P&J Column for 18.2.13

Asteroid 2012 DA14 was capable of destroying a city the size of London. Lucky for us we don’t live anywhere as big as that.

PROFESSOR HECTOR SCHLENK, Senior Research Fellow at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist, I’m always being asked questions such as ‘Is there intelligent life in space?’, ‘Will gene therapies erradicate all diseases?’ and ‘Do you know what speed you were doing there, sir?’ But recently, people have been asking me what I think about asteroids. “Well” I advise them “Substance abuse aimed at enhancing one’s physical performance is ethically dubious and often has serious side effects both physiological and psychological.” And then we laugh. Or at least I do.

With the devastation caused by the meteorite strike in Russia and the recent near-miss of asteroid 2012 DA14, people are increasingly worried about the risks posed by celestial bodies colliding with the Earth. While these concerns are understandable, they can be allayed by full possession of the facts. On Thursday a 10 tonne meteor the size of a double decker bus entered our atmosphere, and fragmented. To help envisage this, imagine a child’s toy bus, (typically, these are constructed at 1:24 scale) smashing into a spherical object approximately the size of Latvia. The majority of the injuries and damage to property were caused by broken glass, as many windows were shattered by a ‘sonic boom’ – the sort of noise you get when the front and back doors are both left open in the house and the wind slams one of them shut. Only louder. Imagine a front door three times the size of Mount Everest, and you’re getting close to the decibel level involved.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 passed by majestically on Friday. I heard it described on the news as ‘an object the size of an olympic sized swimming pool’. This is unhelpful, conjuring up, as it does, images of watery softness and Rebbecca Addlington. A much more apposite description would be ‘an object the size of all the rock and earth you’d have to excavate to create an olympic size swimming pool’, which is  scientifically accurate, if not particularly snappy. The closest it got to Earth was 27,000 km. That sounds like a lot to the uneducated, but when you casually mention that it’s nearer than the satellite that beams Sky Sports into their front room, the uneducated drop their jaffa cakes in their tea. However, I wouldn’t worry about one coming any closer. I’ve seen both Deep Impact and Armageddon and most of the Earth’s population came out of them unscathed. Apart from Bruce Willis and the woman off of Jurassic Park 3.



RON CLUNY, council spokesman, defends the administration following the Sheriff Principal’s finding that proceedings in the licensing board “breached rules of natural justice.”

Once again, the council’s antagonists have been quick to use a so-called setback as a means to pursue their ongoing vendetta against the administration. I cannot permit their latest set of barbs to pass by without comment. Let me be absolutely clear. The council recognises that the courts do an excellent job (when they’re banging up neds without getting unduly excited about questions of due process and the rule of law) and obviously, we accept unquestioningly the court’s judgment. But I cannot stand by and let misunderstandings of the type made by the Sheriff Principal go unchallenged. He says that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done, and that decisions must be made on firm evidence. Well that’s all well and good in the lofty environs of the Sheriff Court, but this is Aberdeen licensing board. We haven’t based a decision on evidence since 1973, when the strain of attempting to consider high-fallutin ideas llike ‘legal merit’ put the chairman into a catatonic state. A policy based around the twin pillars of capriciousness and sanctimonious pomposity was then embarked upon which has served the city well ever since. The Sheriff Principal states that councillor Jaffrey should have disqualified herself from voting as she had fallen asleep and missed some of the evidence. But has he never heard of multitasking? Furthmore, councillors have demonstrated over and over again that some of the most important descisions in our City’s history can be, and often are, made by those who have no idea what’s going on around them.


CAVA KENNY CORDINER, the football pundit who kicks back.

I thought I seen just about everything during my career, but last week I caught something in the news that really took the brisket. Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s midfield clinch-pin, has decided to write children’s books. It is tough for a player to plan a career after retiring from the beautiful game, and I’m not knocking him for wanting turn his hand to the painted word. But not everyone has what it takes to make the move from footballer to literally giant. I myself attracted some howls of division from my footballing buddies when I told them I was going to be writing for the P&J. ‘You’ve never even read a newspaper’ they says to me, they says. And they was right. But, over time, I shown them that there is more than one sting to my bow, with the good way what I write this very column yous is all reading of now.