Friday, March 06, 2009

End times

Earlier this week, a big-house-sized asteroid whizzed by the Earth, missing us by only 38,000 miles, about one-fifth the distance to the Moon. Or think of the Earth as your head; the asteroid passed about a meter away

Not to worry. This sort of thing happens on a regular basis. Now and then one hits, but it's nothing to keep you awake at night.

It occurs to me that this asteroid -- dubbed 2009 DD45 -- was about the same size as the one that crashed into Arizona about 50,000 years ago, creating the famous Meteor Crater near Flagstaff, somewhat less than a mile in diameter. The blast of that impact would have leveled everything within a radius of ten miles, setting forests afire at even greater distances. It if happened today, it would cause untold human tragedy.

Then I remembered a painting of our artist of yesterday, Chesley Bonestell, from his series of natural calamities published in Coronet magazine in 1947, some of which might end life on Earth or destroy the Earth itself. Not all of them bear up to scientific scrutiny, but the one I am thinking of -- and have a vague memory of seeing when I was about twelve years old -- imagines the result of a 2009 DD45-sized meteorite making a dead hit on Manhattan. (Click to enlarge.) Bonestell's Manhattan crater is about the same size as the one in Arizona.

So there you have it. It could happen any day, but probably won't. More likely, you say, it will splash down harmlessly in the ocean. No, you don't want that. Not unless you live in Denver or Moscow or La Paz. In the meantime, stay away from the corner of 5th Avenue and 14th Street in midtown Manhattan.