Tuesday, February 12, 2013
By now everyone knows that Earth is getting buzzed on Friday by a gym-sized asteroid. According to NASA, it will miss the Earth's surface by a bit over two Earth-diameters, which is closer than some Earth-orbiting satellites. I mean, this is REALLY close. Thirteen times closer than the Moon.
If this thing smacked down into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I would not want to be sitting where I am right now.
As a matter of fact, you wouldn't want to be sitting anywhere. We're talking 2.4 megatons of energy, Almost 200 times the energy released at Hiroshima.
Which brings to mind a story in the January 10 issue of Nature describing natural events that would cause catastrophe on Earth. Monstrous volcanic eruptions -- Yellowstone blowing its top, for example. Viruses or fungi out of control. Massive underwater landslides triggering tsunamis. Gamma-ray bursts from nearby star systems. And, of course, asteroid or comet impacts.
Says Nature: "A giant solar flare could kill hundreds of millions and set us back 150 years.
It's enough to keep one up at night.
Except it doesn't. We have a way of putting disaster out of our minds. And besides, we don't need a gym-sized asteroid wiping out millions of people. We can do a pretty good job whittling away on our own. As we are doing in dozens of places around the globe.
Apparently, almost half of American households own a gun (most of which will kill someone in the family if they kill anyone at all). It's as if we are arming for a great shootout, with bullets whizzing about by design or accident. Which, to tell the truth, worries me more than Asteroid 2012 DA14, which will whistle past our ears on Friday. For the time being, we seem to be the biggest threat to life on Earth.