I have discussed the cataclysmic effects of asteroids on this blog before. I discussed the one that hit the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, the Apophis Asteroid near-miss. Asteroid impacts have been featured in dystopian fiction, such as the 1997 TV movie Asteroid and numerous other movies with a storyline of an asteroid that is set to impact earth, or does impact earth.
Now, it appears that asteroids are hitting the earth far more frequently than previously thought. NASA astronauts have been seeing an increase since 2001. From that article, “Bad news, earthlings. A former NASA scientist says it’s mere happenstance that an Armageddon-style asteroid hasn’t hit a densely populated area in the last few years.” A sobering number is that since 2001, 26 different explosions on the scale of an atomic bomb have been identified just since 2001.
Fortunately, there is an organization, B612 Foundation of scientists who literally are working to save the earth from meteors and other objects which could destroy anything from a house to life as we know it. Will they succeed? Will they get funding? It seems unlikely that anyone will significantly fund them, since they appear to produce nothing that adds to anyone’s output or profit. No government will fund them because it will not just benefit any one country, but the same or similar technology can be used for war or defense.
People have been fascinated by fictional accounts of asteroids or meteors hitting earth, or humans making use of asteroids or meteors by mining them since the 19th century. Numerous short stories and novels have been written, with increasing numbers of them written throughout the 20th century into the 21st century. A partial list of some early stories involving asteroids is available.. It remains a common plot device in dystopian and apocalyptic fiction – genres which are growing in popularity.
Fiction aside, asteroids, meteors, and meteorites are a real threat within the solar system. NASA filmed one breaking up just this year, and Yale University has a video out of the approach of an asteroid in 2002.
This still seems to be an item for science fiction, but these are very real. Cnet reports a 1 in 74,817,414 to be killed by a metor strike in a given year. Compare this to the odds of being killed by a bee or wasp sting – something that many people fear – of 1 in 25,364,571 per year – or a little less than triple the odds of being killed by a meteor. Tulane University shows a grimmer set of numbers for causes of death over a lifetime. They give the odds of being killed by a meteorite at 1:3000 at the lower end – which indicates it’s nearly as likely as death by a firearms accident and being killed by a meteorite is three times as likely as death by drowning. Even at the high end of their figures, with dying from a meteor impact being 1:250,000, that’s much more likely than being killed in a shark attack. Anyone who remembers after the movie Jaws or any of its follow-ons came out, can remember how worried average people were.
Why are the odds so high? Simply put, if meteorites cause deaths, they will likely kill entire cities, or all along the coastline of a particular ocean! Millions or even billions of people will die at once, as opposed to one, a few, or even dozens in these more common types of death, such as drowning or firearm accidents.
So, this is another scenario which will kill off humankind, or civilization, or even a majority of us. It’s a matter of when. It could be thousands or even millions of years from now, or perhaps tomorrow. There is no way to tell. We could easily get more warning, but what good would that do? Panic on a grand scale would just last longer. We could lower this risk, but it won’t be seen as a problem by those who could fund it until after it’s happened.
NASA has put out a warning scale for future incoming meteors, using familiar color-coded warnings from white through green through red. Red on the Torino Scale? Just say “goodbye”.