NASA, Other, White House

The White House, Sudan, and a meteorite

Just over a year ago astronomers discovered a tiny asteroid headed for the Earth. The asteroid, thought to be no more than a few meters across, entered the Earth’s atmosphere over northern Sudan and burned up, causing no damage but creating a shower of tony fragments, some of which have been recovered by scientists.

However, there was just enough concern about the meteorite that NASA emailed the White House asking them to alert the Sudanese government. That’s what former White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a speech to public relations professionals in Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal:

It [the email] arrived 9:30 one night, from NASA, with “HEADS UP” in the subject line. It warned that an asteroid was headed toward Sudan. “Asteroids usually break up,” Perino said. “But the email asked us to call the Sudanese and let them know it’s coming.”

The unusual request surprised Perino. Fortunately, the asteroid did break up before hitting Earth, and she was spared the problem.

Perino said the request was “perhaps the most unusual email she received” during her time as press secretary for President George W. Bush. Who at NASA sent the email, and why it was sent to the press secretary instead of (or at least in addition to) other White House officials wasn’t mentioned.

6 comments to The White House, Sudan, and a meteorite

  • Robert Oler

    HMMM…I saw this plot on The West Wing.. except in that case it was the falling satellite but NASA sent a “email” to the press secretary…

    not that Dana Perino would embellish…well she would

    Robert G. Oler

  • Bob Mahoney

    On what specific, irrefutable factual grounds do you base your snide suggestion regarding Ms. Perino’s credibility? And please don’t go off on another blustering tirade against the Bush administration et al. as you seem wont to do.

  • The events that crazy day – other fragments have appeared in various science magazines but no full story – should really be examined as a real-life case study for what happens when astronomers learn about an impending impact. In this particular case it had been clear because of the faintness of the asteroid that is was way too small to survive atmospheric entry and to unfold destructive power either by direct impact or via a Tunguska-style airburst, but there was the possibility of substantial meteorite shower, which indeed materialized.

    So someone should have told Sudanese authorities and/or media regardless of the asteroid’s size that they had something interesting “incoming”; at least the substantial flash in the sky (which many actually saw, as it was just early morning prayer time) could be predicted with certainty. Some bloggers – yours truly included – actually tried to get the message across to fellow astronomers and communicators before TC3 entered but we couldn’t locate suitable contacts in time, and it was the middle of the night in Sudan anyway.

    In the end everyone had a good time and a lot of science came out of this unique case, but it also highlighted that a formal information pipeline astronomers (at JPL and in Italy, doing the same orbit calculations independently) -> their governments and/or an international body -> the government of the country ‘under fire’ -> their media -> their people did not exist at that time. I think something along these lines is right now being instituted: The next one heading for Earth may be big enough to warrant more serious measures in the target country.

  • Robert Oler

    Bob Mahoney that is not really fair. If I am going to tirade against a former member of the Shrub administration then at least I get to take a little tirade against the entire administration, particularly the head of it…

    You know the guy who said “dangers gather near our shores” and was exaggerating!

    (sorry couldnt resist) help please ….

    Robert G. Oler

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