Spectacular Meteor Blast Over
Russia Steals the Asteroid Show
Something stunning happened while half of the world was sleeping, and a lot of people were waiting today see an asteroid’s close encounter with Earth: another spaceball showed up unexpectedly and exploded over Russia, showering thousands of flaming debris over the frigid land.
So much for the D414 and its rare extreme proximity; it got completely upstaged by a yet to be named heavenly body, smaller but with much better performing skills. Which also managed to injure some one thousand people, cause considerable material damage, all captured on several video recording devices.
As its pictures go viral, fingers will probably be pointed to those who got us all worked out for another underwhelming event, which almost no one watched. Considering the lethal potential that a crash like the one in Russia could’ve had to life on Earth, what was once again displayed was our utter lack of preparation.
But there may be a (burning) silver lining about this blast, as its forensics gets in gear in the months ahead. Besides of including a massive collection of debris over a large swath of inhospitable land, it may likely serve as a testing ground and offer precious clues about its nature, hopefully to the point of helping us get ready for the next.
The fantastic images of the event may also serve as stand in for another event that also happened in Russia, a century and five years ago: the explosion of an object over the gelid forests in the banks of the Tunguska river, which flatten an estimated 80 million trees over an 830 square miles area, according to Wikipedia. Now back to our regular programming.
Checking Us Out
Imagine that at some point today, you’d be walking outside and look up, and out of the thin, blue, chilly and beautiful blue sky, an office building would zip fast by you. Picture that it’d be high up but close enough that you could see its windows, and even a set of desks or two.
Now, never mind that it’d be bigger than a plane. You probably wouldn’t be too worry as to whether it’d crash on Earth, because, well, it simply didn’t belong up there, in the first place. But if it were an asteroid instead, that would certainly be your first thought.
We say that because, as it goes, there’s a piece of rock the size of a small building crossing the skies somewhere above the planet, and if conditions were just slightly different, you’d be able not just to spot it but to watch it crash and, yes, it’d probably be the last thing you’d see on this life.
The asteroid, 2012 DA14 will be zooming by us at about five miles per second, which is really fast, and closer to the ground than the satellites that told you about the weather this morning. It won’t hit us, though, NASA says. In fact, you most likely won’t even see it go by.
Still, it’s a considerable piece of rock, 150 feet across, with power to destroy a whole city, if it were to crash over our heads. The impact would create a charred wasteland in every direction to hundreds of miles away from it. Ah, and again yes, it’d probably kill everyone and everything on sight.
Even with NASA’s diminished budget, and an almost universal neglect about the threat these lethal travelers can represent to life on Earth, we’re finding out that Earth’s traveling through a shooting gallery of thousands of objects just like DA14. They’ve been coming fast at us since pretty much the Big Bang.
The fact that now there are seven billion of us who actually would be very much interested in avoiding being hit by one of them hasn’t really meant that we’re better off now that we were, say, 65 million years ago. You probably don’t remember it, mainly because we were not yet around, but one of these things did hit the planet.
It wiped the then top-of-the-food-chain rulers of Earth, the dinosaurs, as if they were mere bugs, and opened the doors to the dominance of mammals, of whom yours truly, and everyone you know, are descendants. Even though we had nothing to do with that event, we may thank our lucky stars for it to have happened.
PAINT IT BLACK & FORGET IT
The only thing is, now the same kind of event may come after us, and there won’t be any place to hide. Just consider that if the angle of DA14’s trajectory was any stiffer, it’d have come for blood. And since it was first spotted last year, there wouldn’t be time for us to do a damn thing about it.
We’d be, and we still are, sitting ducks. That’s the point when, from the back of the classroom, someone raises their hand and interjects that, yes, but the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs was much bigger. Very good, little Joe. We’ll be sure to send you on your own to wander the wasteland, after anything smaller than that hits, OK?
That’s also when other smartalecs will be jumping at the chance of describing the slightly deranged ideas being discussed to deflect these errant killers from a direct, and likely fatal, hit on Earth. There’s the ‘pulverize it with a nuclear blast’ idea, the ‘send a rocket to crash land on it’ to divert it, even the ‘fresh coat of paint‘ latest concoction.
None of them proven, of course, none of them practical from the point of view of our current technological stage, and none of them being prep in any consistent way. There’s nothing being done about it, except the few worldwide telescopes dedicated to track what’s been estimated to be several hundred thousands objects flying by us at every moment.
GUESS WHO CAME FOR DINNER?
Last year, on April Fool’s of all days, a similarly sized rock, 2012 EG5, got closer to us than the moon. Last December, almost on the very date doomsayers were expecting the end of the world, Toutatis, another one the size of a large mountain, crossed our planet’s path (video) at a safe distance, but close enough to offer us a glimpse of its rugged surface.
Oh, that’s right, asteroids are ugly, and deformed, and odd-shaped, and erratic, and as far as our current technology is concerned, very hard to detect. There are also susceptible at being swayed unexpectedly by large bodies’ gravitational forces, and can show up around the blog, unsteadily, just like your Uncle Bob appeared last year at that baby shower.
Just like him, too, some follow us. And as we still argue whether that dinosaur killer acted alone or in tandem with a gang of ill-reputed volcanoes, scientists have an eye on an object, 2011 AG5 (when it comes to asteroids, even their P.R. is bad, but if we’re to take them seriously, it wouldn’t hurt if we could come up with catchy names for them), that may have Earth’s address.
Despite being small, only some 460 feet across, and having its appointment with us set up for 2040, it does have very high odds of hitting us: one in 625 chances. We’re not talking about the end of civilization here (hey, there’s still time for us to do it ourselves, people), but it’s the highest chance of anyone hurting us, besides ourselves, in a very long time.
TAKE A LOOK AT THAT THING
So, risking turning these reports about approaching asteroids as weary a routine as mass shootings in the U.S., we better get used to the fact that such news will be coming ever more frequent. And that we’re only tracking about 1% of all known flying alien rocks of various sizes. And, naturally, that we don’t know how many more are out there.
In the meantime there are at least two sites where you can monitor celestial events such as today’s flyover of the office building, er, of the small mountain, er, that piece of tough er shifting rock. There are theories about them, too. And past incredible events of one of our own visiting one of them. And the general feeling that we might as well enjoy this Friday as if we’ll be living forever. It’d be a completely waste to believe it otherwise anyway.
* The Uninvited
* Ready to Roll By
* Shooting Stars
* New Rock on the Block