Crash

In light of the recent double event about rocks from space, it is wise to ponder upon the potential risk they pose to our fragile planet. One of these rocks did hit us, unfortunately, in Russia. The impact was analogous to dozens of Hiroshima-type atomic explosions. Thankfully, though, the explosion of the meteor occurred high up in the atmosphere thus sparing the inhabitants of Chelyabinsk, Russia, a catastrophic demise. Nevertheless, the aftermath of the meteor’s high-altitude explosion did result in substantial damage on the ground.  The shock wave from the explosion shattered window panes, scattering debris everywhere. At least a thousand were injured as a result of this fly-by meteor. The event, which took place on February 15th, pales in comparison to the strongest of meteor explosions ever recorded. The Tunguska event, more than a century ago, is the worst one in history. Strictly speaking, this event was not an actual meteor impact; the meteor did not crash-land on Earth. It exploded in mid-air. But that explosion was so violent that it inflicted serious damage on an area of over 2000 square kilometers. The casualties were mostly trees, with an estimated 80 million of them knocked down flat. There was one recorded death, however.

The Tunguska event prompted scientists and engineers to put together an asteroid deflection strategy. There are ways to deflect those rogue rocks and prevent them from hitting Earth and avoid another Tunguska or Chelyabinsk event. The 2012DA14 asteroid which flew by Earth on the day following the meteor impact in Russia had a risk of hitting the Earth on its next round trip. Luckily, though, it did not get close enough to Earth – it was only about 28 000 km from the ground. Had it approached us any closer, chances are that it would have been pulled even closer by Earth’s gravity. This little tug would have been enough to cause a deflection in its path. The consequence of that would have been that, in its next round trip near Earth, it would have flown in at a much lower altitude. And the result of this, as we’ve seen a few days ago, can be devastating. We have been lucky this time but there are other asteroids bigger and more menacing than 2012DA14. We have to be in a position to map their trajectory, monitor their passage near to Earth, predict their next fly-by and, more importantly, deflect them if they do come too close.

Asteroids passing Earth © ESA – P.Carril

Investing in space research and technology is vital if only for that reason: preventing a catastrophic meteor impact. We cannot underestimate the benefits of spending time and money on space research by funding the likes of NASA and ESA. They are the sentries safeguarding the future of the planet. The meteor impacts might be rare, yet phenomenal, occurrences. But all that’s required is that one crash to wipe life off the planet. The demise of the dinosaurs by a meteor impact should be a reminder of the vulnerability and fragility of Earth…

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One thought on “Crash

  1. Pingback: Explosion | electrolights

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