Skip to comments.Asteroids and Comets: Deadly Dangers from Above
Posted on 06/15/2004 8:13:21 AM PDT by missyme
Scientists are concerned about terrorism like many of us are today, but not from people -- from outer space.
Asteroids and comets constantly spin near us, threatening death and destruction. A dead-on hit by the largest of these cosmic cannonballs could mean the end of life as we know it.
Now is the time for a new age of exploration and discovery, to go seek out the universe -- but maybe it's the reverse -- the universe may be coming after us, in the form of comets or asteroids. Physics and astronomy professors like Gary Copeland at Old Dominion University are predicting 'an event' could be right around the corner. "We'll get one to two events per century that will be equal to all the destructive power of all the weapons in World War II."
That would mean that the event would be equivalent to the total destructive power of every bullet, every shell, every mortar, every bomb of WW II hitting at once -- including the atomic ones.
The last space projectile of this magnitude was a mere 200 feet across. The asteroid struck central Russia in 1908, and the resulting fireball torched miles and miles of forest. But fortunately, the area was nearly uninhabited.
Copeland remarked, "If it [the central Russian asteroid] had happened over New York City, it would have been a different ball game."
CBN News asked him, "Meaning millions killed?" Copeland replied, "Yes, yes."
Hollywood envisioned this scenario with the movie, "Deep Impact." In the movie, it is discovered that two comets are on a collision course with Earth.
But while Hollywood may sensationalize the risk, members of Congress are seriously concerned. Representative Dana Rohrbacher, who leads the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, said, "There is a threat to us and to our lives, of objects coming from space that could hit our planet and kill millions of people. It's happened in the past and it will happen in the future. The question is when, and how many people will be affected. "
Not so long ago, science assumed the risk was even smaller for these extremely rare events. But better technology means we're discovering more, and finding a higher risk than was first believed.
Any actual strike brings some devastation, and with the planet's surface two-thirds water, well, that's a big target.
Copeland said, "There's probably evidence that several things like this happened in previous centuries, but they didn't land on Earth. On water is where they hit, and of course, they produced the Tsunamis, the tidal waves."
Copeland says the impact of a space object can generate 900-foot waves, similar to the impact envisioned in Hollywood films. And if there is little advance warning, low-lying areas near the strike are more than vulnerable. "It's not survivable, nor is it escapable," says Copeland. "You get in your car and try to drive away, meanwhile a wave moving at 600 miles an hour comes in. There's no way."
And how about a sizable mass that hit in the Atlantic? Copeland said that places like Florida, which is pretty flat, "would be inundated, it would disappear for a while."
And a medium-sized strike off the California coast? Also deadly.
But even that much devastation doesn't compare with the mother of all asteroid strikes in the past.
"There's a place in Africa that's a crater over a hundred miles across," Copeland explains. "It wasn't recognized as a crater until they had satellite photographs to see it." The Vredefort crater has a diameter of 185 miles, and was created by an asteroid estimated to be six miles wide.
The damage today from even a much smaller rock could mean long-term global devastation.
An asteroid or comet impact on land would shoot debris high into the atmosphere, and could create year-round winter conditions by blocking sunlight for a year or more. That would lead to unstable weather patterns with a nearly non-existent growing season. And that could mean mass starvation and economic ruin for years.
Part of the reason asteroids and comets can pack so much damage is their velocity. Comets generally travel faster than asteroids, as fast as 150,000 miles an hour, meaning they could pack a bigger punch. Don't get too comfortable, though, the slowest asteroids travel at a deadly 25,000 miles an hour.
And don't forget that the pull of the planets can alter the course of asteroids, and especially comets, when Jupiter drags them closer to Earth.
So are we all just doomed if one of these astral assailants strikes right off our shores? Is there anything we can do to stop an asteroid from smashing into our neighborhoods? The truth of the matter is, right now, not much.
But astronomers are getting better at tracking them. Still, with most observatories in the Northern Hemisphere, objects flying in the Southern skies could more easily go undetected. So far, astronomers have discovered 700 or so, out of an estimated 1100 of the largest, most dangerous asteroids.
And each sighting does boost our potential to protect ourselves. There is even a global effort to look for asteroids. That is the Spaceguard Survey, and Congressman Rohrbacher wants to go further, with the Pete Conrad bill.
"The purpose of the Pete Conrad bill," says Rohrbacher, "is to get people looking up, and not just looking down. Certainly we have to worry that we might stumble over things in our path, but we also have to worry about what might be coming at us from up above."
And already on the drawing boards are plans to launch a rocket with a bomb, to divert an asteroid headed our way. That could make the rock speed harmlessly past us. Better science will give us more lead-time on a threat, enabling the kind of evacuations already used for flooding and storms, perhaps even with months or years of advance notice.
University scientists are already working on the problem of an asteroid or comet collision, but they really need more research to accurately assess the danger. With funding, that could take about 10 years, and by then government officials could come up with a plan to at least minimize the potential global impact.
Why do we feel the need to scare ourselves constantly? I know, I know, the media loves to inflate risks to inflate ratings...
Remember when BIC lighters were killing people by the dozen by exploding in people's pocketS?
They were there long before us, and they'll be there long after we're dust. Why worry?
I guess cause "Little Comets" are entering the earth and of course like the thought process f little eartquakes mean impending "Big One" I guess it is the same thought process for Asteroids..
Ok..Mac..you've had you 15 minutes of fame. Now pull on your elbow patched tweed jacket and smoke your pipe! Jeeeeez!
Back in the summer of 2001 it was the "Shark Attack" stories that were all the rage that entire summer. This year it seems that asteroids are the new media scare story.
What's next "Sharks from outerspace"....???
I have wondered what the reaction would actually be if a large natural disaster were to strike. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 - 100 million deaths. Just exactly how would that change man?
"What's next "Sharks from outerspace"....???"
I'm leaning more toward, "Asteroids from the Deep."
With frickin' laser beams on their heads...
There was a meteor/comet/asteroid impact in 2002 that flattened about 40 miles of forest in siberia. there's a discussion of that plus discussion of half a dozen other meteor strikes in the last couple years at fr here.
It looks like there's a pretty steady rain of space debris.
Although I jest in my post, I have been closely following the info. on recent "Near Earth Objects" on the NASA site. One that is coming near soon is "Ikotawa #25143", scheduled to be near Earth next week around June 24th. Another is "Toutauis" (sp?), scheduled to be close in September.
I can't even wrap my mind around the scope of such an events; and the effects afterwards.
Interestingly, the chance of the average American dying in in a meteor or asteroid impact is about the same as the chance of an average American dying in an airliner crash. (Sounds ridiculous, but think about it carefully.)
The problem with "us" is that "us" hasn't been around for very long. And a lot of life forms before "us" weren't around after large impacts.
Yup. And there's really nothing we can do about it. So, again, why worry?
For an additional fee, I will include my booklet titled "How To Make Money From Foreign Bodies".
Johnny Dork, Mortician
Eh, there are possible ways we could do something about it. It's a bit more complex than simply nuking something incoming, but it may not be an insurmountable problem.
I'd hate to have civilization end and not have explored every possible way to avoid it.
If we get enough fo a lead time, we CAN do something about it.
The NEAR-Shoemaker probe landed on Eros and transmitted scientific data for 16 days after landing. If an unmanned spacecraft carrying scientific insturments can land on an asteroid - an unmanned spacecraft with a "physics package" can land on an asteroid.
Get enough lead time, land the craft on the asteroid, and then activating the "physics package" should make the problem asteroid go away.
Sky is falling bump.