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Sympathy for the Drow - De-Vilifying the Dark Elves
The "Evil" races in DnD have always rubbed me kinda the wrong way. Partly once I learned that a lot of them come from racist stereotypes (Orcs, Drow, and Goblins in particular) and also just because it doesn't make sense to me. Even Nazi Germany had variation and dissenters and it only lasted for 12 years. Why would a clearly evil society never change over hundreds of years? In my opinion, a story is only as good as it's villains. So, I've set out to try and make the traditionally evil races slightly more believable and even sympathetic in places. Now, I've not been a DM very long, only like three years. But the first campaign I ever ran was through Curse of Strahd which paints the Vistani (an itinerant society heavily based on the real world Romani) as a conniving group of thieves, murders, and vampire-worshipers. Thankfully, I found through reddit and other sites how to steer away from the racists depictions of the Vistani and making them seem like, at worst, opportunists. So, I hope to be able to do that with some other of the classic DnD antagonist races. I've read some other phenomenal post on here about evil races that totally inspired me as well. There's a great twopart post about Decolonizing D&D which I adore. The post about alignment is easily my favorite. There's a couple great ones on Orcs and Yuan-Ti too so if some of my ideas are lifted from them, I hope y'all consider it flattery instead of theft. So, here are some primer notes before I get into it. For creating the Dark Elves, I tried to keep as much as I could from the books. Obviously some stuff has to get thrown out the window though. I also tried to standardize calling them Dark Elves instead of Drow partly because I feel like Drow has a much nastier sound to it and calling them Dark Elves follows the naming convention with the High and Wood Elves. I tried to model them after real-life matriarchal societies like the Mosuo people of China and their pantheon after real deities like the Greeks, Romans, and Norse. I also quickly realized that building a society is inseparable from geography. Where a people are from effects their language, values, mythology, history, and family structure. I've tried to outline details I think are necessary to making this society realistic while leaving it open ended enough to be place-able in different worlds with relative ease. All that aside, lets get into the meat of it.
The Dark Elves: Elven Outcasts
The Elves are a varied and magical people that come from many planes and many environments within them. But none are met with more distrust and fear than the Dark Elves. Easily set apart from their cousins by their charcoal or pitch-black skin, pink-red eyes, hair of grays and whites, and shorter stature, these people have earned a reputation as killers, thieves, demon worshipers, and liars. But history is a cruel mistress, something the Dark Elves know better than most.
The Divine Divide
As the legends go, when the world was still young, Corellon Larethian lived on the Plane of Arvandor with his fellow Primal Elves. They were wild and mutable, emotional and free in all things. They changed shapes at will, gave and took freely to and from the world, and never stayed in any location too long. They wandered to and fro, scattering their peoples across almost every plane. However, this unbridled freedom was not without a price. Arguments, feuds, and small scale wars were incredibly common between them. Some elves would find themselves stranded on far off planes after most of their companions impulsively decided to leave. Their self serving impulses drove them to often completely disregard the needs or wants of others if they went against their own desires. And their reckless revelry was wreaking havoc on the natural world with Elven parties decimating whole planes of edible plants, wild game, and drinkable water. One such Primal Elf began to see the destruction of their ways and talked to other elves about their actions. Slowly, this Elf by the name of Lolth amassed a small following of devotees that saw the negative ramifications of their inconsiderate freedom. Lolth and her followers agreed to take on fixed forms to show recognition of the dangers that impulsivity could bring. Lolth led this small group of devotees to Corellon to ask for his support. Now, Corellon did not lead these Primal Elves: he was just as wild as the best of them and did not take kindly to others telling him what to do. But he was the First Elf ever born and was universally respected amongst the Primal Elves and if Lolth could convince him, others would surely follow. Corellon listened to her proposition and agreed that they should change to prevent more destruction and conflict, but refused to order his kinsfolk into any action. He was an Elf, same as all of them, and he wouldn’t dare order around his family. He balked when Lolth asked him to take a concrete form as a show of solidarity and brushed her off as a killjoy. Lolth was unsatisfied with this outcome and her following set out to convince each Elf to change their ways to preserve the beauty of the worlds. However, without the support of Corellon, many elves refused her offer. Her anger grew with each failure and her opinion of Corellon turned sour, something she made no attempt to hide from her Elven siblings. Now, Corellon is a proud god and once he caught wind that Lolth was bad mouthing him in an attempt to win over others, he became enraged. He railed against Lolth calling her a snake-tongued thief and Lolth called him incompetent and cruel. Their tempers flared and all the elves chose sides between Corellon’s freedom and Lolth’s stability. During this great debate, the Primal Elves turned to violence. The Dark Elves maintain that Corellon’s side threw the first blow, while the High Elves claim that it came from Lolth’s side. No matter the source, this violent outburst soured relations between Lolth and Corellon forever after. He cast her and her followers out of Arvandor and barred her from ever returning. He also cast all but his most trusted kin from Arvandor, forcing them all to live lives on other worlds out of fear of another perceived insurrection. Thus, the Seldarine remain in Arvandor to judge the souls of Corellon’s faithful when they die and Lolth takes refuge in Arcadia with her pantheon where she minds the souls of the Drow. Corellon’s faithful call her pantheon the Dark Seldarine, while her faithful call it the Myrkalfar.
Myrkalfar: The Spider Mother’s House
Lolth the Spider Queen is the unquestioned head of the Myrkalfar, with all other deities seen as her divine family. Lolth is considered at times to be fickle or even cruel, but her ire is never gained without good reason. A very involved deity, her followers constantly search for signs of her favor or scorn in everyday life. When a Dark Elf contemplates a risky or controversial decision, they consult priestesses or perform their own rites which often gives them direct and succinct answers. She serves as an example to matriarchs of Drow families as demanding yet understanding, punishing yet guiding. She asks for a lot of her priestesses, demanding they be an unflinching example of everything a strong leader should be. The Myrkalfar is often presented as a divine household, with Lolth as the matron. Keptolo is the consort of Lolth and considered to be the ideal of what a male should be. Beautiful and kind, strong and hard working, he helps Lolth in everything she does. Sometimes he serves as a messenger, other times as an agent of redemption, sometimes as a divine healer. When a Dark Elf is tasked with a divine charge, he is usually the one to deliver the message and guide them through their charge. He serves also as a fertility deity and is often worshiped by women or men seeking a child. Outsiders see him as a weak and subservient husband to Lolth, but his faithfulness to his matron is considered a virtue and his status as a “husband” is relatively alien to the Dark Elves as they have no binding marriage in their society. If Keptolo is the agent of Lolth’s mercy, Kiaransalee is the agent of her vengeance. She is the eldest daughter of Lolth and Keptolo and one that Dark Elves pray to when they feel wronged. Only the most binding and serious contracts are signed under her name. To break an oath made under her name is sure to bring destruction. She is also the governor of the dead, judging the souls of those passed in the afterlife. She opposes the mindless undead created by mortals, but spirits and revenants that return to finish unresolved business amongst the living are considered under her protection. Should a Dark Elf encounter a returned spirit that is seeking vengeance, it’s their duty to leave them on their way and pray that the spirit isn’t there for them. This reverence of certain undead is something many outsiders consider downright evil. Selvetarm is the Dark Elven warrior goddess and youngest daughter of Lolth. Often depicted with eight arms, she represents the pinnacle of hand to hand martial prowess, but often is without restraint. She serves as both an inspiration for warriors, and a warning. Vhaeraun is the eldest son of Lolth and governs ambition and stealth. Both of these traits are not necessarily vilified, but worship of him is highly scrutinized. Haughty and rash, tales of him often include deceiving his fellow gods for good and ill and more often than not are cautionary ones. He’s depicted as wearing a mask, either as some punishment for endangering Lolth and her family or to hide his identity for various schemes, possibly both. Malyk is Lolth’s youngest son and a youthful deity of change and growth. He’s often seen as a bouncing young boy that Lolth and her family have to reign in from wild misadventures. His freedom and curiosity is often seen as a double edged sword, both gaining him great riches but also putting him in tremendous peril. He has strong ties to sorcerers and when a child is born with innate magical talent, he is often the one thanked for it. He serves as an outlet for a Dark Elves youthful chaotic nature, but also warns them of the ramifications of their actions. Ghaunadur is a strange figure in the pantheon. Their place in the family is a bit of a mystery, sometimes called the sibling of Lolth, or her child, or even as Lolth’s parent. What makes them truly unique is that they are a formless deity, something that Lolth once warred with Corellon over. The legends go that when Ghaunadur joined Lolth, they refused to give up their changeable nature. When questioned, Ghaunadur pointed to the slimes, oozes, and formless creatures of the world and said that they wished to protect them from the Elves and the Elves from them. Lolth agreed, cementing their position as the deity of the changing forms of nature. Their favored creature is the ooze, but they govern all natural creatures. Dark Elves often pray to Ghaunadur to protect them from the creatures that lurk in the depths of the forest. Zinzerena is Lolth’s sister and is the goddess of poisons, illusions, and magic. Viewed as an elderly and patient figure, she often serves as council to Lolth in desperate times. She’s said to be the mother of all poisons and venoms and her teachings are all about finding the wisest solution to a problem. Zinzerena teaches that even though the spider is small, it’s bite can still fell a panther. Despite her perceived age, she’s considered the younger sister of Lolth and is thought to be incredibly quick and nimble: a reminder that not everything is as it seems. Eilistraee is Lolth’s niece and daughter of Zinzerena. Considered the black sheep of the pantheon, she serves as a goddess of redemption and moonlight. Dark Elves that turn their back on their family or scorn traditions will sometimes find themselves turned to Driders, half-spider half-Dark Elf creatures shunned by all. Eilistraee is said to watch over these creatures and if they are repentant, offer them challenges that they could complete to redeem themselves. Lolth often views her with contempt or mistrust, but never hates her and maintains her place in the pantheon. Dark Elven faithful rarely worship her as the others. She’s also one of the only deities of the Myrkalfar to claim no animosity toward the Seldarine and their faithful. Spiders are the sacred animal of Lolth and are often used as an example of social order and the importance of family bonds. Each strand of silk serves the web as whole. More literally, the giant spiders of the Underdark are multifaceted and incredibly useful creatures. Serving as beasts of burden, war steeds, meat producers, household guardians, and silk producers, they are present in almost every facet of society. Their silks are used in everything from wound dressings to armor to architecture. To kill or steal another family's spider is considered akin to stealing a member of the family. Smaller and more poisonous spiders are often kept in temples and their webs are used as divining tools for priestesses.
The recorded history of the Dark Elves is full of contradictions from High Elf and Dark Elf sources. What historians can agree on is when the Elves of the Prime Material arrived, the followers of Lolth secluded from their Wood and High cousins and retreated into the Azelarien, also known as the Green Sea in Common. A massive forest, nearly 1 million square miles of dense and vibrant trees, that grows denser and darker the farther in one ventures. For countless eons, the High, Wood, and Dark Elves lived in relative harmony in their own corner of the world. High Elves lived near the forests in towns and villages, the Wood Elves lived in the lightly forested outlands of the Green Sea, and the Dark Elves lived deep in the central forests which was so dense that very little light reached the forest floor. As time passed and their villages turned to cities, the High Elves began expanding into the forest, chopping some down to build homes and heat their furnaces. This began pushing into the territory of the Wood Elves and eventually the Dark Elves as well. These two peoples formed a shaky alliance to push back the expansive tide of the far larger High Elven armies. This alliance proved successful however and the High Elven forces began losing ground. What happened next is a matter of some debate. High Elven historians attest that the Dark Elven armies used Wood Elven soldiers as unwitting bait to lure the High Elven armies into a trap, thus causing a schism between them. Dark Elven historians state that the Wood Elven armies turned on them after the Wood Elves met in secret with High Elven leaders and bargained for their independence. Some Wood Elven historians claim that after a brutal defeat on the field, they were met by High Elven dignitaries that offered them clemency if they turned on their allies. They initially refused, but after the dignitaries threatened to make the same offer to the Dark Elves, they had no choice but to accept. No matter the cause, the histories agree that the Wood Elves turned on their erstwhile allies and helped push the Dark Elves into a rapid loss of ground. Facing the might of the two armies with their own relatively small one, the Dark Elves were beaten into a hasty retreat into their own territory. Losing every open encounter, the Dark Elf matrons developed a new strategy of combat. The armies switched from training as many as quickly as they could, to training only a select few in multiple different forms of combat and magic. As the High and Wood Elves advanced into their territory, they quickly found their supply lines cut out from under them, their soldiers ambushed while sleeping, their scouts captured, and their leaders assassinated. And even if they would make it to a Dark Elf settlement, they would find it abandoned and booby-trapped, warned by their fast and silent scouts. If the Dark Elves couldn’t face their enemies head-on, they would weaken them with quick and decisive strikes. Eventually, the war ground to a stalemate. The High Elves couldn’t push into the Dark Elf territory far enough to capture any cities of note without taking severe casualties and the Dark Elves were only managing to hold the invading armies back and couldn’t muster a force strong enough to push back to the enemy capital. Thus, the war cooled into a tense peace. The leaders came together to draw borders, but neither side fully forgave nor forgot one another’s actions. High and Wood Elves viewed the change in tactics by the Dark Elves as an unethical violation of the standards of war. The Dark Elves felt a particular animosity toward the Wood Elves, considering them backstabbers in their darkest hour.
Dark Elf Families: Matrons of Order
The Dark Elf society, to an outsider, looks like an oppressive and cruel society of slave traders and backstabbers. But the truth is more subtle. The Dark Elves value tradition and filial piety above almost all else. To a Dark Elven citizen, their family name is their most valuable possession and they are taught from a very young age that to look after their parents and their younger siblings is the highest virtue. Ancestors that have achieved great things often have shrines in a household alongside the gods themselves. A Dark Elf going against the will of their family is considered one of the highest taboos and often causes them to be outcast from Dark Elven society as a whole. Dark Elf society is matrilineal meaning that the eldest woman in each family is revered as the household leader and receives great respect from her family and society. This also means that the males of the society don’t inherit wealth as frequently as the females. Dark Elven families are quite large, often with multiple generations along with aunts, uncles, and cousins living in the same household. New children almost always reside with their mother. Males of the society are expected to care not for their own biological children, but for the children born to their sisters, aunts, or nieces. This results in a striking amount of sexual freedom for both men and women, but is often viewed from the outside as promiscuity. The Dark Elves do not marry in the traditional sense, instead favoring long term partners with one another that can end at any time with no concerns to material wealth or ownership. However, to become a member of a Dark Elf family is not entirely a matter of heritage. When a family that cannot support another child has one, they are often adopted by more well to do families and raised as one of their own. These adopted children are considered just as legitimate as if they were born into the family. Also, should a family lose all their heirs or become destitute, they often ask to become assimilated into other families for their own safety. The latter is considered a morose ceremony as the members of the smaller family forsake their surnames. To take in such a family is both an extreme honor and grim burden, as it means ending another family's line. The borders of Dark Elven civilization only goes so far as there are trees so many newer up and coming families have expanded underground, a difficult and slow endeavor. This has put multiple houses at odds with one another for territory. However, Dark Elves do not tolerate open hostility between families as they have a very strong sense of collective identity. Dark Elves do not war against fellow Dark Elves, same as a spider does not fight its own web. This leads to many tensions and conflicts needing to be resolved in other ways. Most families will attempt a diplomatic solution, but when that isn’t an option, sabotage and coercion is the favored outlet. Murder is considered a bridge too far by most houses, but subterfuge in almost every other facet is, while not accepted, tolerated. Legends of Lolth’s rebellion and the tension of their enclosed territory have imbued the Dark Elves with a strong sense of symbiosis with nature and conservancy. Sustainable living is the cornerstone of Dark Elf society. In the wild, no creature is killed or plant destroyed unless it’s a matter of self defense or necessary to survival.
Dark Elven Sex and Gender
As with many Elven peoples, sexuality is seen as a fluid and non-binary matter. Same sex relationships are usually seen as just as acceptable as male-female relationships. Since Dark Elves have no marriage structure, same sex life partners are common and widely accepted. Inheritance is passed along by the family as a whole, not linearly, meaning some houses may have matrons with no direct biological descendants while still serving at the elder matron. Power dynamics in relationships are still a factor, with the elder female in a gay relationship considered slightly above their partner socially and is seen as the inheritor in cases of property or genealogy. Male same sex relationships are accepted with little controversy. Since children are passed down their mothers line, the males have no social obligation to sire an heir as with other societies. Transgender and transexual Dark Elves are met with slightly more controversy. Lolth’s rejection of the Primal Elves mutable forms is sometimes cited against transgender and transexual Dark Elves. Ghaunadur, however, is considered the patron god of these people and teaches that just as they are part of nature, they can change their forms. Many of these people join the religious order of Ghaunadur, serving in various roles both in religious ceremonies and as forest guides. Some even consider them to be blessed by Ghaunadur and are highly sought after in forays into the forests for protection. Children born to transgender Dark Elves are still expected to be a part of their eldest mother’s family or eldest father if no woman is part of the union.
Slavery Amongst the Dark Elves
While the Dark Elves do take slaves, their slavery doesn’t look the same as many other societies. When a family becomes indebted to another and they cannot pay off the debt, a member of their family, usually male, will be sent to work for the owed family. They give him room and board and are expected to care for him as if he were one of their own. He’ll work for them for an agreed upon amount of time before returning to his native family. Injury or misuse of this person is often grounds for them to leave and the debt to be nullified. Children born to servant fathers needn’t worry about inheriting their father’s status since they’re considered to be their mother’s child. On the rare occasion that a female servant has a child while in servitude, the child is returned to the mother’s family to be raised by her family while she works off the remaining debt. Some trade of servants does occur between houses, with indentured servants being traded for goods or services or even other servants of special skills, but the family of the servant reserves the right to veto such a trade for any reason. During their frequent clashes with external armies, the Dark Elves do sometimes take prisoners of war, though very rarely are they used for slave labor. They never bring them back to major settlements, often keeping them on the outskirts of their territory to prevent them from learning critical knowledge of their territory. Most prisoners are held as bargaining chips to be traded for passage, supplies, or captured Dark Elves. Captured military leaders are sometimes brought to Dark Elven cities to be tried for their crimes against their people.
Dark Elven Government: Independent Houses
Unlike many other cultures, the Dark Elves lack a centralized government. Societal etiquette govern the standard for how certain crimes and disagreements should be handled, but each family unit acts as its own governing body. Disagreements within families are thus resolved internally. Inter-family disputes are resolved in multiple different ways. Most often, the two matrons of the family will meet and agree on terms to fairly compensate both sides. In cases when these talks deteriorate, the High Priestess of Lolth is often called to serve as the mediator and serves as the ruling body between disputes. Her rulings are final and indisputable, as she is considered the mouthpiece of Lolth’s will. In times of crisis, historically the many houses of the Dark Elves have convened to discuss threats to all of Dark Elven society. This is uncommon as it’s difficult logistically to gather all the matrons in the same place at the same time, so often houses are represented by either the second eldest woman of the family or the eldest daughter of the matron. The High Priestess of Lolth often resides over these meetings as an arbiter in the event of split decisions or in delivering guidance from Lolth herself. There's my take on the Dark Elves. Any comments, suggestions, questions, outrages, and critiques are welcomed. This is my first comprehensive look at a whole race so if I've missed things, I'll try and patch them up. I'd like to do similar things for Orcs, Goblinoids, Kobolds, and others so those might be seen soon. Thanks!
Hi everyone, this is my first ever post here. I run a little website called The Thought Experiment where I talk about various issues, some of them Singapore related. And one of my main interests is Singaporean politics. With the GE2020 election results, I thought I should pen down my take on what us as the electorate were trying to say. If you like what I wrote, I also wrote another article on the state of play for GE2020 during the campaigning period, as well as 2 other articles related to GE2015 back when it was taking place. If you don't like what I wrote, that's ok! I think the beauty of freedom of expression is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I'm always happy to get feedback, because I do think that more public discourse about our local politics helps us to be more politically aware as a whole. Just thought I'll share my article here to see what you guys make of it :D Article Starts Here: During the campaigning period, both sides sought to portray an extreme scenario of what would happen if voters did not vote for them. The Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) warned that Singaporeans that their political opponents “might eventually replace the government after July 10”. Meanwhile, the Worker’s Party (WP) stated that “there was a real risk of a wipeout of elected opposition MPs at the July 10 polls”. Today is July 11th. As we all know, neither of these scenarios came to pass. The PAP comfortably retained its super-majority in Parliament, winning 83 out of 93 elected MP seats. But just as in GE2011, another Group Representation Constituency (GRC) has fallen to the WP. In addition, the PAP saw its vote share drop drastically, down almost 9% to 61.2% from 69.9% in GE2015. Singapore’s electorate is unique in that a significant proportion is comprised of swing voters: Voters who don’t hold any blind allegiance to any political party, but vote based on a variety of factors both micro and macro. The above extreme scenarios were clearly targeted at these swing voters. Well, the swing voters have made their choice, their roar sending 4 more elected opposition MPs into Parliament. This article aims to unpack that roar and what it means for the state of Singaporean politics going forward. 1. The PAP is still the preferred party to form Singapore’s Government Yes, this may come across as blindingly obvious, but it still needs to be said. The swing voter is by its very definition, liable to changes of opinion. And a large factor that determines how a swing voter votes is their perception of how their fellow swing voters are voting. If swing voters perceive that most swing voters are leaning towards voting for the opposition, they might feel compelled to vote for the incumbent. And if the reverse is true, swing voters might feel the need to shore up opposition support. Why is this so? This is because the swing voter is trying to push the vote result into a sweet spot – one that lies between the two extreme scenarios espoused by either side. They don’t want the PAP to sweep all 93 seats in a ‘white tsunami’. Neither do they want the opposition to claim so much territory that the PAP is too weak to form the Government on its own. But because each swing voter only has a binary choice: either they vote for one side or the other (I’m ignoring the third option where they simply spoil their vote), they can’t very well say “I want to vote 0.6 for the PAP and 0.4 for the Opposition with my vote”. And so we can expect the swing voter bloc to continue being a source of uncertainty for both sides in future elections, as long as swing voters are still convinced that the PAP should be the Government. 2. Voters no longer believe that the PAP needs a ‘strong mandate’ to govern. They also don’t buy into the NCMP scheme. Throughout the campaign period, the PAP repeatedly exhorted voters to vote for them alone. Granted, they couldn’t very well give any ground to the opposition without a fight. And therefore there was an attempt to equate voting for the PAP as voting for Singapore’s best interests. However, the main message that voters got was this: PAP will only be able to steer Singapore out of the Covid-19 pandemic if it has a strong mandate from the people. What is a strong mandate, you may ask? While no PAP candidate publicly confirmed it, their incessant harping on the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme as the PAP’s win-win solution for having the PAP in power and a largely de-fanged opposition presence in parliament shows that the PAP truly wanted a parliament where it held every single seat. Clearly, the electorate has different ideas, handing Sengkang GRC to the WP and slashing the PAP’s margins in previous strongholds such as West Coast, Choa Chu Kang and Tanjong Pagar by double digit percentages. There is no doubt from the results that swing voters are convinced that a PAP supermajority is not good for Singapore. They are no longer convinced that to vote for the opposition is a vote against Singapore. They have realized, as members of a maturing democracy surely must, that one can vote for the opposition, yet still be pro-Singapore. 3. Social Media and the Internet are rewriting the electorate’s perception. In the past, there was no way to have an easily accessible record of historical events. With the only information source available being biased mainstream media, Singaporeans could only rely on that to fill in the gaps in their memories. Therefore, Operation Coldstore became a myth of the past, and Chee Soon Juan became a crackpot in the eyes of the people, someone who should never be allowed into Parliament. Fast forward to today. Chee won 45.2% of the votes in Bukit Batok’s Single Member Constituency (SMC). His party-mate, Dr. Paul Tambyah did even better, winning 46.26% of the votes in Bukit Panjang SMC. For someone previously seen as unfit for public office, this is an extremely good result. Chee has been running for elections in Singapore for a long time, and only now is there a significant change in the way he is perceived (and supported) by the electorate. Why? Because of social media and the internet, two things which the PAP does not have absolute control over. With the ability to conduct interviews with social media personalities as well as upload party videos on Youtube, he has been able to display a side of himself to people that the PAP did not want them to see: someone who is merely human just like them, but who is standing up for what he believes in. 4. Reserved Election Shenanigans and Tan Cheng Block: The electorate has not forgotten. Tan Cheng Bock almost became our President in 2011. There are many who say that if Tan Kin Lian and Tan Jee Say had not run, Tony Tan would not have been elected. In March 2016, Tan Cheng Bock publicly declared his interest to run for the next Presidential Election that would be held in 2017. The close result of 2011 and Tan Cheng Bock’s imminent candidacy made the upcoming Presidential Election one that was eagerly anticipated. That is, until the PAP shut down his bid for the presidency just a few months later in September 2016, using its supermajority in Parliament to pass a “reserved election” in which only members of a particular race could take part. Under the new rules that they had drawn up for themselves, it was decreed that only Malays could take part. And not just any Malay. The candidate had to either be a senior executive managing a firm that had S$500 million in shareholders’ equity, or be the Speaker of Parliament or a similarly high post in the public sector (the exact criteria are a bit more in-depth than this, but this is the gist of it. You can find the full criteria here). And who was the Speaker of Parliament at the time? Mdm Halimah, who was conveniently of the right race (Although there was some hooha about her actually being Indian). With the extremely strict private sector criteria and the PAP being able to effectively control who the public sector candidate was, it came as no surprise that Mdm Halimah was declared the only eligible candidate on Nomination Day. A day later, she was Singapore’s President. And all without a single vote cast by any Singaporean. Of course, the PAP denied that this was a move specifically aimed at blocking Tan Cheng Bock’s bid for the presidency. Chan Chun Sing, Singapore’s current Minister of Trade and Industry, stated in 2017 that the Government was prepared to pay the political price over making these changes to the Constitution. We can clearly see from the GE2020 results that a price was indeed paid. A loss of almost 9% of vote share is very significant, although a combination of the first-past-the-post rule and the GRC system ensured that the PAP still won 89.2% of the seats in Parliament despite only garnering 61.2% of the votes. On the whole, it’s naught but a scratch to the PAP’s overwhelming dominance in Parliament. The PAP still retains its supermajority and can make changes to the Constitution anytime that it likes. But the swing voters have sent a clear signal that they have not been persuaded by the PAP’s rationale. 5. Swing Voters do not want Racial Politics. In 2019, Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and the man who is next in line to be Prime Minister (PM) commented that Singapore was not ready to have a non-Chinese PM. He further added that race is an issue that always arises at election-time in Singapore. Let us now consider the GE2015 results. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Senior Minister and someone whom many have expressed keenness to be Singapore’s next PM, obtained 79.28% of the vote share in Jurong GRC. This was above even the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who scored 78.63% in Ang Mo Kio GRC. Tharman’s score was the highest in the entire election. And now let us consider the GE2020 results. Tharman scored 74.62% in Jurong, again the highest scorer of the entire election, while Hsien Loong scored 71.91%. So Tharman beat the current PM again, and by an even bigger margin than the last time. Furthermore, Swee Keat, who made the infamous comments above, scored just 53.41% in East Coast. Yes, I know I’m ignoring a lot of other factors that influenced these results. But don’t these results show conclusively that Heng’s comments were wrong? We have an Indian leading both the current and future PM in both elections, but yet PAP still feels the need to say that Singapore “hasn’t arrived” at a stage where we can vote without race in mind. In fact, this was the same rationale that supposedly led to the reserved presidency as mentioned in my earlier point. The swing voters have spoken, and it is exceedingly clear to me that the electorate does not care what our highest office-holders are in terms of race, whether it be the PM or the President. Our Singapore pledge firmly states “regardless of race”, and I think the results have shown that we as a people have taken it to heart. But has the PAP? 6. Voters will not be so easily manipulated. On one hand, Singaporeans were exhorted to stay home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Contact tracing became mandatory, and groups of more than 5 are prohibited. But on the other hand, we are also told that it’s absolutely necessary to hold an election during this same period, for Singaporeans to wait in long lines and in close proximity to each other as we congregate to cast our vote, all because the PAP needs a strong mandate. On one hand, Heng Swee Keat lambasted the Worker’s Party, claiming that it was “playing games with voters” over their refusal to confirm if they would accept NCMP seats. But on the other hand, Heng Swee Keat was moved to the East Coast GRC at the eleventh hour in a surprise move to secure the constituency. (As mentioned above, he was aptly rewarded for this with a razor-thin margin of just 53.41% of the votes.) On one hand, Masagos Zulkifli, PAP Vice-Chairman stated that “candidates should not be defined by a single moment in time or in their career, but judged instead by their growth throughout their life”. He said this in defense of Ivan Lim, who appears to be the very first candidate in Singaporean politics to have been pushed into retracting his candidacy by the power of non-mainstream media. But on the other hand, the PAP called on the WP to make clear its stand on Raeesah Khan, a WP candidate who ran (and won) in Sengkang GRC for this election, stating that the Police investigation into Raeesah’s comments made on social media was “a serious matter which goes to the fundamental principles on which our country has been built”. On one hand, Chan Chun Sing stated in 2015, referring to SingFirst’s policies about giving allowances to the young and the elderly, “Some of them promised you $300 per month. I say, please don’t insult my residents. You think…. they are here to be bribed?” On the other hand, the PAP Government has just given out several handouts under its many budgets to help Singaporeans cope with the Covid-19 situation. [To be clear, I totally approve of these handouts. What I don’t approve is that the PAP felt the need to lambast similar policies as bribery in the past. Comparing a policy with a crime is a political low blow in my book.] I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. And so did the electorate in this election, putting their vote where it counted to show their disdain for the heavy-handedness and double standards that the PAP has displayed for this election. Conclusion I don’t say the above to put down the PAP. The PAP would have you believe that to not support them is equivalent to not wanting what’s best for Singapore. This is a false dichotomy that must be stamped out, and I am glad to see our swing voters taking a real stand with this election. No, I say the above as a harsh but ultimately supportive letter to the PAP. As everyone can see from the results, we all still firmly believe that the PAP should be the Government. We still have faith that PAP has the leadership to take us forward and out of the Covid-19 crisis. But we also want to send the PAP a strong signal with this vote, to bring them down from their ivory towers and down to the ground. Enough with the double standards. Enough with the heavy-handedness. Singaporeans have clearly stated their desire for a more mature democracy, and that means more alternative voices in Parliament. The PAP needs to stop acting as the father who knows it all, and to start acting as the bigger brother who can work hand in hand with his alternative younger brother towards what’s best for the entire family: Singapore. There is a real chance that the PAP will not listen, though. As Lee Hsien Loong admitted in a rally in 2006, “if there are 10, 20… opposition members in Parliament… I have to spent my time thinking what is the right way to fix them”. Now, the PAP has POFMA at its disposal. It still has the supermajority in Parliament, making them able to change any law in Singapore, even the Constitution at will. We have already seen them put these tools to use for its own benefit. Let us see if the PAP will continue as it has always done, or will it take this opportunity to change itself for the better. Whatever the case, we will be watching, and we will be waiting to make our roar heard once again five years down the road. Majulah Singapura! Article Ends Here. Here's the link to the actual article: https://thethoughtexperiment.org/2020/07/11/ge2020-the-roar-of-the-swing-vote And here's the link to the other political articles I've written about Singapore: https://thethoughtexperiment.org/2020/07/07/ge2020-the-state-of-play/ https://thethoughtexperiment.org/2015/09/10/ge2015-voting-wisely/ https://thethoughtexperiment.org/2015/09/05/expectations-of-the-opposition/
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Swaps* (*But Were Afraid To Ask)
Hello, dummies It's your old pal, Fuzzy. As I'm sure you've all noticed, a lot of the stuff that gets posted here is - to put it delicately - fucking ridiculous. More backwards-ass shit gets posted to wallstreetbets than you'd see on a Westboro Baptist community message board. I mean, I had a look at the daily thread yesterday and..... yeesh. I know, I know. We all make like the divine Laura Dern circa 1992 on the daily and stick our hands deep into this steaming heap of shit to find the nuggets of valuable and/or hilarious information within (thanks for reading, BTW). I agree. I love it just the way it is too. That's what makes WSB great. What I'm getting at is that a lot of the stuff that gets posted here - notwithstanding it being funny or interesting - is just... wrong. Like, fucking your cousin wrong. And to be clear, I mean the fucking your *first* cousin kinda wrong, before my Southerners in the back get all het up (simmer down, Billy Ray - I know Mabel's twice removed on your grand-sister's side). Truly, I try to let it slide. Idomybit to try and put you on the right path. Most of the time, I sleep easy no matter how badly I've seen someone explain what a bank liquidity crisis is. But out of all of those tens of thousands of misguided, autistic attempts at understanding the world of high finance, one thing gets so consistently - so *emphatically* - fucked up and misunderstood by you retards that last night I felt obligated at the end of a long work day to pull together this edition of Finance with Fuzzy just for you. It's so serious I'm not even going to make a u/pokimane gag. Have you guessed what it is yet? Here's a clue. It's in the title of the post. That's right, friends. Today in the neighborhood we're going to talk all about hedging in financial markets - spots, swaps, collars, forwards, CDS, synthetic CDOs, all that fun shit. Don't worry; I'm going to explain what all the scary words mean and how they impact your OTM RH positions along the way. We're going to break it down like this. (1) "What's a hedge, Fuzzy?" (2) Common Hedging Strategies and (3) All About ISDAs and Credit Default Swaps. Before we begin. For the nerds and JV traders in the back (and anyone else who needs to hear this up front) - I am simplifying these descriptions for the purposes of this post. I am also obviously not going to try and cover every exotic form of hedge under the sun or give a detailed summation of what caused the financial crisis. If you are interested in something specific ask a question, but don't try and impress me with your Investopedia skills or technical points I didn't cover; I will just be forced to flex my years of IRL experience on you in the comments and you'll look like a big dummy. TL;DR? Fuck you. There is no TL;DR. You've come this far already. What's a few more paragraphs? Put down the Cheetos and try to concentrate for the next 5-7 minutes. You'll learn something, and I promise I'll be gentle. Ready? Let's get started. 1.The Tao of Risk: Hedging as a Way of Life The simplest way to characterize what a hedge 'is' is to imagine every action having a binary outcome. One is bad, one is good. Red lines, green lines; uppie, downie. With me so far? Good. A 'hedge' is simply the employment of a strategy to mitigate the effect of your action having the wrong binary outcome. You wanted X, but you got Z! Frowny face. A hedge strategy introduces a third outcome. If you hedged against the possibility of Z happening, then you can wind up with Y instead. Not as good as X, but not as bad as Z. The technical definition I like to give my idiot juniors is as follows: Utilization of a defensive strategy to mitigate risk, at a fraction of the cost to capital of the risk itself. Congratulations. You just finished Hedging 101. "But Fuzzy, that's easy! I just sold a naked call against my 95% OTM put! I'm adequately hedged!". Spoiler alert: you're not (although good work on executing a collar, which I describe below). What I'm talking about here is what would be referred to as a 'perfect hedge'; a binary outcome where downside is totally mitigated by a risk management strategy. That's not how it works IRL. Pay attention; this is the tricky part. You can't take a single position and conclude that you're adequately hedged because risks are fluid, not static. So you need to constantly adjust your position in order to maximize the value of the hedge and insure your position. You also need to consider exposure to more than one category of risk. There are micro (specific exposure) risks, and macro (trend exposure) risks, and both need to factor into the hedge calculus. That's why, in the real world, the value of hedging depends entirely on the design of the hedging strategy itself. Here, when we say "value" of the hedge, we're not talking about cash money - we're talking about the intrinsic value of the hedge relative to the the risk profile of your underlying exposure. To achieve this, people hedge dynamically. In wallstreetbets terms, this means that as the value of your position changes, you need to change your hedges too. The idea is to efficiently and continuously distribute and rebalance risk across different states and periods, taking value from states in which the marginal cost of the hedge is low and putting it back into states where marginal cost of the hedge is high, until the shadow value of your underlying exposure is equalized across your positions. The punchline, I guess, is that one static position is a hedge in the same way that the finger paintings you make for your wife's boyfriend are art - it's technically correct, but you're only playing yourself by believing it. Anyway. Obviously doing this as a small potatoes trader is hard but it's worth taking into account. Enough basic shit. So how does this work in markets? 2. A Hedging Taxonomy The best place to start here is a practical question. What does a business need to hedge against? Think about the specific risk that an individual business faces. These are legion, so I'm just going to list a few of the key ones that apply to most corporates. (1) You have commodity risk for the shit you buy or the shit you use. (2) You have currency risk for the money you borrow. (3) You have rate risk on the debt you carry. (4) You have offtake risk for the shit you sell. Complicated, right? To help address the many and varied ways that shit can go wrong in a sophisticated market, smart operators like yours truly have devised a whole bundle of different instruments which can help you manage the risk. I might write about some of the more complicated ones in a later post if people are interested (CDO/CLOs, strip/stack hedges and bond swaps with option toggles come to mind) but let's stick to the basics for now. (i) Swaps A swap is one of the most common forms of hedge instrument, and they're used by pretty much everyone that can afford them. The language is complicated but the concept isn't, so pay attention and you'll be fine. This is the most important part of this section so it'll be the longest one. Swaps are derivative contracts with two counterparties (before you ask, you can't trade 'em on an exchange - they're OTC instruments only). They're used to exchange one cash flow for another cash flow of equal expected value; doing this allows you to take speculative positions on certain financial prices or to alter the cash flows of existing assets or liabilities within a business. "Wait, Fuzz; slow down! What do you mean sets of cash flows?". Fear not, little autist. Ol' Fuzz has you covered. The cash flows I'm talking about are referred to in swap-land as 'legs'. One leg is fixed - a set payment that's the same every time it gets paid - and the other is variable - it fluctuates (typically indexed off the price of the underlying risk that you are speculating on / protecting against). You set it up at the start so that they're notionally equal and the two legs net off; so at open, the swap is a zero NPV instrument. Here's where the fun starts. If the price that you based the variable leg of the swap on changes, the value of the swap will shift; the party on the wrong side of the move ponies up via the variable payment. It's a zero sum game. I'll give you an example using the most vanilla swap around; an interest rate trade. Here's how it works. You borrow money from a bank, and they charge you a rate of interest. You lock the rate up front, because you're smart like that. But then - quelle surprise! - the rate gets better after you borrow. Now you're bagholding to the tune of, I don't know, 5 bps. Doesn't sound like much but on a billion dollar loan that's a lot of money (a classic example of the kind of 'small, deep hole' that's terrible for profits). Now, if you had a swap contract on the rate before you entered the trade, you're set; if the rate goes down, you get a payment under the swap. If it goes up, whatever payment you're making to the bank is netted off by the fact that you're borrowing at a sub-market rate. Win-win! Or, at least, Lose Less / Lose Less. That's the name of the game in hedging. There are many different kinds of swaps, some of which are pretty exotic; but they're all different variations on the same theme. If your business has exposure to something which fluctuates in price, you trade swaps to hedge against the fluctuation. The valuation of swaps is also super interesting but I guarantee you that 99% of you won't understand it so I'm not going to try and explain it here although I encourage you to google it if you're interested. Because they're OTC, none of them are filed publicly. Someeeeeetimes you see an ISDA (dsicussed below) but the confirms themselves (the individual swaps) are not filed. You can usually read about the hedging strategy in a 10-K, though. For what it's worth, most modern credit agreements ban speculative hedging. Top tip: This is occasionally something worth checking in credit agreements when you invest in businesses that are debt issuers - being able to do this increases the risk profile significantly and is particularly important in times of economic volatility (ctrl+f "non-speculative" in the credit agreement to be sure). (ii) Forwards A forward is a contract made today for the future delivery of an asset at a pre-agreed price. That's it. "But Fuzzy! That sounds just like a futures contract!". I know. Confusing, right? Just like a futures trade, forwards are generally used in commodity or forex land to protect against price fluctuations. The differences between forwards and futures are small but significant. I'm not going to go into super boring detail because I don't think many of you are commodities traders but it is still an important thing to understand even if you're just an RH jockey, so stick with me. Just like swaps, forwards are OTC contracts - they're not publicly traded. This is distinct from futures, which are traded on exchanges (see The Ballad Of Big Dick Vick for some more color on this). In a forward, no money changes hands until the maturity date of the contract when delivery and receipt are carried out; price and quantity are locked in from day 1. As you now know having read about BDV, futures are marked to market daily, and normally people close them out with synthetic settlement using an inverse position. They're also liquid, and that makes them easier to unwind or close out in case shit goes sideways. People use forwards when they absolutely have to get rid of the thing they made (or take delivery of the thing they need). If you're a miner, or a farmer, you use this shit to make sure that at the end of the production cycle, you can get rid of the shit you made (and you won't get fucked by someone taking cash settlement over delivery). If you're a buyer, you use them to guarantee that you'll get whatever the shit is that you'll need at a price agreed in advance. Because they're OTC, you can also exactly tailor them to the requirements of your particular circumstances. These contracts are incredibly byzantine (and there are even crazier synthetic forwards you can see in money markets for the true degenerate fund managers). In my experience, only Texan oilfield magnates, commodities traders, and the weirdo forex crowd fuck with them. I (i) do not own a 10 gallon hat or a novelty size belt buckle (ii) do not wake up in the middle of the night freaking out about the price of pork fat and (iii) love greenbacks too much to care about other countries' monopoly money, so I don't fuck with them. (iii) Collars No, not the kind your wife is encouraging you to wear try out to 'spice things up' in the bedroom during quarantine. Collars are actually the hedging strategy most applicable to WSB. Collars deal with options! Hooray! To execute a basic collar (also called a wrapper by tea-drinking Brits and people from the Antipodes), you buy an out of the money put while simultaneously writing a covered call on the same equity. The put protects your position against price drops and writing the call produces income that offsets the put premium. Doing this limits your tendies (you can only profit up to the strike price of the call) but also writes down your risk. If you screen large volume trades with a VOL/OI of more than 3 or 4x (and they're not bullshit biotech stocks), you can sometimes see these being constructed in real time as hedge funds protect themselves on their shorts. (3) All About ISDAs, CDS and Synthetic CDOs You may have heard about the mythical ISDA. Much like an indenture (discussed in my post on $F), it's a magic legal machine that lets you build swaps via trade confirms with a willing counterparty. They are very complicated legal documents and you need to be a true expert to fuck with them. Fortunately, I am, so I do. They're made of two parts; a Master (which is a form agreement that's always the same) and a Schedule (which amends the Master to include your specific terms). They are also the engine behind just about every major credit crunch of the last 10+ years. First - a brief explainer. An ISDA is a not in and of itself a hedge - it's an umbrella contract that governs the terms of your swaps, which you use to construct your hedge position. You can trade commodities, forex, rates, whatever, all under the same ISDA. Let me explain. Remember when we talked about swaps? Right. So. You can trade swaps on just about anything. In the late 90s and early 2000s, people had the smart idea of using other people's debt and or credit ratings as the variable leg of swap documentation. These are called credit default swaps. I was actually starting out at a bank during this time and, I gotta tell you, the only thing I can compare people's enthusiasm for this shit to was that moment in your early teens when you discover jerking off. Except, unlike your bathroom bound shame sessions to Mom's Sears catalogue, every single person you know felt that way too; and they're all doing it at once. It was a fiscal circlejerk of epic proportions, and the financial crisis was the inevitable bukkake finish. WSB autism is absolutely no comparison for the enthusiasm people had during this time for lighting each other's money on fire. Here's how it works. You pick a company. Any company. Maybe even your own! And then you write a swap. In the swap, you define "Credit Event" with respect to that company's debt as the variable leg . And you write in... whatever you want. A ratings downgrade, default under the docs, failure to meet a leverage ratio or FCCR for a certain testing period... whatever. Now, this started out as a hedge position, just like we discussed above. The purest of intentions, of course. But then people realized - if bad shit happens, you make money. And banks... don't like calling in loans or forcing bankruptcies. Can you smell what the moral hazard is cooking? Enter synthetic CDOs. CDOs are basically pools of asset backed securities that invest in debt (loans or bonds). They've been around for a minute but they got famous in the 2000s because a shitload of them containing subprime mortgage debt went belly up in 2008. This got a lot of publicity because a lot of sad looking rednecks got foreclosed on and were interviewed on CNBC. "OH!", the people cried. "Look at those big bad bankers buying up subprime loans! They caused this!". Wrong answer, America. The debt wasn't the problem. What a lot of people don't realize is that the real meat of the problem was not in regular way CDOs investing in bundles of shit mortgage debts in synthetic CDOs investing in CDS predicated on that debt. They're synthetic because they don't have a stake in the actual underlying debt; just the instruments riding on the coattails. The reason these are so popular (and remain so) is that smart structured attorneys and bankers like your faithful correspondent realized that an even more profitable and efficient way of building high yield products with limited downside was investing in instruments that profit from failure of debt and in instruments that rely on that debt and then hedging that exposure with other CDS instruments in paired trades, and on and on up the chain. The problem with doing this was that everyone wound up exposed to everybody else's books as a result, and when one went tits up, everybody did. Hence, recession, Basel III, etc. Thanks, Obama. Heavy investment in CDS can also have a warping effect on the price of debt (something else that happened during the pre-financial crisis years and is starting to happen again now). This happens in three different ways. (1) Investors who previously were long on the debt hedge their position by selling CDS protection on the underlying, putting downward pressure on the debt price. (2) Investors who previously shorted the debt switch to buying CDS protection because the relatively illiquid debt (partic. when its a bond) trades at a discount below par compared to the CDS. The resulting reduction in short selling puts upward pressure on the bond price. (3) The delta in price and actual value of the debt tempts some investors to become NBTs (neg basis traders) who long the debt and purchase CDS protection. If traders can't take leverage, nothing happens to the price of the debt. If basis traders can take leverage (which is nearly always the case because they're holding a hedged position), they can push up or depress the debt price, goosing swap premiums etc. Anyway. Enough technical details. I could keep going. This is a fascinating topic that is very poorly understood and explained, mainly because the people that caused it all still work on the street and use the same tactics today (it's also terribly taught at business schools because none of the teachers were actually around to see how this played out live). But it relates to the topic of today's lesson, so I thought I'd include it here. Work depending, I'll be back next week with a covenant breakdown. Most upvoted ticker gets the post. *EDIT 1\* In a total blowout, $PLAY won. So it's D&B time next week. Post will drop Monday at market open.
Cover | First chapter | Previous | Patreon | Published Books | Website | Discord “Sarah said you wanted to speak with me?” I strode into Zafir’s office and closed the door behind me. He looked mildly surprised to see me at first, but a welcoming smile took over soon after. “Yes…we have much to discuss.” Zafir watched me carefully as I sat across from him. “First and foremost, I should inform you of Abel’s lie and the steps I took to fix what he’d done.” “Oh lovely. I can’t wait.” I leaned against the armrest. “Do tell me of your noble deeds, o’ great hero.” A short laugh escaped Zafir before he settled back in his seat, hands steepled in his lap, and his voice becoming all business. “To the point it is. Abel, contrary to his reports to me and what he told you, had you fitted with the manner of brain chip that can be detonated. The military recently began investigating Abel’s activities due to his sudden—classified—disappearance. As much of his misconduct was in relation to the other survivors, I took the liberty of ordering additional scans when you were rendered unconscious.” I gave him an impatient look when he paused for a swig of water. “Which showed the chip. And?” “I took the liberty of replacing it. After some discussions with our bosses, I educated them on the nuances of survivors such as yourself and acquired permission to use a Syldrari-made chip.” Zafir gave me that mysterious ‘I know you’re overthinking every word I say’ smile of his. “The survivors, and especially you, require more processing power than the empire’s chips provide. Luckily for us, the empire has no qualms about stealing technology from others and refitting it to suit their own purposes.” “Why Syldrari specifically?” I raised an eyebrow. “There’s plenty of races more advanced than us.” “Because the Syldrari are the most advanced species we’ve encountered, and because a Syldrari chip was the only one you showed compatibility with. I imagine it must have something to do with the Resonance Incident and your Syldrari suit.” Zafir shrugged, seemingly unbothered by my suspicion. “With that explained, we come to the primary reason I sent for you: I want your permission to run further tests. I’m not confident that Abel didn’t fake more information. Specifically, I would like to run blood tests.” “I mean…fine?” I glanced around, then back at Zafir. “Here, or one of the labs?” “Here will suffice.” Zafir motioned for me to roll up my sleeves. He stood and began rummaging around in the nearby cabinets. “How is training progressing?” “It’s…going. There’s not really much to say on that front until they can start actually going out to do…whatever it is we do.” I shook my head. “I’m still waiting to hear back from our bosses, but I did send in my request that Calder, Nikolai, and Maelor begin working.” Zafir pulled a chair up next to me and rolled a tray over, motioning for me to give him my arm. “Speaking of which, they want you to resume patrolling the Syldrari Sector during the day. They believe we’ve given enough time—” “I’m not so sure about that,” I interjected, thinking back to the letter Sarah had brought to me from Rel. “From what I understand, the Syldrari are worryingly convinced that I’m Lethe, and it may be dangerous for me there because of it.” “And you have this on good authority?” Zafir inquired as he gently prodded at my arm, sanitizing it before strapping a thin black band around the crook of my elbow. I grimaced. It was too late not to elaborate. “Rel sent a letter along with our meal the other week. He warned that I should stay away because multiple clans, including the R’selkti, are looking for me due to these rumors.” “Of course…” Zafir sighed, his expression falling. “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can say at this point to make them reconsider…without putting you at greater risk. Tomorrow you will begin your patrols again. I will see if I can convince our superiors to permit one of your colleagues to join you. Either way, I am planning to have one of them act as our ‘vigilante’ in the sector for a time, while you work elsewhere. Who would you say is the most stable?” “Nikolai for sure.” I raised an eyebrow as Zafir took the band off me. “Done already?” “Indeed. It’s much more efficient than a needle.” Zafir tilted a black glass vial, peering into it briefly before capping it off. The other three were quickly sealed as well. If there was anything off about my blood, he didn’t comment or show it. A pity, that. I was curious to know if there were still traces of blue like I’d seen while fighting the odd Syldrari. “Now then, I recommend you rest for the remainder of the day. I want you at your best when dealing with the Syldrari. Perhaps you can do some reading on their culture while you relax?” * * * I arrived in the Syldrari Sector early in the morning as shops were starting to open and people were beginning to walk the streets. Though it was early, there seemed to be an unusual number of people out and about. They were all so distracted that I managed to make it all the way to Rel’s cafe without anyone acknowledging my presence. “Elara? You shouldn’t…” Rel released an aggravated sigh. “You don’t have a choice and that’s why you’re here. Of course. What can I do for you, then? Are you feeling better?” “Better…ish?” I shrugged and gave him a small smile. “What can I say? It’s one thing after another. I’m just trying to roll with the punches at this point.” “Understandable.” Rel nodded and gave me a tired smile. “Will I be surprising you again today?” “Can you stop spoiling the graekstidat fodder for one second?” A familiar, grumpy voice demanded. I glanced over to see a Syldrari man with pale grey skin walking over. His black hair obscured one eye, the pale blue underside glowing against his cheek. His eyes were…among the odder that I’d seen. While the pupils were consistent with Syldrari, the colors of deep mauve, yellow, and jade green blended together similar to how a human’s hazel did. However, I had no damn idea where I’d heard his voice before. “A…what fodder?” I looked over at the aggravated Rel. “And since when did you have an edgy teenager working for you?” “Ah, think of it as an amphibious, furred shark hybrid the length of…several train cars,” Rel answered, pressing his fingers to his temples. “Furthermore, Aldiner is old enough to be your great-great-great-” “I’m working here to pay up for pissing off the elder here,” Aldiner interjected with a snort as he pushed his hands into his apron pockets. He leaned over me, examining me from a few angles. “You don’t have that military air to you. Sure you’re a—” I gave Aldiner my best cold, intimidating glare as he reached out and poked my cheek once. When he went for a second poke, I knocked his arm aside, spun behind him and elbowed him where I hoped his kidneys were, and moved to take him down to the ground. Alas, an arm wrapped around my waist and lifted me clean off the floor—and didn’t stop until my butt was planted on his shoulder. I looked down, startled enough to forget about beating the crap out of Aldiner. “Ignore Aldiner. He likes to annoy everyone he sees, and hates being ignored.” The much larger Syldrari glanced at me. I certainly hadn’t expected it to be the grumpy soldier man, seeing as he’d appeared to rather dislike me. “You’re fast, for a strigaella.” “A human woman,” Rel answered my next question with a sigh. Aldiner, behave. Humans are much less…ah…” Rel motioned with his hands and wiggled his fingers as he searched for the word. “You don’t touch humans unless invited to,” the soldier Syldrari grunted. “She invited ya?” Aldiner leaned forward peering at the soldier and then at where I was perched on his shoulder. “I didn’t, but I can appreciate that he was stopping me from starting a brawl with you right here and—” I cut myself off with an aggravated sigh when felt the feral attempting to push forward. All three Syldrari went still and watched me warily. What they sensed, or how much, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. “Set me down, please…uh…” “Heh, always bitching about manners and you never introduced yourself, did ya?” Aldiner gave the soldier a cocky grin. “…call me Casair,” the soldier glanced away, seeming a little disgruntled, but the patterns of light on his arms didn’t so much as flicker. …Aldiner on the other hand… I glanced at the self-contained rave fish, then back at Casair. “And you can call me Elara, though I suppose you knew that already.” “Awww, Casair is shy!” Aldiner teased. “Suppressing—” “Quiet, vlerst bait.” Casair crossed his arms at the strobing Syldrari, then glanced over at me. “Back to patrolling needlessly?” “Something like that. I was sitting around recovering for so long that my boss’s bosses started thinking up other uses for me.” I grimaced before walking over to the counter and hopping up onto my usual seat. “As for surprising me, Rel, yes. Though I’d like a glass of…” I paused to reference the menu, “Jiirst☆nil?” Either I said it very right or terribly wrong, because all three men stopped what they were doing to stare at me in shock. Well, Aldiner was staring already, but he didn’t count. “Ah, there you are Rel my dear!” A woman’s voice carried through the room shortly after I heard the doors to the establishment open. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” “Mother, please…” a familiar voice groaned, and I glanced back to see the candy girl—who perked up and waved when she spotted me. “Careful you don’t become the queen’s snack,” Casair muttered by my ear before moving away to a booth in the corner, settling into it in such a way that he could keep an eye on everyone. Queen? I eyed the flamboyant woman and the three people with her. If one was her daughter, I had to assume the other two were guards—they had weapons holstered at their hips, at least. “I’m honored by your visit, but please refrain—” Rel began. “So, when will you become one of my consorts?” The…queen? demanded with a bright smile—one that faltered when Rel placed the drink he was making in front of me instead of her. I half-expected her to be angry, but instead she studied me for a moment, her head tilted, and a finger pressed against her full, black-painted lips. “A visitor in the Syldrari Sector…are you an Iri, Sen’iri, Sol’iri, Anad’iri, Sora’iri, or Lun’iri? I can never tell with you humans…” “Elara is an Iri, honestly…” Rel rubbed his temples. “How many times must we explain to you that the humans are binary in their biological—” “And that is just the problem! Biological! If they didn’t hop around between bodies and swap out prosthetics constantly—no offense—perhaps I could more easily identify who they are!” The queen hmphed, crossed her arms, then finally seemed to spot my uniform. “Ah, a military girl—my favorite. If Rel still refuses to become my consort… How would you like off this planet, sweetie?” “Mother, please!” The candy girl moved between her mother and me. “Elara is the nice human I told you about! She likes the candy I make, and her friends are going to help give me ideas for ones more humans will like! Plus, you haven’t even introduced yourself! Humans can’t sense a queen’s identity!” “Speaking of my colleagues,” I paused, pulling out several sheets of paper that had been folded together. “They may not be able to come to the sector for a while, so they asked me to deliver their notes to you.” She took them, and skimmed the first page, the glowing sections of her skin pulsing faster the more she read. “This is…this is great! I’m going to go work on the next batch!” And with that, the excitable candy girl darted out of the café, practically skipping as she went. “I’m Xilen, I run the mercantile Dvarl Clan,” the queen stated promptly, offering me her hand. When I shook it, she paused to study my face and search my eyes. “If you ever want off this planet, Rel knows how to contact me. It wouldn’t do for a pretty little thing like you to be wasted on the humans.” “…I’ll keep that in mind…” I gently reclaimed my hand while Aldiner snickered from somewhere. “Do you find women…?” Rel raised an eyebrow when I shook my head. “Then, you are being polite.” “I’m keeping my options open,” I countered. “If the military can’t recreate the Resonance phenomena—and maybe even if they can—their next step is going to be breeding our mutations down to offspring. I want no part of that, so having options is good.” “Ahhh, she’s so smart!” Xilen leaned over to squeeze me, rubbing her cheek against mine. To my surprise, the Syldrari in the cafe all looked ready to start a fight over it—with her. I got the distinct feeling it wasn’t jealousy, which made me all the more confused. “You just say the word and I’ll have you off this planet and into my arms! I’d love to see how such a cute human would look in Syldrari clothes—you don’t mind translucency, do you? I’d imagine not—” “Elara needs to have her meal before she returns to her duties.” Rel suddenly appeared behind us, his hand on the queen’s shoulder, and his voice cold as ice. “If you’re here to discuss trade, you can wait for me in the usual room.” “How dare—” One of the men I assumed to be the queen’s guards started to raise a weapon. I figured this was as good a time as any to make my point. I was out of my chair and twisting the weapon out of the man’s hand before he could finish his sentence. Using his body weight against him, I got him on the floor and twisted his arm behind his back, placing my booted foot against the back of his shoulders. “You— Ugh!” The other guard grunted when Casair’s fist met his stomach. “Please keep in mind that my job is to keep conflicts in the Syldrari Sector to a minimum, and I am authorized to use lethal force if you pull a weapon on anyone, regardless of race or species,” I spoke calmly, grinding my heel into the Syldrari’s back for emphasis. “You may keep your weapons and use them for defense if necessary. If you pull them again for any other reason…” “Cuuute!” Xilen promptly squeezed me in a hug. It took most of my willpower to beat down the feral, especially since I agreed with the idea of fucking ripping her arms off if she hugged me one more damn time. Xilen leaned down to speak quietly by my ear, “Be careful, dear. If you ever suspect you’re in trouble or in over your head, I’m sure you know how we can get them to come running to save you. And, stay far, far away from the R’selkti and their queen.” “Uh—?” I didn’t get to ask her what the hell she was on about. She fetched her guards and led them to some back room, leaving me confused and…a little unnerved. “I apologize for Queen Xilen’s…eccentricities,” Rel offered when I finally turned around to return to my seat. “Are all queens so goddamn pushy?” I snorted irritably, trying to shove Xilen’s insinuations out of my mind. “Ah…with Iri being the rarest of the six, they tend to act however they please…” Rel murmured awkwardly. “It is not uncommon for Syldrari women to turn their rarity into a form of power over others. Most Iri, even if they are not queens, have many…I believe the human word is ‘spouses?’” “Long story short: most recent queens have been groomed to see the other sexes as playthings to collect. Some of them even take other Iri, but it’s frowned upon,” Casair piped up flatly. “Xilen is of a different tide. She’s lasted so long because she can pretend. Whatever she whispered to you was probably as herself.” “Blah blah blah.” Aldiner rolled his eyes before leaning toward me. “You know, being a queen’s pet has its perks.” “Aldiner!” Rel barked, his markings flaring bright. “Go wash the dishes!” “Fiiine.” Aldiner sauntered off toward the back, though he turned and stuck his fingers up in a V and flicked his surprisingly long dual or split tongue between them before disappearing through the door. …I have a feeling it’s a good thing Rel didn’t catch that… I shook my head slightly. “So, are there any other developments I should know about before I start my patrols again?” “Just…be cautious. Someone has convinced the people here that you are Lethe…and that she may be a queen or related to one.” Rel sighed heavily and pushed his hair back. “Aside from that, things have been calming down after the little queen was found. With Xilen here…who knows. Her unannounced visits always cause trouble.” Next
[Table] Asteroid Day AMA – We’re engineers and scientists working on a mission that could, one day, help save humankind from asteroid extinction. Ask us anything!
Source There are several people answering: Paolo Martino is PM, Marco Micheli is MM, Heli Greus is HG, Detlef Koschny is DVK, and Aidan Cowley is AC.
Can we really detect any asteroids in space with accuracy and do we have any real means of destroying it?
Yes, we can detect new asteroids when they are still in space. Every night dozens of new asteroids are found, including a few that can come close to the Earth.
Regarding the second part of the question, the goal would be to deflect them more than destroy them, and it is technologically possible. The Hera/DART mission currently being developed by ESA and NASA will demonstrate exactly this capability.
I always wanted to ask: what is worse for life on Earth - to be hit by a single coalesced asteroid chunk, or to be hit by a multiple smaller pieces of exploded asteroid, aka disrupted rubble pile scenario?
DVK: This is difficult to answer. If the rubble is small (centimetres to meters) it is better to have lots of small ones – they’d create nice bright meteors. If the rubble pieces are tens of meters it doesn’t help.
Let’s say that hypothetically, an asteroid the size of Rhode Island is coming at us, it will be a direct hit - you’ve had the resources and funding you need, your plan is fully in place, everything you’ve wanted you got. The asteroid will hit in 10 years, what do you do?
DVK: I had to look up how big Rhode Island is – a bit larger than the German Bundesland ‘Saarland’. Ok – this would correspond to an object about 60 km in diameter, right? That’s quite big – we would need a lot of rocket launches, this would be extremely difficult. I would pray. The good news is that we are quite convinced that we know all objects larger than just a few kilometers which come close to our planet. None of them is on a collision course, so we are safe.
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Why are you quite convinced that you know all object of that size? And what is your approach in finding new celestial bodies?
DVK: There was a scientific study done over a few years (published in Icarus 2018, search for Granvik) where they modelled how many objects there are out there. They compared this to the observations we have with the telescopic surveys. This gives us the expected numbers shown here on our infographic: https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2018/06/Asteroid_danger_explained
There are additional studies to estimate the ‘completeness’ – and we think that we know everything above roughly a few km in size.
Thanks for the answer, that's really interesting! It's also funny that the fist Flyeye deployed is in Sicily, at less than 100km from me, I really had no idea
DVK: Indeed, that's cool. Maybe you can go and visit it one day.
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What about Interstellar objects however, like Oumuamua?
DVK: The two that we have seen - 'Oumuamua and comet Borisov - were much smaller than the Saarland (or Rhode Island ;-) - not sure about Borisov, but 'Oumuamua was a few hundred meters in size. So while they could indeed come as a complete surprise, they are so rare that I wouldn't worry.
Would the public be informed if an impending asteroid event were to happen? And, how would the extinction play out? Bunch of people crushed to death, knocked off our orbit, dust clouds forever?
DVK: We do not keep things secret – all our info is at the web page http://neo.ssa.esa.int. The ‘risky’ objects are in the ‘risk page’. We also put info on really close approaches there. It would also be very difficult to keep things ‘under cover’ – there are many high-quality amateur astronomers out there that would notice.
In 2029 asteroid Apophis will fly really close to Earth, even closer than geostationary satellites. Can we use some of those satellites to observe the asteroid? Is it possible to launch very cheap cube sats to flyby Apophis in 2029?
DVK: Yes an Apophis mission during the flyby in 2029 would be really nice. We even had a special session on that topic at the last Planetary Defense Conference in 2019, and indeed CubeSats were mentioned. This would be a nice university project – get me a close-up of the asteroid with the Earth in the background!
Go to the section 'resolutions'. This is now a statement that scientists can use to present to their funding agencies, demonstrating that it's not just their own idea.
Thanks for doing this AMA! Did we know the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013 (the one which had some great videos on social media) was coming? Ig not, how comes? Also, as a little side one, have there been any fatalities from impact events in the past 20 years?
Unfortunately, the Chelyabinsk object was not seen in advance, because it came from the direction of the Sun where ground-based telescopes cannot look.
No known fatalities from impacts have happened in the past 20 years, although the Chelyabinsk event did cause many injuries, fortunately mostly minor.
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How often do impacts from that direction happen, compared to impacts from visible trajectories?
In terms of fraction of the sky, the area that cannot be easily scanned from the ground is roughly a circle with a radius of 40°-50° around the current position of the Sun, corresponding to ~15% of the total sky. However, there is a slight enhancement of objects coming from that direction, therefore the fraction of objects that may be missed when heading towards us is a bit higher.
However, this applies only when detecting an asteroid in its "final plunge" towards the Earth. Larger asteroids can be spotted many orbits earlier, when they are farther away and visible in the night side of the sky. Their orbits can then be determined and their possible impacts predicted even years or decades in advance.
There must be a trade-off when targeting asteroids as they get closer to Earth, is there a rule of thumb at what the best time is to reach them, in terms of launch time versus time to reach the asteroid and then distance from Earth?
DVK: Take e.g. a ‘kinetic impactor’ mission, like what DART and Hera are testing. Since we only change the velocity of the asteroid slightly, we need to hit the object early enough so that the object has time to move away from it’s collision course. Finding out when it is possible to launch requires simulations done by our mission analysis team. They take the strength of the launcher into account, also the available fuel for course corrections, and other things. Normally each asteroid has its own best scenario.
Do you also look at protecting the moon from asteroids? Would an impact of a large enough scale potentially have major impacts on the earth?
DVK: There are programmes that monitor the Moon and look for flashes from impacting small asteroids (or meteoroids) - https://neliota.astro.noa.g or the Spanish MIDAS project. We use the data to improve our knowledge about these objects. These programmes just look at what is happening now.
For now we would not do anything if we predicted a lunar impact. I guess this will change once we have a lunar base in place.
Why aren't there an international organisation comprised of countries focused on the asteroid defence? Imagine like the organisation with multi-billion $ budget and program of action on funding new telescopes, asteroid exploration mission, plans for detection of potentially dangerous NEA, protocols on action after the detection - all international, with heads of states discussing these problems?
DVK: There are international entities in place, mandated by the UN: The International Asteroid Warning Network (http://www.iawn.net) and the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (http://www.smpag.net). These groups advise the United Nations. That is exactly where we come up with plans and protocols on action. But: They don’t have budget – that needs to come from elsewhere. I am expecting that if we have a real threat, we would get the budget. Right now, we don’t have a multi-billion budget.
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There is no actual risk of any sizable asteroids hitting earth in the foreseeable future. Any preparation for it would just be a waste of money.
DVK: Indeed, as mentioned earlier, we do not expect a large object to hit is in the near future. We are mainly worried about those in the size range of 20 m to 40 m, which happen on average every few tens of years to hundreds of years. And where we only know a percent of them or even less.
President Obama wanted to send a crewed spacecraft to an asteroid - in your opinion is this something that should still be done in the future, would there be any usefulness in having a human being walk/float on an asteroid's surface?
DVK: It would definitely be cool. I would maybe even volunteer to go. Our current missions to asteroids are all robotic, the main reason is that it is much cheaper (but still expensive) to get the same science. But humans will expand further into space, I am sure. If we want to test human exploration activities, doing this at an asteroid would be easier than landing on a planet.
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Yes, but I am slightly biased by the fact that I work at the European astronaut centre ;) There exist many similarities to what we currently do for EVA (extra vehicular activities) operations on the International Space Station versus how we would 'float' around an asteroid. Slightly biased again, but using such a mission to test exploration technologies would definitely still have value. Thanks Obama! - AC
I've heard that some asteroids contains large amounts of iron. Is there a possibility that we might have "space mines" in the far away future, if our own supply if iron runs out?
Yes, this is a topic in the field known as space mining, part of what we call Space Resources. In fact, learning how we can process material we might find on asteroids or other planetary bodies is increasingly important, as it opens up the opportunities for sustainable exploration and commercialization. Its a technology we need to master, and asteroids can be a great target for testing how we can create space mines :) - AC
By how much is DART expected to deflect Didymos? Do we have any indication of the largest size of an asteroid we could potentially deflect?
PM: Didymos is a binary asteroid, consisting of a main asteroid Didymos A (~700m) and a smaller asteroid Didymos B (~150m) orbiting around A with a ~12 hours period. DART is expected to impact Didymos B and change its orbital period w.r.t. Didymos A of ~1%. (8 mins)
The size of Didymos B is the most representative of a potential threat to Earth (the highest combination of probability and consequence of impacts), meaning smaller asteroids hit the Earth more often but have less severe consequences, larger asteroids can have catastrophic consequences but their probability of hitting the earth is very very low.
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Why is there less probability of larger asteroids hitting earth?
DVK: There are less large objects out there. The smaller they are, the more there are.
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Is there any chance that your experiment will backfire and send the asteroid towards earth?
PM: Not at all, or we would not do that :) Actually Dimorphos (the Didymos "moon") will not even leave its orbit around Didymos. It will just slightly change its speed.
I'm sure you've been asked this many times but how realistic is the plot of Armageddon? How likely is it that our fate as a species will rely on (either) Bruce Willis / deep sea oil drillers?
Taking into consideration that Bruce Willis is now 65 and by the time HERA is launched he will be 69, I do not think that we can rely on him this time (although I liked the movie).
HERA will investigate what method we could use to deflect asteroid and maybe the results will show that we indeed need to call the deep sea oil drillers.
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So then would it be easier to train oil drillers to become astronauts, or to train astronauts to be oil drillers?
I do not know which one would be easier since I have no training/experience of deep see oil drilling nor becoming an astronaut, but as long as the ones that would go to asteroid have the sufficient skills and training (even Bruce Willis), I would be happy.
If budget was no object, which asteroid would you most like to send a mission to?
Nice question! For me, I'd be looking at an asteroid we know something about, since I would be interested in using it for testing how we could extract resources from it. So for me, I would choose Itokawa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/25143_Itokawa), which was visited by Hayabusa spacecraft. So we already have some solid prospecting carried out for this 'roid! - AC
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Not sure if it counts as an asteroid, but Detlef and myself would probably choose ʻOumuamua, the first discovered interstellar object.
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Do we even have the capability to catch up to something like that screaming through our solar system? That thing has to have a heck of a velocity to just barrel almost straight through like that.
DVK: Correct, that would be a real challenge. We are preparing for a mission called 'Comet Interceptor' that is meant to fly to an interstellar object or at least a fresh comet - but it will not catch up with it, it will only perform a short flyby.
After proving to be able to land on one, could an asteroid serve as a viable means to transport goods and or humans throughout the solar system when the orbit of said asteroid proves beneficial. While it is probably quite problematic to land the payload, it could save fuel or am I mistaken?
Neat idea! Wonder if anyone has done the maths on the amount of fuel you would need/save vs certain targets. - AC
PM: To further complement, the saving is quite marginal indeed because in order to land (softly) on the asteroid you actually need to get into the very same orbit of that asteroid . At that point your orbit remains the same whether you are on the asteroid or not..
can the current anti-ballistic missiles systems intercept a terminal phase earth strike asteroid? or it is better to know beforehand and launch an impacting vehicle into space?
DVK: While I do see presentations on nuclear explosions to deflect asteroids at our professional meetings, I have not seen anybody yet studying how we could use existing missile systems. So it's hard to judge whether existing missiles would do the job. But in general, it is better to know as early as possible about a possible impact and deflect it as early as possible. This will minimize the needed effort.
How much are we prepared against asteroid impacts at this moment?
DVK: 42… :-) Seriously – I am not sure how to quantify ‘preparedness’. We have international working groups in place, mentioned earlier (search for IAWN, SMPAG). We have a Planetary Defence Office at ESA, a Planetary Defense Office at NASA (who spots the difference?), search the sky for asteroids, build space missions… Still we could be doing more. More telescopes to find the object, a space-based telescope to discover those that come from the direction of the Sun. Different test missions would be useful, … So there is always more we could do.
Have you got any data on the NEO coverage? Is there estimations on the percentage of NEOs we have detected and are tracking? How can we improve the coverage? How many times have asteroids been able to enter earths atmosphere without being detected beforehand?
As expected, we are now nearly complete for the large ones, while many of the smaller ones are still unknown.
In order to improve coverage, we need both to continue the current approach, centered on ground-based telescopes, and probably also launch dedicated telescopes to space, to look at the fraction of the sky that cannot be easily observed from the ground (e.g., towards the Sun).
Regarding the last part of your question, small asteroids enter the Earth atmosphere very often (the infographics above gives you some numbers), while larger ones are much rarer.
In the recent past, the largest one to enter our atmosphere was about 20 meters in diameter, and it caused the Chelyabinsk event in 2013. It could not be detected in advance because it came from the direction of the Sun.
We have however detected a few small ones before impact. The first happened in 2008, when a ~4-meter asteroid was found to be on a collision course less than a day before impact, it was predicted to fall in Northern Sudan, and then actually observed falling precisely where (and when) expected.
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DVK: And to add what MM said - Check out http://neo.ssa.esa.int. There is a ‘discovery statistics’ section which provides some of the info you asked about. NASA is providing similar information here https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/stats/. To see the sky which is currently covered by the survey telescopes, you need to service of the Minor Planet Center which we all work together with: http://www.minorplanetcenter.org, ‘observers’, ‘sky coverage’. That is a tool we use to plan where we look with our telescopes, so it is a more technical page.
Are there any automatic systems for checking large numbers of asteroids orbits, to see if the asteroid's orbit is coming dangerously close to Earth, or is it done by people individually for every asteroid? I ask it because LSST Rubin is coming online soon and you know it will discover a lot of new asteroids.
Yes, such systems exist, and monitor all known and newly discovered asteroids in order to predict possible future impacts.
It is automatically updated every day once new observational data is processed.
What are your favourite sci-fi series?
DVK: My favorites are ‘The Expanse’, I also liked watching ‘Salvation’. For the first one I even got my family to give me a new subscription to a known internet streaming service so that I can see the latest episodes. I also loved ‘The Jetsons’ and ‘The Flintstones’ as a kid. Not sure the last one counts as sci-fi though. My long-time favorite was ‘Dark Star’.
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Big fan of The Expanse at the moment. Nice, hard sci-fi that has a good impression of being grounded in reality - AC
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When I was a kid I liked The Jetsons, when growing up Star Trek, Star wars and I also used to watch with my sister the 'V'.
When determining the potential threat of a NEA, is the mass of an object a bigger factor or size? I'm asking because I'm curious if a small but massive object (say, with the density of Psyche) could survive atmospheric entry better than a comparatively larger but less massive object.
The mass is indeed what really matters, since it’s directly related with the impact energy.
And as you said composition also matters, a metal object would survive atmospheric entry better, not just because it’s heavier, but also because of its internal strength.
What are your thoughts on asteroid mining as portrayed in sci-fi movies? Is it feasible? If so would governments or private space programs be the first to do so?What type of minerals can be found on asteroids that would merit the costs of extraction?
Certainly there is valuable stuff you can find on asteroids. For example, the likely easiest material you can harvest from an asteroid would be volatiles such as H2O. Then you have industrial metals, things like Iron, Nickel, and Platinum group metals. Going further, you can break apart many of the oxide minerals you would find to get oxygen (getting you closer to producing rocket fuel in-situ!). Its feasible, but still needs alot of testing both here on Earth and eventually needs to be tested on a target. It may be that governments, via agencies like ESA or NASA, may do it first, to prove the principles somewhat, but I know many commercial entities are also aggresively working towards space mining. To show you that its definitely possible, I'd like to plug the work of colleagues who have processed lunar regolith (which is similar to what you may find on asteroids) to extract both oxygen and metals. Check it out here: http://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2019/10/Oxygen_and_metal_from_lunar_regolith
Will 2020's climax be a really big rock?
DVK: Let's hope not...
Considering NASA, ESA, IAU etc. is working hard to track Earth-grazing asteroids, how come the Chelyabinsk object that airburst over Russia in 2013 came as a total surprise?
The Chelyabinsk object came from the direction of the Sun, where unfortunately ground-based telescopes cannot look at. Therefore, it would not have been possible to discover it in advance with current telescopes. Dedicated space telescopes are needed to detect objects coming from this direction in advance.
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Is this to say that it was within specific solid angles for the entire time that we could have observed it given its size and speed?
Yes, precisely that. We got unlucky in this case.
Have any of you read Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven? In your opinion, how realistic is his depiction of an asteroid strike on Earth?
DVK: I have – but really long ago, so I don’t remember the details. But I do remember that I really liked the book, and I remember I always wanted to have a Hot Fudge Sundae when reading it.
I was thinking about the asteroid threat as a teen and came up with this ideas (Hint: they are not equally serious, the level of craziness goes up real quick). Could you please comment on their feasibility? 1. Attaching a rocket engine to an asteroid to make it gradually change trajectory, do that long in advance and it will miss Earth by thousands of km 2. Transporting acid onto asteroid (which are mainly metal), attaching a dome-shaped reaction chamber to it, using heat and pressure to then carry out the chemical reaction to disintegrate asteroids 3. This one is even more terrible than a previous one and totally Dan Brown inspired — transporting antimatter on asteroid, impacting and causing annihilation. Thank you for this AMA and your time!
DVK: Well the first one is not so crazy, I have seen it presented... the difficulty is that all asteroids are rotating in one way or another. So if you continuously fire the engine it would not really help. You'd need to switch the engine on and off. Very complex. And landing on an asteroid is challenging too. Just using the 'kinetic impactor' which we will test with DART/Hera (described elsewhere in this chat) is simpler. Another seriously proposed concept is to put a spacecraft next to an asteroid and use an ion engine (like we have on our Mercury mission BepiColombo) to 'push' the asteroid away.
As for 2 and 3 I think I will not live to see that happening ;-)
What is the process to determine the orbit of a newly discovered asteroid?
The process is mathematically quite complex, but here's a short summary.
Everything starts with observations, in particular with measurements of the position of an asteroid in the sky, what we call "astrometry". Discovery telescopes extract this information from their discovery images, and make it available to everybody.
These datapoints are then used to calculate possible trajectories ("orbits") that pass through them. At first, with very few points, many orbits will be possible.
Using these orbits we can extrapolate where the asteroid will be located during the following nights, use a telescope to observe that part of the sky, and locate the object again.
From these new observations we can extract new "astrometry", add it to the orbit determination, and see that now only some of the possible orbits will be compatible with the new data. As a result, we now know the trajectory better than before, because a few of the possible orbits are not confirmed by the new data.
The cycle can then continue, with new predictions, new observations, and a more accurate determination of the object's orbit, until it can be determined with an extremely high level of accuracy.
What are some asteroids that are on your "watchlist"?
It's called "risk list", and it includes all known asteroids for which we cannot exclude a possible impact over the next century. It is updated every day to include newly discovered asteroids, and remove those that have been excluded as possible impactors thanks to new observations.
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That's quite a list!! Do you guys ever feel stressed or afraid when you have to add another dangerous candidate (and by dangerous I mean those above 200m) is added to this Risk List?
Yes, when new dangerous ones are added it's important that we immediately do our best to gather more data on them, observing them with telescopes in order to get the information we need to improve our knowledge of their orbit.
And then the satisfaction of getting the data needed to remove one from the list is even greater!
What inspired you to go into this field of study?
I was fascinated by astronomy in general since I was a kid, but the actual "trigger" that sparked my interest in NEOs was a wonderful summer course on asteroids organized by a local amateur astronomers association. I immediately decided that I would do my best to turn this passion into my job, and I'm so happy to have been able to make that dream come true.
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DVK: I started observing meteors when I was 14, just by going outside and looking at the night sky. Since then, small bodies in the solar system were always my passion.
As a layperson, I still think using nuclear weapons against asteroids is the coolest method despite better methods generally being available. Do you still consider the nuclear option the cool option, or has your expertise in the field combined with the real-life impracticalities made it into a laughable/silly/cliche option?
DVK: We indeed still study the nuclear option. There are legal aspects though, the ‘outer space treaty’ forbids nuclear explosions in space. But for a large object or one we discover very late it could be useful. That’s why we have to focus on discovering all the objects out there as early as possible – then we have time enough to use more conventional deflection methods, like the kinetic impactor (the DART/Hera scenario).
It seems like doing this well would require international cooperation, particularly with Russia. Have you ever reached out to Russia in your work? Do you have a counterpart organization there that has a similar mission?
DVK: Indeed international cooperation is important - asteroids don't know about our borders! We work with a Russian team to perform follow-up observations of recently discovered NEOs. Russia is also involved in the UN-endorsed working groups that we have, IAWN and SMPAG (explained in another answer).
If multiple videos or pictures, taken from different locations, are available, then it's possible to reconstruct the trajectory, and extrapolate where the object came from.
Regarding the composition, it's a bit more difficult if nothing survives to the ground, but some information can be obtained indirectly from the fireball's color, or its fragmentation behavior. If a spectral analysis of the light can be made, it's then possible to infer the chemical composition in much greater detail.
I've always wanted to know what the best meteorite buying site is and what their average price is??
DVK: Serious dealers will be registered with the 'International Meteorite Collectors Association (IMCA)' - https://www.imca.cc/. They should provide a 'certificate of authenticity' where it says that they are member there. If you are in doubt, you can contact the association and check. Normally there are rough prices for different meteorite types per gram. Rare meteorites will of course be much more expensive than more common ones. Check the IMCA web page to find a dealer close to you.
Just read through Aidans link to the basaltic rock being used as a printing material for lunar habitation. There is a company called Roxul that does stone woven insulation that may be able to shed some light on the research they have done to minimize their similarity to asbestos as potentially carcinogenic materials deemed safe for use in commercial and residential applications. As the interior surfaces will essentially be 3D printed lunar regolith what are the current plans to coat or dampen the affinity for the structure to essentially be death traps for respiratory illness?
At least initially, many of these 3d printed regolith structures would not be facing into pressurised sections, but would rather be elements placed outside and around our pressure vessels. Such structures would be things like radiation shields, landing pads or roadways, etc. In the future, if we move towards forming hermetically sealed structures, then your point is a good one. Looking into terrestrial solutions to this problem would be a great start! - AC
What kind of career path does it take to work in the asteroid hunting field?
It's probably different for each of us, but here's a short summary of my own path.
I became interested in asteroids, and near-Earth objects in particular, thanks to a wonderful summer course organized by a local amateur astronomers association. Amateur astronomers play a great role in introducing people, and young kids in particular, to these topics.
Then I took physics as my undergrad degree (in Italy), followed by a Ph.D. in astronomy in the US (Hawaii in particular, a great place for astronomers thanks to the exceptional telescopes hosted there).
After finishing the Ph.D. I started my current job at ESA's NEO Coordination Centre, which allowed me to realize my dream of working in this field.
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DVK: Almost all of us have a Master's degree either in aerospace engineering, mathematics, physics/astronomy/planetary science, or computer science. Some of us - as MM - have a Ph.D. too. But that's not really a requirement. This is true for our team at ESA, but also for other teams in other countries.
What is the likelihood of an asteroid hitting the Earth In the next 200 years?
Have you played the Earth Defence Force games and if you have, which one is your favourite?
No I have not played the Earth Defence Force games, but I just looked it up and I think I would liked it. Which one would you recommend?
How close is too close to earth? Space is a SUPER vast void so is 1,000,000 miles close, 10,000,000? And if an asteroid is big enough can it throw earth off its orbit?
DVK: Too close for my taste is when we compute an impact probability > 0 for the object. That means the flyby distance is zero :-) Those are the objects on our risk page http://neo.ssa.esa.int/risk-page.
If an object can alter the orbit of another one, we would call it planet. So unless we have a rogue planet coming from another solar system (verrry unlikely) we are safe from that.
Are you aware of any asteroids that are theoretically within our reach, or will be within our reach at some point, that are carrying a large quantity of shungite? If you're not aware, shungite is like a 2 billion year old like, rock stone that protects against frequencies and unwanted frequencies that may be traveling in the air. I bought a whole bunch of the stuff. Put them around the la casa. Little pyramids, stuff like that.
DVK: If I remember my geology properly, Shungite forms in water sedimental deposits. This requires liquid water, i.e. a larger planet. So I don't think there is a high chance to see that on asteroids.
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