross the Earth's orbit in a short time. There are over 300 known objects on such orbits.


full text and map at the Armagh Observatory site


  • edited August 2006
    It's a hard, it's a hard, .... rain's gonna fall...
    The stars in a galactic arm travel at a different rate to the gaseous spiral elements. I vaguely recall reading that we are currently moving into a busier slice of galactic territory, so we must also beware of being swatted by extrasolar flotsam, and this stuff is really moving.

    Does anyone recall a little bit of fun in later Heinlein books called 'The Committee for Aesthetic Deletions' ? A group of assassins whose targets were those people too too ugly to exist. You know, the ones you see on current affairs programs...and I include the presenters.
    Have I just committed a crime? Probably...I think the world is addicted to bullshit and is currently bottoming out.
    I am getting really bored by my recent bout of grumpiness...bugger the liver, I think I'll get drunk tomorrow and spend all day here...I wonder if I could find some extra means of consciousness transformation?
    Provided, of course, that the sky doesn't fall.
    And another danger, the ashes of the space cadets (god love 'em) now in orbit may rain down upon us in an expression of post mortem discontent.
  • Its good to see popular science finally recognising the gradient between planet and non-planet, I for one welcome our plutonian neighbours, they bring a little more company to a lonely solar system.

    And hey if they turn out completely useless we can mine them for minerals and resources.
  • Robert Anton Wilson called his imaginary transplutonian planets 'Micky' and 'Goofy'...which was amusing, nevertheless I love the idea of calling a celestial body Xena, that must stand!
    The planets are wanderers, etymologically, I'd just go with 'Major' and 'Minor',or the everpopular suffix 'oid'.
  • Less popular: 'roids.
  • I can't see any Romulans...they must be cloaked.
  • imageAstronomers meeting in the Czech capital have voted to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.
    About 2,500 experts were in Prague for the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) general assembly.

    Astronomers rejected a proposal that would have retained Pluto as a planet and brought three other objects into the cosmic club.

    Pluto has been considered a planet since its discovery in 1930 by the American Clyde Tombaugh.

    The vote effectively means the ninth planet will now be airbrushed out of school and university textbooks. - BBC News Story
  • Bastards only did it to piss off the astrologers
  • Poor Pluto ;;
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