Doomsday Rock Coming Your Way at 15 Miles per Second

Somewhere on December 2004, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck drilling and blowing up an asteroid in space stopped being amusing. A newly discovered asteroid was thought to be on a collision course with Earth; predicted impact energy: 400 megatons (~30,000 Hiroshimas); ETA: April 13, 2029. This asteroid was named ‘99942 Apophis’ after the evil demon, the deification of darkness and chaos in Egyptian mythology. Although later on, a more precise calculation revealed that this 300 meters (1000 feet) rock will wave us hello from about 25,000 kilometers away (VERY close) but will not impact our beloved blue sphere, it seems like the night sky will never be the same again.

A doomsday meteorite hitting the Earth will release energy many times greater than all the nukes in the world. It will vaporize several countries on impact, melting the Earth’s crust and igniting every flammable material. The survivals will witness world wide volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and firestorms. The oceans’ acidity level will drop to that of a battery acid and the sun’s light will be completely blocked for years. All plants and animals will die, transforming Earth into a lifeless desert. The good news – it should be suitable for life again in a few thousand years.

So what could we do? The one thing you don’t wanna do is nuke it Armageddon-style. If the asteroid is hard, then this will only break it into many smaller now radioactive pieces that will hit Earth on multiple locations. If it is softer, the blast’s energy will be absorbed, so nukes will have almost no effect at all. Some methods suggested are to use a spaceship’s gravity in order to slightly affect the asteroid’s path, use a giant mirror to focus the sun’s heat (to melt one spot of the asteroid to create a jet stream deflecting the asteroid), pull it, push it or ram it. Some of these might actually work, we just need a tiny change in course or speed, but we must have an early warning - decades in advance.

Currently the most dangerous known rock in space is ‘1950 DA’ that should drop by to say hello on March 16, 2880, but there are thousands of unknown asteroids and comets that may impact Earth in the near future. It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s a question of ‘when’. It can happen in a million years; it can happen by the time you’ll finish reading this post, but eventually - it will happen.

The biggest threat to human race, the one thing that can wipe us out completely and make us extinct, emmm… I’m sure it’s top priority. Or is it? Currently, about 30% of the sky is not even surveyed! To quote astronaut Ed Lu from the Johnson Space Center “The number of people world wide who are working actively on this problem is enough to staff one shift in a McDonald’s”. Good night, sleep well; the planetary defense is in the hands of 4 kids with build-your-own-telescope kits.

p.s. The Sun will die in 5 billion years. Good! I hate sunscreen!


yair.h said...

Hi Uri,

Do the sizes of asteroids comply to a logarithmic scale?

If so, the chances are that for each 'doomsday' asteroid, we should witness many small-but-alarming asteroid collisions (destroying only a small city, a distant village etc..)

As this is not the case, we can all get a good night sleep.

Discloser: Ruthy's help with spelling and grammar issues is appreciated.

Uri Kalish said...

Bad news, their size is on a logarithmic scale.

Is this alarming?

And how about this?

Or this?

Or maybe this?

Or this?

Or this?

Or maybe this?

…and I don’t even wanna mention what happened 65 million years ago…

Uri Kalish said...

Another nice one:

And some very scary end-of-the-world simulation:

genny said...

hmm i am not really like science but you know my hubby love science. He like to study about it and he knows a lot about science. i will link you in my blog!

Uri Kalish said...

Cool! What's the URL?

turdblossom said...

Interesting! This really minimizes the impact of a potential Big 3 Automakers bailout.

Hopefully by then we will have stronger lasers.