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CCNet SPECIAL: 13 April 1999

-----------------------------

ASTEROID 1999 AN10 ON POTENTIAL COLLISION COURSE WITH EARTH IN
2039 -

AND NOBODY SEEMS WILLING TO INFORM THE PUBLIC

THE CHANCE OF AN ACTUAL COLLISION IS SMALL, BUT ONE IS NOT
ENTIRELY OUT

OF THE QUESTION

From Benny J Peiser <b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk>

Imagine a newly discovered asteroid, some one mile in diameter,
is on a

potential collision course with Earth in just 40 years - and no
one is

telling you about it. This is exactly what is happening with
asteroid

1999 AN10.

By pure coincidence, I have come across a research paper by
Andrea

Milani, Steven R. Chesley and Giovanni B. Valsecchi on the
potential

risk of 1999 AN10 hitting the Earth in forty years time. Yet
instead of

informing the interested public about their potentially explosive

findings, the authors have hidden away their results on an
obscure web

page.

The asteroid, known as 1999 AN10, was discovered by LINEAR on 13

January 1999. According to the Italian researchers, the object
will

come particularly close to Earth in August 2027. No impact is
possible

in that year, but there is a small chance that the asteroid will
be

perturbed in such a way that it might impact the Earth in 2039.
While

the chance of an actual collision is small, one is not entirely
out of

the question.

Moreover, the extremely chaotic behaviour of this asteroid makes
it

impossible to predict all possible approaches for more than a few

decades after any close encounter, but the orbit will remain

dangerously close to the orbit of the Earth for about 600 years.

If this information reminds you of the 1997 XF11 affair, you are
spot

on. It is in fact only the second time in history that a major
impact

in the near future cannot be ruled out altogether. And yet there
is at

one major difference: At least we were informed about 1997 XF11
once a

potential hazard became clear. In the case of 1999 AN10, however,
it is

pure accident that you hear about the information via the CCNet
rather

than through an official press release.

Now, what is really worrying about 1999 AN10 is not the
statistically

very small impact risk. Nobody needs to lose any sleep due to
this

object. What is really disturbing, however, is the unnecessary
and

detrimental secrecy that surrounds this object.

There is no reason whatsoever why the findings about 1999 AN10
should

not be made available to the general public - unless the findings

haven't been checked for general accuracy by other NEO
researchers. If,

however, no such independent assessment has taken place, the data

should not be in the public domain in the first place.

Of course, one reason why the authors may have decided to hide
their

data could be due to the current NASA guidelines on the reporting
of

impact probabilities by individual NEOs. After all, NASA is
threatening

researchers with the withdrawal of funding if they dare to
publish such

sensitive information in any other form than in a peer reviewed
medium.

Obviously, one's own web site can hardly be considered a peer
reviewed

journal. One therefore has to wonder why such relevant
information is

put into the public domain in such a wired and secretive way.

The 1999 AN10 'affair', in my view, should be seen as a rather
damaging

consequence of the over-reaction regarding asteroid 1997 XF11.

Moreover, I would argue that the unclear and intimidating NASA

guidelines on NEO reporting should be dropped in their present
form

since they have become part of the problem. Instead,
international

procedures (which would acknowledge a certain level of scientific

uncertainty regarding some particular PHAs) should replace those

ill-considered NASA guidelines which were imposed in a rash last
year.

In order not to repeat last year's mistakes, the discussion
should be

focused on an international procedure of how future impact risk

calculations (and their inherent uncertainties!) should be
reported in

a satisfactory way.

To underline this point and to make all list members aware of the

potential impact hazard posed by asteroid 1999 AN10, I have
attached

excerpts of the paper in question below. The full version
(including

the references) can be accessed at

http://copernico.dm.unipi.it/~milani/resret/

Benny J Peiser

-------------------

CLOSE EARTH APPROACHES OF ASTEROID 1999 AN10: RESONANT AND
NON-RESONANT

RETURNS

From http://copernico.dm.unipi.it/~milani/resret/

Andrea Milani, Steven R. Chesley

Dipartimento di Matematica, Università di Pisa

Via Buonarroti 2

56127 PISA, ITALY

E-mail: milani@dm.unipi.it,
chesley@dm.unipi.it

Giovanni B. Valsecchi

IAS-Planetologia

Area di ricerca CNR

Via Fosso del Cavaliere

00133 ROMA, ITALY

E-mail: giovanni@ias.rm.cnr.it

March 26, 1999

Abstract:

The Earth passes very close to the orbit of the asteroid 1999
AN10

twice per year, but whether or not this asteroid can have a close

approach depends upon the timing of its passage across the
ecliptic

plane. The uncertainty of this timing grows with time: by 2027 it
is

+/- 12 days. Among the possible orbital solutions there are some
that

undergo a close approach in August 2027, but no impact is
possible.

However, the period of the asteroid may be perturbed in such a
way that

it returns to an approach to the Earth at either of the possible

encounter points. We have developed a theory which successfully

predicts the 25 possible such returns up to 2040. We have also

identified 6 more close approaches resulting from the cascade of

successive returns. None of these encounters can result in an
impact,

except one in August 2039: the probability that the true asteroid

actually follows a collision course for that date is less than
the

probability of being hit by an undiscovered asteroid within any
given

day. Because of this extremely chaotic behaviour there is no way
to

predict all possible approaches for more than a few decades after
any

close encounter, but the orbit will remain dangerously close to
the

orbit of the Earth for about 600 years.

The 2027 encounter with 1999 AN10

The asteroid 1999 AN10 was discovered by the LINEAR telescope on
13

January 1999. The discovery was somewhat unusual in that the
declination

was +70'. We checked for possible prediscovery observations in
the

archives made available by the Minor Planet Center, and found

none; this is not surprising, given that this asteroid is

typically visible in a portion of the sky which has been very

little surveyed in the past. The asteroid was observed until 20

February: afterwards the angular distance from the sun became

<70'. [...]

Whenever the asteroid and the Earth are in phase at each node,
close

approaches are possible. Indeed a close approach is possible in
August

2027. [ ...] The occurrence of a very close approach [in 2027] is
not

very likely: the true orbit could be anywhere along a very long
line,

including long stretches corresponding to very shallow
encounters.

In conclusion, the August 2027 encounter could be a very shallow

approach, or could be, with a low, non-negligible probability,
very

close, but in any case cannot result in an impact. The case for a

possible dangerous encounter, however, is not closed after 2027;
indeed,

it is just opened. [...]

2 Resonant returns

The possibility of a resonant return of an asteroid involved in a
close

approach was proposed by B. Marsden. This idea did not receive
the

attention it deserved. Marsden applied this idea only to a
hypothetical

case, namely the asteroid 1997 XF11 in the assumption that the
1990

precovery observations had not been discovered. In that
hypothetical

case there are indeed more than 20 different solutions leading to
a

return after injection by the 2028 close approach into a
resonance with

the Earth. The real 1997 XF11, with the orbit determined by using
all

the available observations, is only mildly perturbed by the 2028

encounter, and cannot have a resonant return. [...]

The other element to be taken into account is the so called
Minimum

Orbital Intersection Distance (MOID), the minimum distance
between the

two osculating ellipses representing the orbit of the Earth and
of the

asteroid. Even if the asteroid were exactly on time at the
rendezvous

with the Earth, the unperturbed close approach distance cannot be
less

than the MOID. In the case of 1997 XF11, within a few decades
after the

2028 encounter the MOID becomes large enough to make the most
dangerous

encounters impossible. Thus in the hypothetical case without 1990

precovery only 11 resonances have to be taken into account to
assess the

risk of resonant return; [...]

What is the evolution in time of the local MOID's of 1999 AN10?
It is

not enough to compute the evolution of the MOID's along the
nominal

solution, because the close approaches can change them: in
particular,

an encounter near the ascending node (in August) can reduce the
distance

at the descending node, and make possible a closer approach at
the

descending node (in February). [...] The answer is that 1999
AN10 will

continue to have a very low distance at both nodes, until the
crossing

at the descending node, which should take place `on average' in
2633,

and for a few decades later. Thus it is simply not possible to
perform

close approach analysis [...] for all possible resonant returns:
there

are hundreds of them.

3 Non-resonant returns

[...]

Among these secondary returns there is one in August 2039 for
which the

interpolated MOID is less than the radius of the Earth. Since
the

stretching is extreme, we have checked by performing close
approach

analysis [...], and verified that a collision solution actually
exists.

The high stretching, however, appears as divisor in the formula
for the

probability, and this results in an estimate of the probability
for

this impact of the order of 10^9. The possibility of such an
impact

could be frightening, but if we assume that the probability of an

impact by an undiscovered 1 km asteroid is of the order of 10^5
per

year, the probability of an impact by 1999 AN10 in 2039 is less
than

the probability of being hit by an unknown asteroid within the
next few

hours.

[...]

Asteroid 1999 AN10 will be again at >60' from the Sun after
the

beginning of June; by that time the uncertainty of its position
on the

sky will grow to ~1.5 arc minutes [...], that is any new
observation

will significantly contribute to an improvement of the orbit. It
is

very likely that the observations made in the second half of this
year

will allow to determine the orbit well enough to predict
accurately the

2027 encounter. This implies that some of the returns of the
Table will

be discarded as incompatible with the observations; if the 2027

encounter is not very deep, most of the close approaches in the
Table

would not be possible any more.

The problem, however, will not go away, because all along the
variations

line there are possible encounters occurring later, almost every
six

months. E.g., we have analysed with our global method the same
1000

multiple solutions discussed above over a time span of 50 years
after

2027, and found 165 possible returns, out of which 117 in the
moderate

to low stretching region. This situation is qualitatively stable:

whatever the actual orbit is, it will not be possible to predict
with

certainty the returns after the next close approach for a time
span

longer than a few decades.

Since at least one node of 1999 AN10 will remain close to the
orbit of

the Earth for centuries, this implies that this asteroid shall
have to

be monitored, by observations and computations, for a very long
time.

It is conceivable that at some time in the future a decision
could be

made to deflect and/or destroy it. However, a deflection
decreasing the

depth of some specific close approach could increase the impact
risk at

a later date. Thus before such a decision can even be
contemplated we

need to better understand the theory of resonant and non-resonant

returns, which has only been outlined in this paper.

----------------------------------------

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*

CCNet SPECIAL: ASTEROID 1999 AN10

---------------------------------

PUBLISHED THREAT OF POSSIBLE ASTEROID IMPACT STIRS CONTROVERSY

From EXPLOREZONE

http://explorezone.com/archives/99_04/13_asteroid_impact.htm

By Robert Roy Britt, explorezone.com

04/13/99: Bypassing conventional scientific review, a group of
Italian

researchers has posted an article on their own Web site detailing
the

possible impact of an asteroid with Earth in 2039.

The threat, though muted by an obscure method of publication, is

reminiscent of a similar one issued in 1998 about Asteroid 1997
XF11.

In that instance, however, normal scientific channels of
publication

were followed and, ultimately, the threat was retracted.

The newly discovered asteroid, named 1999 AN10, was spotted by
the

LINEAR telescope on 13 January. It orbits the Sun on a plane that
is

highly inclined to the ecliptic, the plane in which Earth orbits.

Twice each year, Earth passes close to Asteroid 1999 AN10. The
closest

approaches are due to occur in August 2027, but no impacts are
possible

then, say Andrea Milani and Steven R. Chesley of the University
of Pisa

and Giovanni B. Valsecchi in the research they posted on the Web.

The researchers go on to say that there is a chance that the
asteroid's

path could be perturbed in such a way that it could hit Earth in
2039.

"We have developed a theory which successfully predicts the
25 possible

such returns up to 2040," the researchers report. "None
of these

encounters can result in an impact, except one in August 2039:
the

probability that the true asteroid actually follows a collision
course

for that date is less than the probability of being hit by an

undiscovered asteroid within any given day.

"The possibility of such an impact could be frightening, but
if we

assume that the probability of an impact by an undiscovered 1 km

asteroid is of the order of [10^9] per year, the probability of
an

impact by 1999 AN in 2039 is less than the probability of being
hit by

an unknown asteroid within the next few hours."

Further, the researchers say, the asteroid's chaotic behavior
means

that close encounters could be possible for the next 600 years,
and

that there's simply no way to predict the possible paths more
than a

few decades in advance.

"This implies that this asteroid shall have to be monitored,
by

observations and computations, for a very long time," the
report

states.

The controversy

Benny J. Peiser, a researcher who focuses on neo-catastrophism at

Liverpool John Moores University, wondered allowed in a
newsletter

today why the information was published on an obscure Web site
before

going through normal scientific review procedures.

"There is no reason whatsoever why the findings about 1999
AN10 should

not be made available to the general public - unless the findings

haven't been checked for general accuracy by other NEO
researchers,"

Peiser said. "If, however, no such independent assessment
has taken

place, the data should not be in the public domain in the first
place."

Peiser offered one possible reason for the unusual posting: The
authors

may have reacted to NASA guidelines on the reporting of impact

probabilities of individual asteroids.

"NASA is threatening researchers with the withdrawal of
funding if they

dare to publish such sensitive information in any other form than
in a

peer reviewed medium," Peiser said.

About the danger of an actual impact, Peiser noted that the
statistical

chances are very small. "Nobody needs to lose any sleep due
to this

object," he said.

The authors of the report have not yet responded to questions
from

explorezone.com

Copyright 1999, Explorezone

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