BBC News recently announced that on January 13 past some members of the scientific community were concerned that an object approximately 30 meters in width was hurtling toward the Northern Hemisphere of the globe we fondly still call home. According to their calculations, this object, presumably an asteroid, had a one-in-four chance of hitting its presumptive target, thus inflicting inestimable damage.
Confronted with this data, these astronomers considered the possibility of putting in a call to the president, who, they surmised, would issue a general alert.
Instead, they chose to call the Myles Junior Think Tank and ask our opinion concerning the options. I replied that, in the jargon of our trade, I would “get back to them.”
“We’ve got 36 hours,” said the near-frantic voice on the other end of the line
“Posthaste,” I replied confidently.
After hanging up, I calmly finished my mug of Guiness while considering the options. Then, posthaste, I strolled briskly into the lounge, where my most brilliant and trusted colleagues were sipping their afternoon ports and sherries while engaged in technical talk concerning a plan we at MJTT are devising to send highly-trained polar bears to the nether side of Mars to report on the presence or absence of other furry mammals in that corner of the Milky Way.
Tersely but coolly, I reported the substance of my recent conversation with a certain highly-placed NASA official.
My colleagues continued to sip, though this time with furrowed brows.
“Perhaps,” replied one of my most brilliant lieutenants, “we should send a contingent of recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize out there to meet their people. Negotiate with them. Appeal to their peace-loving instincts. Suggest that they aim the missile on which they are perched in another direction. Suggest Pluto as an alternative.”
More sipping. More deeply-furrowed eyebrows.
Then a few skeptical voices voiced their objections to this plan.
“Could we get the Peace Prizers to agree on this strategy on such short notice? Wouldn’t they have to negotiate among themselves on a command structure?”
“Is the asteroid manned? If so, with creatures capable of communication?”
“Suppose their instincts are not, like ours, peace-loving?”
All heads shook from side to side in token of a recognition of a forbidden heresy.
“I was only trying to think outside the box,” apologized the heretic.
“Is there life on Pluto?”
“Pluto is a rock,” came the reply.
“Either that or a bag of gas,” replied a voice from behind a cloud of cigar smoke.
“Look it up,” suggested another hidden voice.
The thinkers simultaneously depleted their sherry glasses. “Either way,” one of them pointed out, “it’s not thought of as capable of sustaining life as we know it.”
All heads nodded in agreement.
With nothing left to sip, several heads nodded off.
“What were those odds again?” inquired a head, still alert to the problem.
“One in four.”
A long silence.
“Anyone for a game of badminton?”
“It’s a little cool outside.”
While three or four chessboards were being peopled with kings, queens, bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns in preparation for figurative battle, I withdrew to my office and placed a call to my contact at NASA.
“Well?” asked the frantic voice. “What did you come up with?”
“Our calculations show,” I said soothingly, “that this object, which we are calling 2004 AS1, is in fact 500 meters wide, and that it will miss us by 12 million kilometers.”
“Thank God!” replied my Unitarian friend.
And so, the crises averted, we continued to chat about this and that project on which NASA and MJTT are in serious collaboration.