2012? If Doomsday Does Come,
2040 May Be a Much Better Year
The supposed end of the Maya Calendar, said by some to be a sure bet that the world will end Dec. 21 of this year, has predictably attracted the wide array of messianic nuts and opportunistic religious leaders with but one thing in their minds: to pick your pockets.
They shouldn’t bother trying to find signs, in some flawed translation of a pre-written language era, of what they clearly revel in declaring that it’s all your fault. That’s because science has already plenty of possible (useless) explanations for the causes of our eventual doomsday.
Chief among them are asteroids, those high-speed rocks that periodically seem to get our address in space right, and grant us with a catastrophic visit. Doom, thy name is 2011 AG5, which, if astronomers’ are right, has some pretty good odds of hitting us mid-sentence.
But if it seems that they’ve been more frequent lately, that’s just an illusion. For even though our ability to detect and tract the big bad ones is still unreliable and spotted at best, we are catching more and more of them in the act of conspiring against our civilization.
Still, we have been very lucky indeed: those that have managed to trick our watch and get close, so far, have all missed us, thank goodness. And if they dare getting on track to smash onto our planet, we will take several evading measures, right? Right? What do you mean, we don’t know yet?
A NEW BLOCK THAT’S NOT KIDDING
No one knows where it’s coming from. At about 460 feet wide, it’s big enough to cause considerable destruction, if not to do us in. And it may get real close by 2040, which is a very short time if we’re to do something about it. Meet the AG5, our most recent space traveler foe.
If it’s confirmed that this zinger is a real threat, 28 years may not be enough to prepare for his visit. Which in any case, would mean to prevent it from even visiting our Solar System. And that’s the real concern of scientists the world over: we don’t really know how to do that.
People talk about the two currently preferred methods to avoid a collision, both inadequate, unpractical and very likely ineffective. Some consider sending a rocket to somehow deflect it. Others suggest we simply nuke it in outer space.
Since we just close the shuttle program, and de-facto put on hold the nation’s space exploration dreams for absolute lack of funding, it’s hard to imagine it’d be there for a yet unproven, highly challenging and riskier than any other mission to space we’ve ever attempted.
And don’t count on fear to drive us to do something; it can always lead to even more irrational decisions and, let’s face it, for this kind of potential hazard in a planetary scale, all we don’t want to be is irrational. Let’s leave that to those who’re expecting the rapture.
LANDING ON A SHOOTING STAR
NASA, the U.N. action team on Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) and pretty much all scientific community have been discussing the possibility of sending a manned mission to an asteroid for years now. We’ve already orbited, crashed and landed on some of them, but sending a human would be a world of difference.
Theoretically, some kind of propulsion package could be ‘installed’ on the surface of the rock, with enough power to change its direction. Such an incredibly complex mission would definitely need an astronaut crew to conduct it. But how much power are we talking about here?
One notional concept examined by NASA’s Human Exploration Framework Team would imply three launches of a heavy-lift rocket and the development of chemical and solar-electric propulsion systems, as well as a habitation module. And even if it’d set in motion now, it wouldn’t be operational before 2031.
But that’s the most logically safe solution. The other possibility is simply crazy. There’s no way of knowing what a nuclear blast in space would cause, let alone if it wouldn’t make everything terribly worse by blowing the object to millions of incandescent smithereens that would ultimately shower Earth.
DIMINISHED EXPECTATIONS AGE
But to believe that we’d rally around a global defense of our planet, as they so easily do in the movies, is almost as believing that, on a clear day in December, a chariot of fire full of Mayans, possibly even carrying a blue-eyed Jesus in a throne, would land on the lawn of the National Mall.
Scientists may continue studying ways to do it till one of this runaway rocks comes calling. But people wouldn’t be easily sold into the idea, which in itself sounds way more boring than to go back to the Moon or start a long-term trip to Mars.
Not that any of these two destinations are anyway near the top of things for humans to do in the coming years. Judging by the high honed financial ambition but otherwise general mediocrity of U.S. elected officials, circa 2012, even a new escalator for Congress will receive a higher priority seal.
Asteroids, meteorites, comets and other fast-pacing space travelers are a trove of scientific knowledge to be gained about the origins of the universe, the secrets of the Solar System, life and everything, paraphrasing Douglas Adams.
Most of mankind at this moment remain unmoved to such questions and are, in fact, too busy killing each other to pay attention. Who cares, for example, that the meteorite that crashed in Norway this month has probably smashed on another planet before it was propelled into outer space?
HELL’S OLD-FASHIONED COMFORTS
So all this business of sending expensive missions to asteroids, unless they’re right outside our door, in which case it’d be too late to do anything about it, is of no concern to the majority of humans living now. Hunger, war miseries and getting the new iPad seem to be higher on their list.
On that context, the twisted logic of alarmist cult leaders winds up holding more appeal to a lot of people, since they charge for their elaborated concoctions of paranoia and religious zealotry. Scientists, armed only of unglamorous facts, are no match to them.
For many, even the prospect of earthly damnation are of not much importance, since it’s the ‘eternal life,’ possibly near where the asteroids come from, and maybe with a hot tube or too, that may offer them a greater reward. With the added benefit of not needing to do anything else, besides believing in it.