One of the “hobbies” I’ve had for some time is the monitoring of near earth asteroids.

Yes, I submit it’s a weird activity.

What is a near earth asteroid you ask? It’s an object that comes within 0.2 asternomical units of the planet earth. It can be expressed as the mean distance between the earth and the sun, or something close to 93 million miles. Remember, it takes light 8 minutes to travel from the sun to the earth, that’s an enormous distance in earth terms and at tiny trip on universal terms.

So, my hobby has been made ridiculously easy now with the twitter account @lowflyingrocks which mines the JPL database for such fly bys and tweets them out to anyone with interest. The nomenclature for naming is a year with an alpha-numeric designation trailing. One thing that may be surprising is just how many of these rocks are “new” – meaning they get a 2018 designation. Each object is assigned a size range in meters and a velocity in km/second along with the miss distance.

The core question you might ask (and I’d completely understand if you did) is why does this interest me? The answer is, it seems to keep me in the moment and grounded. Each passing rock is a reminder that we are part of a much larger system that we don’t have a very good grasp on and one where a random rock could end it for us all at any time and without warning.

What a cheery thought you might think (not!) – but it works for me. Too often I can become obsessed with the minutiae of the day and lose sight of the fact that each of us is ephemeral and relatively short-lived critters and we need to balance the pressures of the day with enjoying the journey we are undertaking. Near earth asteroids do that for me, keep me in the moment and keep me asking the question “will this be important at some point in the future or is it noise?”

Happy rock watching, should you choose to join me. Learn more at the JPL website.

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