Near-Earth objects or NEOs may seem like an existence shattering concepts, but author Andrew May notes that these are a daily occurrence and do not usually pose a threat. Accordingly, a catastrophic asteroid impact is not to happen anytime soon, but the risk remains real.
Andrew May’s new book “Cosmic Impact: Understanding the Threat to Earth from Asteroids and Comets,” tackles the possible threat to the planet or lack thereof. May writes that “in an average day, about 100 tons of meteor dust falls on the planet. One of the best places to find it is on non-porous surfaces like city rooftops and gutters. The sludge in your gutter almost certainly contains a few particles that came from outer space.”
A Chicxulub-like Asteroid Would Bring Destruction To Our Planet
Not sure if people are worrying too much over space dust but they sure worry about massive, extinction event caused by asteroids like the one that massacred the dinosaurs. The asteroid in question was 69 miles in length. It hit the Yucatan Peninsula in present Mexico 66 million years ago and left a crater 124-mile long crater, named Chicxulub. Such an impact concluded with Earth’s envelopment in fire and ash, blocking sunlight and ruining things for the dinosaurs.
“The devastation would be so much larger than anything in human experience that it’s difficult to imagine. If the impact occurred in the sea, the water would boil. If it were on land, vast areas would be ravaged by firestorms. The dust thrown up by a Chicxulub-sized impact would prevent sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface for months — maybe even years — to come,” said May.
Catastrophic Asteroid Impact Not To Happen Anytime Soon
It is believed that we are quite safe from an asteroid impact, at least in our lifetime.
NEOs are judged according to the Torino Scale ( scale from 1-10 ), that calculates their sizes and probability of hitting the planet over 100 years.
The year of 2004 marked great concern as a class 4 NEO, coming in at 350 meters in length, was spotted in the vicinity. It was calculated that the odds of impact were more significant than 1 percent. Its size could have led to an explosion in the range of thousands of megatons, with Hiroshima weighing in at just 0.02 megatons. The asteroid could have impacted Earth in 2029, but further calculations dismissed that event.
Not many are aware, but humanity has experienced a severe asteroid impact in the recent past. Although not an extinction event, it was the most significant impact ever recorded directly. The object was between 30-70 meters long and had the force of around ten megatons. It collided on June 30th, 1908 in the Tunguska River valley, in Siberia, with no recorded casualties. Herein lies the lucky part. Due to the fact it landed in an entirely unpopulated region, humanity was saved many millions of lives and other social impacts.
Measures Against Threatening Asteroids
First of all, a NEO must be spotted if any measures for defense are to take place. A nuclear weapon is the main thought that comes to mind. But if it would be successful in destroying an asteroid, the many surviving fragments are believed to cause as much damage. Scientists posit that the only practical solution would be to alter the asteroid’s orbit to prevent any form of contact whatsoever.
The problematic part is devising a strategy where said orbit might be changed using delivering a nuclear weapon near or on the asteroid surface. Something that might require a craft that could match the speed the object is traveling — a fabulous feat for humanity, in and of itself.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.