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Near-Earth Objects

On March 8, 2002, an asteroid went hurling pass the planet Earth, at a distance slightly more than 1.2 times the distance to the Moon.  The asteroid, coming from the direction of the sun, was not detected until four days after its near-earth approach.  Asteroid 2002 EM7, whose largest dimension was roughly 2/3rd of a football field, had a destructive capacity of a 4-megaton nuclear bomb (had it hit the earth) -- just slightly more than that of the Tunguska Explosion in Siberia in 1908.  Had it hit or exploded near Atlanta, Georgia, for example, it would have flattened the entire city.  

Asteroid 2002 EM7 has the distinction of being one of the ten closest known asteroids to approach Earth -- or at least those of which astronomers are aware.  Based on the lack of notice until it was departing the area, there seems to be a lot of space rock of which astronomers are not aware.  Certainly, anything coming from the direction of the sun will typically not be seen, taking everyone by surprise, including whoever experiences a close encounter of the devastating kind.  

The good news is almost all of these rocks spend a significant portion of their orbit outside the Earth’s orbit, i.e. away from the sun, and thus can be detected, their orbits plotted, and predictions made as to whether or not the Earth might be hit in the future.  We now know, for example, 2002 EM7 could hit the Earth in 2093.  The odds of collision are dependent upon more data and refined calculations; and may be increased or decreased in the future.  Such variations may also result from political machinations.  

For the moment, it’s worth noting that 2002 EM7 was considerably smaller than dozens of potential planet killers (a half mile in dimension or larger) still lurking in the inner solar system.  Rocks smaller than 2002 EM7, on the other hand, could still do serious damage by plunging into an ocean and unleashing monster tidal waves on coastal areas.  All these objects follow elliptical orbits, and what is often not mentioned is the possibility of two or more of the objects interacting in such a way as to change a near-miss orbit into a hit.  

NASA maintains a “Near-Earth Object Program” (<http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/>, which maintains an updated list of what’s close and what’s not.  On July 25, 2002, for example,  Asteroid 2000 PH5 was scheduled for a pass about 4.5 lunar distances away -- with a repeat visit the following year (at theoretically the same distance).  Asteroid 1999 AN10, on the other hand is scheduled to be cruising by at one lunar distance (good luck for the Moon!) on August 7, 2027.  But these, of course, are just the ones we know about.  

The idea of a much larger object, such as Planet X (scheduled by some as arriving in the last half of May, 2003) make these large rocks almost trivial in comparison.  The more relevant questions are: 1) Will anyone tell the general population about a possible direct hit, and 2) what can we expect in the event of a direct hit?  

The first question doesn’t have a good answer, as NASA (aka “Never A Straight Answer) is not prone to forthrightness.  Currently, NASA is requiring all astronomers (professional and amateur) to report sightings of any objects to NASA, which has 72 hours to calculate an orbit, prior to any public announcement.  If a hit is found to be on the way, the odds of a quick NASA prediction/announcement to that effect are expected by most to be lower than the NASA calculated odds of a future collision (currently about ten million to one).  

The second answer is not good either.  Rocks the size of Asteroid EM7 may only do as much damage as the Tunguska Explosion.  But larger ones has been blamed for the mass extinction of life on the planet Earth in geologic history.  The Permian-Triassic Extinction (or “the Great Dying”) of some 250 million years ago, is one case in point.  No class of life was spared, with 90% of marine species and 70% of land species vanishing in the twinkling of a geologic eye.  The species that survived did so only in enormously reduced numbers -- in effect life on planet Earth very nearly ended.  

Later, about 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs ended their reign (the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction) with a similar -- if less devastating -- event.  In fact, the Annals of Earth lend evidence to the idea of the Earth taking a massive hit every 26 million years or so.  (The good news is that the last one was 16 millions years ago, leaving another 10 million before the next one.)  The end result of all of these periodic extinctions is that 99.9% of all species to have ever lived on Earth (of which we are aware) are now extinct.  

Curiously, not all scientists agree that a Near-Earth Object getting entirely too close is the reason for these extinctions.  They point out other possibilities, such as severe volcanism, and environmental changes wrought by the formation of a super-continent.  Which, when you think about it, could also occur from the devastating impact of a large asteroid!  

Whatever the cause of previous extinctions, however, the continuing, relevant question concerns the likelihood of another extinction -- one which includes the demise of the human species.  In this scenario, anything’s possible.  The odds may appear to be in our favor -- based on no extinctions for millions of years -- but even close encounters can be devastating, especially if larger, planet-sized bodies are involved.   

Immanuel Velikovsky has provided an enormous amount of evidence of historical events which, among other things, precipitated many of the events of the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, circa 1460 B.C.E., as well as another encounter around 700 B.C.E.  His first book, Worlds in Collision, however, was not warmly greeted by the scientific community when it was first published -- perhaps due to a natural reluctance to admit to the very real possibility of another such event occurring in modern times.  But his evidence is decidedly real and convincing, providing the basis for such Biblical accounts as those embodied in the statement: Sun Stand Thou Still (a statement which can be taken literally, and shown to be physically possible, if not reasonable).  

There is a strange appeal of the idea of worlds in collision, as exemplified by numerous books, movies, and stories, from the original Worlds in Collision to Deep Impact movies to more recent stories such as A Glancing Blow and Lucifer’s Hammer.  The advantages of such a devastation are obvious, for example:  Mandating term limits for Congressmen and Senators, eliminating the IRS, solving the over-population problem, and in general getting rid of a lot of extra baggage.  The assumption, of course, is that you and I survive (and I’m not so sure about you).  But once that happens, then building a new world has a lot of appeal.  (And for those who can’t imagine the idea of trying to survive, the odds are good that they won’t be missed by those who are into struggling for survival.)  

The curious result is that on the one hand, there is a fascination in the idea of the end of the world as we know it being caused by an interplanetary collision or near collision, and thus an increased credibility of a vast proliferation of doomsday stories circulating about the Internet.  The appeal of an impending doomsday -- ideally one sufficiently dramatic to sell a lot of tickets to the show -- actually increases the likelihood of more and more stories to be circulated.  On the other hand, the reality of Near-Earth Objects, Planet X and the like, and Comet Shoemaker-Levy and Comet Hale-Bopp style collisions and possible collisions behoove us to investigate the possibilities.  

Or, alternatively, simply live one day at a time, enjoying each moment to the fullest.  Then if nothing happens, all you’ll have to look back on will be a huge continuum of fully enjoyed moments.  Not exactly a devastating thought.  


Chronicles of Earth         History 009         The Hypothesis        

Forward to:

Tunguska Explosion         Sun, Stand Thou Still

Comet Hale-Bopp         Comet Shoemaker-Levy         Planet X

Nibiru Cycle         A Glancing Blow         The Party’s Over



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