Hey, Mayans, are you SURE you didn’t mean 2013?


Artist's Rendition of a Catastrophic Asteroid ImpactI often lie awake at night wondering if a chunk of space rock the size of Tuvalu is hurtling towards Earth with aspirations of causing a nice little extinction level event. I used to do that anyway, but ever since yesterday’s explosion of a meteor over Russia injured a few hundred of our erstwhile Cold War enemies, my anxiety level has ratcheted up significantly. Of course, I tried to ease my mind by watching three consecutive episodes of Mega Disaster: Asteroid Impact on The History Channel, which lowered my stress level about as effectively as gouging my own heart out with a spoon could have accomplished.

Waiting for a big hunk of rock or iron from outer space wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have abundant evidence all over the world of our celestial lifeboat’s storied and tragic history with big hunks of rock and iron from outer space. Even casual scientific readers and fans of Disney’s Dinosaur are familiar with the Chicxulub Crater most astro-geologists believe is the remains of the Earth w/ asteroid collision that ended the Age of the Dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and even that little slice of joy pie pales next to the supposed impact that produced “The Great Dying” or what scientific types call the Permian-Triassic Extinction. That impact, if it actually WAS an impact (some scientists disagree), over 250 million years ago, wiped out 95-98% of ALL LIFE ON EARTH. Gives a whole new meaning to “being the 1%” doesn’t it?

Trees near the Tunguska Event epicenter 20 years after the blast occurred.

Trees near the Tunguska Event epicenter 20 years after the blast occurred.

If all that doesn’t bother you much, consider this — yesterday’s explosion over Russia isn’t even the biggest explosion the largest country in the world has ever seen. Within living memory (albeit a very small, very select, and quickly shrinking number of memories) SOMETHING blew up in the sky over the Siberian forest near the Stony Tunguska River and flattened half a million acres of the aforementioned forest. The most likely culprit is a meteor “only” 100 feet in diameter FIVE MILES over the Earth. We’re talking a boom bigger than a Hiroshima / Nagasaki type explosion almost four decades before the birth of the Atomic Age. Luckily the blast occurred way out in the middle of B.F.E. A similar event over any modern city today would flatten the place and, keep in mind, that’s just a baby meteor.

Apophis the night it was discovered in 2004. The asteroid is indicated by a faint circle drawn around it.

Apophis the night it was discovered in 2004. The asteroid is indicated by a faint circle drawn around it.

Thanks to NASA’s efforts to catalog near-Earth objects, we know some big hunks of burning rocky love are wandering around the neighborhood close enough to Earth orbit to eventually wander into our path and impact us. Some of those are big enough to reset the biological clock on this  Pale Blue Dot back to ten minutes ’til bacteria. I live in fear of something out of a movie like Asteroid, Deep Impact or Armageddon. As recently as March of 2009, a Tunguska sized asteroid passed within 44,000 miles of Earth. That’s WAY closer than the Moon. Then we wait and see what happens in 2029 when a rock named Apophis for the ancient Egyptian god of destruction will, theoretically, pass between the earth and SOME SATELLITES. For all the laypeople like me in the audience, that translates in to “holy crap that was close!” Just to put some extra stress spice on the worry cake, if Apophis passes within a tiny (in space terms) area known as a gravitational keyhole when it swings by in 2029, its trajectory will change just enough so that its NEXT visit in 2036 will smack Earth head on. BTW, for anyone wondering, Apophis is what astronomers refer to as a “planet killer.”

I know a lot of people think I’m nuttier than Aunt Alice’s Black Walnut and Rum cake for worrying about getting hit by an asteroid. After all, as smart as the governments of the world are, they could protect us, right?! Right?!! Most governments are like ours and can’t agree on Coke or Pepsi for a lunch break drink, much less possessing a level of organization on a planetary scale to halt the end of the world as we know it (cue Michael Stipes). Well, just in case your faith in them is about like mine, check out this video of what COULD happen if we encounter something like Apophis and remember it’s ALREADY happened before . . . twice . . . at least. If that doesn’t keep you up tonight just consider scientists estimate we would need at least ten to fifteen years of lead time  to have any chance of altering the orbit of an asteroid with Earth’s name on it and that’s IF we see it coming. Astronomers warn of asteroids whose orbits bring them “out of the Sun” towards us will be impossible to detect until it’s entirely too late to do anything but put our heads between our legs and kiss our butts goodbye. That is unless THESE guys can help us:

Guys? Y'all got this, right? Bruce? Guys?

Guys? Y’all got this, right? Bruce? Guys?

And on that cheery note I will close with saying, Love y’all and keep those feet clean because if we’re going to be vaporized by an asteroid collision, we’ll need clean feet and fresh underwear.

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