No Chicken Little Here

I’d like to mention today this article I found on-line in the Danish Christian newspaper, Kristeligt Dagblad, entitled While we wait for catastrophe . . .

That’s right, after that attempt to find some humor last time – Somali piracy = “defense of food for Somali children,” ha-ha anybody? – we’re back now to some more doom-and-gloom. But at least this is unexpected and even interesting doom-and-gloom (I hope), for here the presumably Christian staff-writer for the Kristeligt Dagblad, Lars Henriksen, has a little surprise in store for us coming straight out of Heaven: an asteroid!

Yes, adding to everything else we all have to worry about these days, this article discusses the prospect of the Earth being hit by a high-speed humongous rock from space. After all, this has happened before; some scientists now think such an impact, occurring about 65 million years ago, was what wiped out the dinosaurs as well as leaving a crater in Mexico 900 meters deep and 180 kilometers wide. It even happened again a little over 100 years ago, when Siberia was hit in 1908 by a 50-meter-wide asteroid which devastated 2,000 square kilometers of woodland. “Experts” quoted by Henriksen estimate that there is a 10% chance of something like that happening again within this century, and naturally there is no way to ensure that it would again occur in a relatively depopulated area.

But there is also a silver-lining to report here, of a sort, namely that the University of Hawaii put into operation last December a new telescope designed to locate those asteroids in the Earth’s general neighborhood which are greater than a kilometer in diameter. (There are said to be about 1,000 of these; remember the devastation that that mere fifty-meter rock wrought in Siberia.) And it is now building a further three telescopes – cost: $100 million, but these days that doesn’t matter if it creates jobs – which, collectively with that first one, should be able to keep track of all but the very-smallest.

Then the question arises of what do we do if/when these telescopes one day detect some asteroid coming on a collision-course. Henriksen does not get into that. Still, I bet if you have read this far, leaving that question hanging unanswered might just disrupt your good night’s sleep for a while – am I right? Luckily, all of this is a subject that has also been brought up in public by writer, intellectual, and former Brookings Institution fellow Gregg Easterbrook. (Admittedly, I first heard of him via his excellent column on American professional football, Tuesday Morning Quarterback.) If you’re worried – and maybe you should be – go ahead and check out the article he wrote last year on this subject for The Atlantic (English-language, of course), entitled The Sky Is Falling. It’s a more-thorough treatment, including mention of remedial measures like “gravitational tractors” that might help set your mind at rest.

The point here is that, even as the Danes also have plenty on their plates to worry about these days, awareness of this threat from outer space is also creeping into their consciousness, even if it is by means of a non-mainstream newspaper. And Henriksen’s article does feature at the top what you could call a close-up “mug shot” (actually four of them, taken in 1999 by one of those space-probes we have out there) of one of those big nasty rocks that could spell doom for our planet. Stare and squint as I might, though, on not one of those four different exposures of that same asteroid could I make out anything like crazed, evil eyes or a malicious smile.

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