. . . Only after the rain of space objects ceased could life begin; by then, most asteroids had already either hit something or found stable orbits that do not lead toward planets or moons. Asteroids still exist, but most were assumed to be in the asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, far from our blue world. . . .
. . . These standard assumptions-that remaining space rocks are few, and that encounters with planets were mainly confined to the past-are being upended. On March 18, 2004, for instance, a 30-meter asteroid designated 2004 FH-a hunk potentially large enough to obliterate a city-shot past Earth, not far above the orbit occupied by telecommunications satellites. (Enter ‘2004 FH’ in the search box at Wikipedia and you can watch film of that asteroid passing through the night sky.) . . .
. . . Extrapolating from recent discoveries, NASA estimates that there are perhaps 20,000 potentially hazardous asteroids and comets in the general vicinity of Earth. . . .
. . . The object that hit the Indian Ocean [around 2800 BC] was three to five kilometers across, Abbott believes, and caused a tsunami in the Pacific 600 feet high-many times higher than the 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia. Ancient texts such as Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh support her conjecture, describing an unspeakable planetary flood in roughly the same time period. If the Indian Ocean object were to hit the sea now, many of the world’s coastal cities could be flattened. If it were to hit land, much of a continent would be leveled; years of winter and mass starvation would ensue. . . .
. . . [A]s Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, put it, ‘The odds of a space-object strike during your lifetime may be no more than the odds you will die in a plane crash-but with space rocks, it’s like the entire human race is riding on the plane.’
. . . NASA supports some astronomy to search for near-Earth objects, but the agency’s efforts have been piecemeal and underfunded, backed by less than a tenth of a percent of the NASA budget. And though altering the course of space objects approaching Earth appears technically feasible, NASA possesses no hardware specifically for this purpose, has nearly nothing in development, and has resisted calls to begin work on protection against space strikes. Instead, NASA is enthusiastically preparing to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars on a manned moon base that has little apparent justification. ‘What is in the best interest of the country is never even mentioned in current NASA planning,’ says Russell Schweickart, one of the Apollo astronauts who went into space in 1969, who is leading a campaign to raise awareness of the threat posed by space rocks. “Are we going to let a space strike kill millions of people before we get serious about this?” he asks.
☞ Truly cool that this is a cataclysm we could head off.
Maybe we should try?
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