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An Asteroid Missed Earth this Week -What are the Odds that We'll Always be Lucky?

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0133ec8d6aef970b-500wi An asteroid the size of a truck zoomed near Earth this week (June 1), coming closer to us than the moon ever does. The 23-foot-long (7-meter) space rock, named 2009 BD, came within 215,000 miles (346,000 kilometers) of Earth at around 8:51 p.m. EDT (0051 GMT on June 2). The moon's average distance from us is about 239,000 miles (385,000 km).

Stephen Hawking believes that one of the major factors in the possible scarcity of intelligent life in our galaxy is the high probability of an asteroid or comet colliding with inhabited planets.

We have observed, Hawking points out in Life in the Universe, the collision of a comet, Schumacher-Levi, with Jupiter, which produced a series of enormous fireballs, plumes many thousands of kilometers high, hot "bubbles" of gas in the atmosphere, and large dark "scars" on the atmosphere which had lifetimes on the order of weeks.

It is thought the collision of a rather smaller body with the Earth, about 70 million years ago, was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. A few small early mammals survived, but anything as large as a human, would have almost certainly been wiped out.

Through Earth's history such collisions occur, on the average every one million year. If this figure is correct, it would mean that intelligent life on Earth has developed only because of the lucky chance that there have been no major collisions in the last 70 million years. Other planets in the galaxy, Hawking believes, on which life has developed, may not have had a long enough collision free period to evolve intelligent beings.

“The threat of the Earth being hit by an asteroid is increasingly being accepted as the single greatest natural disaster hazard faced by humanity,” according to Nick Bailey of the University of Southampton's School of Engineering Sciences team, who has developed a threat identifying program.[ Image: Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision with Jupiter]

The team used raw data from multiple impact simulations to rank each country based on the number of times and how severely they would be affected by each impact. The software, called NEOimpactor (from NASA's "NEO" or Near Earth Object program), has been specifically developed for measuring the impact of 'small' asteroids under one kilometer in diameter.

Early results indicate that in terms of population lost, China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the United States face the greatest overall threat; while the United States, China, Sweden, Canada and Japan face the most severe economic effects due to the infrastructure destroyed.

The top ten countries most at risk are China, Indonesia, India, Japan, the United States, the Philippines, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Nigeria.

“The consequences for human populations and infrastructure as a result of an impact are enormous,” says Bailey. “Nearly one hundred years ago a remote region near the Tunguska River witnessed the largest asteroid impact event in living memory when a relatively small object (approximately 50 meters in diameter) exploded in mid-air. While it only flattened unpopulated forest, had it exploded over London it could have devastated everything within the M25. Our results highlight those countries that face the greatest risk from this most global of natural hazards and thus indicate which nations need to be involved in mitigating the threat.”

What would happen to the human species and life on Earth in general if an asteroid the size of the one that created the famous K/T Event of 65 million years ago at the end of the Mesozoic Era that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs impacted our planet.

As Stephen Hawking says, the general consensus is that any comet or asteroid greater than 20 kilometers in diameter that strikes the Earth will result in the complete annihilation of complex life - animals and higher plants. (The asteroid Vesta, for example, one of the destinations of the Dawn Mission, is the size of Arizona).

How many times in our galaxy alone has life finally evolved to the equivalent of our planets and animals on some far distant planet, only to be utterly destroyed by an impact? Galactic history suggests it might be a common occurrence.

The first this to understand about the KT event is that is was absolutely enormous: an asteroid (or comet) six to 10 miles in diameter streaked through the Earth's atmosphere at 25,000 miles an hour and struck the Yucatan region of Mexico with the force of 100 megatons -the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb for every person alive on Earth today. Not a pretty scenario!

Recent calculations show that our planet would go into another "Snowball Earth" event like the one that occurred 600 million years ago, when it is believed the oceans froze over (although some scientists dispute this hypothesis -see link below).

While microbial bacteria might readily survive such calamitous impacts, our new understanding from the record of the Earth's mass extinctions clearly shows that plants and animals are very susceptible to extinction in the wake of an impact.

Impact rates depend on how many comets and asteroids exist in a particular planetary system. In general there is one major impact every million years -a mere blink of the eye in geological time. It also depends on how often those objects are perturbed from safe orbits that parallel the Earth's orbit to new, Earth-crossing orbits that might, sooner or later, result in a catastrophic K/T or Permian-type mass extinction.

VredefortThe asteroid that hit Vredefort located in the Free State Province of South Africa is one of the largest to ever impact Earth, estimated at over 10 km (6 miles) wide, although it is believed by many that the original size of the impact structure could have been 250 km in diameter, or possibly larger(though the Wilkes Land crater in Antarctica, if confirmed to have been the result of an impact event, is even larger at 500 kilometers across). The town of Vredefort is situated in the crater (image).

Dating back 2,023 million years, it is the oldest astrobleme found on earth so far, with a radius of 190km, it is also the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome Vredefort bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy release event, which caused devastating global change, including, according to many scientists, major evolutionary changes.

What has kept the Earth "safe" at least the past 65 million years, other than blind luck is the massive gravitational field of Jupiter, our cosmic guardian, with its stable circular orbit far from the sun, which assures a low number of impacts resulting in mass extinctions by sweeping up and scatters away most of the dangerous Earth-orbit-crossing comets and asteroids

The Daily Galaxy via University of Southhampton

Note: This post was adapted from a news release issued by University of Southampton and rationalvedanta.net



Comments

KT was not 100 megatons. The tsar bomba was 50 and we did just fine surviving that.

Has anyone figured out if those coordinates on Google Mars were a hoax?
71 49'19.73"N 29 33'06.53"W

Has it occurred to anyone that there are now considerably fewer larger asteroids in the solar system than there were millions or billions of years ago? Think about it - the solar system started out with a finite number of asteroids, and only a small subset of those asteroids will be large enough to be a serious threat. Every time one of these hits a planet, plunges into the sun, is ejected into deep space, etc, there's one less large asteroids to threaten our planet. Not to mention collisions between large asteroids, which would likely reduce both larger asteroids into numerous smaller (less threatening) asteroids.

So the "average rate" of 1 major impact every million years may be deceiving - an average rate doesn't imply a constant rate.

What would the devastation have been like if the one yesterday had made impact?

The picture is not of 2009BD, it's a photo of Comet McNaught. See here: http://www.astronet.ru/db/xware/msg/apod/2007-01-19

quote: [with the force of 100 megatons -the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb for every person alive on Earth today.]

100 * 1000000 * 1000 / 7000000000 ==> Hiroshima was 14,3kg of dynamite?

Some rounding up for educational purposes can be justified but this one must have slipped through from a parallel universe.

Instead of building up nuclear arsenal by countries to defend enemy countries, all nation should stand and build a system that could blast the asteroids in pieces before hitting our mother planet.else sit and pray

Fighting back is the only method to survive from this monstrous stones.

A very sloppy article, not to mention misleading and a little sensationalist. Pick up your game, folks.

I like cats!

amazing! I just know it.

The article is attempting to mislead people to justify putting money into scientific projects. This type of strategy lowers the trust that the public has for science. Cheating undermines your credibility which is very costly in the long run.

Yes, all warm blooded animals the size of humans were wiped out with the dinosaurs. This does not come close to suggesting that humans would become extinct in a similar impact.

We have mines a mile or more below the surface. We store vast amounts of food in grain silos for many years. Isolated members of each sex could contact each other using radio and other information technology. Our capacity to survive as a species is far beyond that of all the dinosaur species, or any other warm blooded species close to our size.

Nothing natural that has hit the earth since the evolution of complex multicellular life is likely to take out the human race as a species.

What is far more dangerous is that we might do something to kill ourselves off.

It would be very cheap, and might be wise for us to set up a few groups of people in deep mine shafts so they could survive a long time underground and then come back up to repopulate the earth.

Male and female graduate students could study for their exams in these refuges, rotating in and out.

A few million dollars would cover the project, and it might greatly reduce the probability of us being totally wiped out.

Going into space is a much more expensive project that is much less likely to work.

We might want to monitor for smaller rocks. A hit like the one that hit Siberia would on average kill a lot of people and do a lot of damage. It might be worth our effort to avoid that.

TY Jupiter!! =D
Protectin life on earth from those punk-ass comets 'n stuff.
In a way tho, its like were in solar system highschool for cavemen during a rock fight and we lucked out cause we just happened to be hiding in back of a fat kid.

It would be cool watching Earth get hit by an asteroid from the Space Station. Well, until the food and water runs out.

O RLY? The most "at risk" countries are the ones with the most land mass? How common-sensical of your analysis.

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