Is an Asteroid Coming to Kill Us?

Image courtesy of The Huffington Post
Image courtesy of The Huffington Post

If you’re anything like me, you’ve imagined yourself piloting the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field the way Han Solo did in Star Wars. The density of the asteroid field is high; the giant boulders are close together and collide frequently. It takes a skilled and heroic pilot to make the journey across.

The idea that asteroids in space are close together is one of the biggest misconceptions about space. This misconception is frequently coupled with the fear of an asteroid colliding with Earth. After all, that’s what killed off the dinosaurs, right?

So, did you know about the prediction that an asteroid would strike Earth in September of 2015?

End-times prophecies have been around since the beginning of recorded history. Many of these involved things falling from the sky. We’ve heard it would be comets, meteors, asteroids or anything else we know is somewhere up there. We were on the edge of our seats (some of us, anyway) when 2012 rolled around, knowing it to be the year marking the end of the Mayan calendar. What would it be? Asteroid perhaps?

What kind of danger are we really in?

Let’s talk about the scariest thing: their sheer size.  The largest known asteroid in the solar system is known as Ceres, and it’s about one-quarter the size of the moon. That’s frickin’ huge. But the typical size range for an asteroid is in the hundreds of meters in diameter, and that’s pretty small.

And what would be the consequences of a collision? Well, objects frequently strike Earth from space. We call these objects meteorites. And they nearly always disintegrate in the atmosphere. Those that don’t will sometimes wind up as souvenirs. However, Earth has been struck by asteroids in the past; there is evidence of this. It stands to reason that one day a massive asteroid will strike the planet again. The possible effects are described at Solar System Fluff at http://www.astronomynotes.com/solfluf/s5.htm. Warning: don’t read it if you are squeamish! Just kidding–it’s not graphic, but it’s rather detailed. The short of it is, a collision with an existing asteroid could end all life on Earth.

So the really big question: when could this happen? We know that no asteroid is currently on a collision course with Earth. As far as it happening it happening within humankind’s reign on Earth, it can’t be explained in a few sentences. Check out NASA’s Sentry Risk Table at http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/ for a list of celestial objects and their probability of impacting Earth within given time periods. The probabilities are very small, and that’s great news! Sorry, prophets–End Times will have to come from somewhere else.

Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asteroid_impact_avoidance

http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/physics/38-our-solar-system/the-earth/impacts/52-are-there-any-asteroids-on-a-collision-course-with-earth-beginner

http://www.armaghplanet.com/blog/the-truth-about-the-september-2015-asteroid-impact.html

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