BAYHAM: Earth’s Close Encounter With The Unkind

Perhaps the Mayans forgot to carry the one?

A few months removed from the end of time, as misattributed to the Mayan calendar, it seems our planet is going to receive a bit of “chin music” courtesy of an asteroid that will hurtle within 17,000 miles of Earth in a matter of hours.

That might seem pretty far off but consider that the moon is 238,900 miles away from the earth and that a weather satellite is about 22,000 miles out, the asteroid is definitely too close for comfort.

The asteroid with the hyper-technical name 2012 DA14 will zip past Indonesia on Friday mid-afternoon.

The asteroid was discovered last year by amateur astronomers in Spain and has an approximate size of 150 feet in diameter, or as BBC News has described the asteroid, the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

What would happen if the giant rock collided with our planet?

We have some idea from the last major meteorite crash, which happened in Siberia on June 30, 1908.

Nothing definitive has been established about what has been termed the Tunguska event or what precisely entered the atmosphere morning, whether it was a comet or an asteroid, though it has been estimated that the extraterrestrial object was about the size of a football field and exploded several miles above earth’s surface. Its shockwave shattered windows hundreds of miles away and knocked down trees within an 800 square mile area.

Soviet scientists inspecting the area two decades later photographed the burned out forests and countless rows of trees snapped like matchsticks.

The force from the explosion has been projected at being 1000 times greater than that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the closing days of World War II.

Had the meteorite struck a major city, it would have marked the deadliest moment in recorded history as thousands of structures would have been annihilated and tens of thousands of people would have been killed.

Though a direct hit from a meteorite of significant size has been calculated as a once in every thousand years event, the potential impact of one should be of great concern.

While a small meteorite could destroy a town, a collision by a large meteorite could wipe out human life on the planet by shrouding the Earth in a giant dust cloud and causing a sudden change in the atmosphere. The threat of a collision or even a near-miss could cause incredible problems across the planet through mass hysteria, rioting and a total breakdown of societal order.

Retired astronauts and scientists have sounded the alarm on the matter for years.

Proposed ideas to avoid such a calamity range from altering the asteroid’s path by crashing a space craft into it or trying to obliterate the object with nuclear weapons.

One of Earth’s best safeguards from a comet or asteroid collision is another planet.

Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, has acted somewhat of a buffer by capturing deadly objects in its powerful gravitational pull.

After getting snagged in its gravitational pull and then orbiting the giant planet for many years, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter in 1994.

The survival of life on Earth cannot be entrusted to unproven scientific schemes, Jupiter and dumb luck alone. Though it will almost certainly pass us by, the most disturbing aspect of this close encounter with the unkind is that we only had a year’s warning about 2012 DA14.

NASA and the global scientific community need to become more vigilant in monitoring for asteroids and comets with a relative heightened probability of striking Earth.

Whether there are such things as aliens is unknown; we do know for certain that giant space rocks exist and we need to be prepared to deflect or destroy an asteroid that could pose a threat to our existence.



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