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.
So long as they don't have frickin' "lasers" attached to their heads. Then we'd all be in trouble.
Bah! You beat me to it...... :-)
Then read Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle.
This is something we need to be serious about. Planning and hardware must be in place when (not if) the event occurs. You can't throw something together at the last minute and expect it to save our butts.
"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."
Name the last one, pal. Wasn't WWII the most destructive power we've seen in the 20th century? If there was a natural disaster of that magnitude, I missed it.
How do these clowns who guesstimate EVERYTHING now KNOW that these calamities WILL happen any time now?
"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."
- Now THERE'S the solution - ANOTHER government research program! They'll fix it-they can fix ANYTHING!
I thought from the old thread last week that we only have until this Friday, June 18 before the asteroids start falling and wiping out life on this planet.
I've never heard of a single American ever dying from a meteor impact but I do remember several airline crashes. Obviously a large enough meteor strike would kill all Americans but for the average person at any single point in time, the odds aren't equivelant. This is one of those ridiculous stats that has no empirical basis.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena has been tracking asteroids, both past and future. They know all the dates, locations, distances in their Near Earth Object Program clear out to the year 2100.
For the record, I do not support asteroids and comets.
Remember when BIC lighters were killing people by the dozen by exploding in people's pocketS?
Well, that WAS before the safety locks,
and before the three day waiting period,
and before the no bic zones around schools,
and before bic proof vests,
and before the assault bic.
Everyone has a right to fire, we all know this, but the
founding fathers really only had in mind flint and steel or
perhaps matches BUT NOTHING MORE than that.
Ummm, not quite all. Think of the earth as being in the center of a large dinner plate. The Jet Propulsion Lab is watching everything toward the outer edge of the plate, and about an inch above and below the surface of the plain. They do not have the resources or capabilities to watch what is directly above or below the plate. This is where the "close encounters" are reported after the asteroid or meteor passes. Until there are satellites with the capability of watching above and below, the Jet Propulsion Lab is working on a two dimensional view in three dimensional space. That's were the vast majority of asteroids and meteors are present, but it's one from the small fraction that'll probably get us.
Best advice... don't worry about it.
I live about 100 miles Northeast of Reelfoot lake.
Well, if India were struck, we'd get quite a few jobs back here on our shores <\outsourcewhine>.
Did you just reffer toa multi-megaton H-Bomb as a "physics package"?
I wonder if the government would tell us, if they knew some asteroid or whatever a mile across was PROBABLY going to hit earth and they knew the day and time. Opinions?
IMHO,no, never happen. For one , even the best scientist don't know till the last minute if it will bounce off or not and two, it would cause mass violence just on speculation.
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