Asteroid Day: reminding us of the threat, pushing us out into space

Summary: Asteroid Day approaches (mark June 30 on your calendar). To prepare, here are descriptions in film and literature of doom from the sky by comets and asteroids.  Tomorrow’s post shows what we are doing in the real world to prepare.

“The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!”
— Science fiction author Larry Niven, as quoted by Arthur C. Clarke.

Rendezvous With Rama
Available at Amazon.

First, an optimistic scenario:
a disaster pushes us out into space.

From Arthur C. Clarke’s
……..Rendezvous with Rama.

“Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. …In those days, there was nothing that men could do to protect themselves against the last random shots in the cosmic bombardment that had once scarred the face of the Moon. The meteorites of 1908 and 1947 had struck uninhabited wilderness; but by the end of the 21st century, there was no region left on Earth that could be safely used for celestial target practice.

“The human race had spread from pole to pole. And so, inevitably — At 09.46 GMT on the morning of 11 September, in the exceptionally beautiful summer of the year 2077, most of the inhabitants of Europe saw a dazzling fireball appear in the eastern sky. Within seconds it was brighter than the sun, and as it moved across the heavens – at first in utter silence – it left behind it a churning column of dust and smoke.

“Somewhere above Austria it began to disintegrate, producing a series of concussions so violent that more than a million people had their hearing permanently damaged. They were the lucky ones.

Impact on Earth

“Moving at fifty kilometres a second, a thousand tons of rock and metal impacted on the plains of northern Italy, destroying in a few flaming moments the labour of centuries. The cities of Padua and Verona were wiped from the face of the earth; and the last glories of Venice sank for ever beneath the sea as the waters of the Adriatic came thundering landwards after the hammer-blow from space.

“Six hundred thousand people died, and the total damage was more than a trillion dollars. But the loss to art, to history, to science – to the whole human race, for the rest of time — was beyond all computation. It was as if a great war had been fought and lost in a single morning; and few could draw much pleasure from the fact that, as the dust of destruction slowly settled, for months the whole world witnessed the most splendid dawns and sunsets since Krakatoa.

“After the initial shock, mankind reacted with a determination and a unity that no earlier age could have shown. Such a disaster, it was realized, might not occur again for a thousand years – but it might occur tomorrow. And the next time, the consequences could be even worse. Very well; there would be no next time.

“A hundred years earlier a much poorer world, with far feebler resources, had squandered its wealth attempting to destroy weapons launched, suicidally, by mankind against itself. … No meteorite large enough to cause catastrophe would ever again be allowed to breach the defences of Earth. So began Project SPACEGUARD.

… By the year 2130, the Mars-based radars were discovering new asteroids at the rate of a dozen a day. The SPACEGUARD computers automatically calculated their orbits …”

—————————  End excerpt  —————————

 

What are the four kinds of Near Earth Objects (NEOs)

Dan Mazanek of the NASA Langley Research Center discusses ways to protect Earth after discovery of a threatening Near Earth Object. This slide shows the four kinds of NEOs. Against some we will have years to prepare. Against some we will have only days to prepare (time for prayer if it is large).

The four kinds of Near Earth Objects

Lucifer's Hammer
Available at Amazon.

Second, a darker scenario

Lucifer’s Hammer
By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977)

“The gigantic comet had slammed into Earth, forging earthquakes a thousand times too powerful to measure on the Richter scale, tidal waves thousands of feet high. Cities were turned into oceans; oceans turned into steam. It was the beginning of a new Ice Age and the end of civilization. But for the terrified men and women chance had saved, it was also the dawn of a new struggle for survival–a struggle more dangerous and challenging than any they had ever known.” {From the publisher.}

Four films about asteroid impacts

These vividly describe the threat. Excerpt for the fourth one, they are not so accurate about the solution. Today we probably would not see a threat in sufficient time to prepare. Since we have so little space infrastructure — beyond low Earth orbit — we would need a lot of time. Probably many years.

Meteor (1979) — Full film

Deep Impact (1998) trailer

Armageddon 1998 trailer

The real world: The Asteroid Day Video

 

For More Information

To learn more about these shockwaves from the sky…

  • Recommended: Impact Earth! Describe an impact and see its effects. By Purdue U (London).
  • NASA’s website about Near-Earth objects, potential candidates to hit Earth.
  • The Sky Is Falling“, Greg Easterbrook, The Atlantic, June 2008 — “The odds that a potentially devastating space rock will hit Earth this century may be as high as one in 10. So why isn’t NASA trying harder to prevent catastrophe?”
  • No, it’s not: Letter in response to Easterbrook’s article, Prof Nicholas Pinter and Assoc Prof Scott Ishman (Geology, Southern Illinois University), The Atlantic, September 2008.
  • Calibrating Asteroid Impact“, Clark R. Chapman, Science, 29 Dec 2013 — Small impacts might be more frequently than expected, and more dangerous.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about shockwave events, about NASA, and especially Men in space: an expensive trip to nowhere and Why we have not gone into space, & why we will.

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