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Threat from Space is Real, but Man Stands Better Chance Than the Dinosaurs

Andrew Lam
New America Media / News Report
Published: Sunday 17 February 2013
The dinosaurs didn’t fare too well. We have a better chance.
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A meteor estimated to be 10 tons by NASA exploded Friday morning over Russia's Ural region and its shockwave caused injuries to over 1,200 people. It took out windows and walls in the city of Chelyabinsk. And it temporarily shifted the conversation here on earth to talks of the heavens.

"We can find these objects, we can track their motions, and we can predict their orbits many years into the future," noted Robert Naeye of Sky and Telescope in an essay called, Lessons from the Russian Meteor Blast. "And in the unlikely event that we actually find a dangerous object on a collision course with Earth, we might actually be able to deflect it if given sufficient warning time. Now, every government in the world is keenly aware of the possibility of meteor explosions over its territory."

The Russian parliament is also keen on the idea. "Instead of fighting on Earth, people should be creating a joint system of asteroid defense," its affairs committee chief Alexei Pushkov wrote on his Twitter account late Friday. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Saturday proposed a global defense system to counter space threats.

And on CNN, Lawrence Krauss, professor of physics and director of the origin project, talked about how human technology has advanced to the point of predicting and, more interesting, deflecting oncoming meteorites that could cause the earth "significant damage."

"We have to think about it seriously," he said. "It's not science fiction. We can send a rocket out and land on [a meteor] or impact with it." If the meteor is far enough, "a small rocket running for a while [can cause] a small angular change... enough to have it miss the earth."

So welcome to the age of “empyrealization” -- an age of man's increasing awareness and interactions with the heavens. We grow cognizant that we exist on intimate levels with the rest of the universe, that we are interacting with it, and, increasingly, having an effect upon it as it does on us. The word – empyrealization -- doesn't exist yet in the dictionary, but for that matter neither did globalization, three decades ago.

Unlike the dinosaurs, we have, in effect, become active agents in changing our destiny. A giant meteor wiped out much of life on earth 65 million years ago because the dinosaurs didn't collectively create a missile shield to deflect the meteor. Humans, on the other hand, with our orbiting telescopes and space probes, and our growing awareness of the threat from space, can track large foreign objects coming from millions of miles away, and are talking about collectively deflecting those that could do us harm.

That man has changed his home planet is now well accepted. Long before the industrial revolution and the age of climate change, humans have significantly impacted earth, at least according to climate scientist William Ruddiman, in his book titled "Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate.” There is significant evidence, he noted, that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been rising since the earliest beginnings of agriculture. There is strong evidence, too, that a mini-ice age was averted some 5,000 years ago due to the rise in methane caused by the proliferation rice paddy agriculture in Asia.

Unlike our ancestors, however, increasingly we are aware that human actions have an impact on the entire planet and beyond.

The knowledge informed NASA's decision in September 2003 to crash the spacecraft Galileo on Jupiter rather than on Europa, one of Jupiter's 39 satellites. Europa has an ocean under its ice and active volcanoes to boot. It just might be supporting alien life. Jupiter, on the other hand, is very hot and gaseous and deemed incapable of life. Crashing Galileo on Europa would have risked contaminating it with microbes from earth. 

In fact, we have been interacting with the heavens longer than most have thought. Think of it in term of radio waves. According to Adam Grossman: "Mankind has been broadcasting radio waves into deep space for about a hundred years now... That, of course, means there is an ever-expanding bubble announcing Humanity's presence to anyone listening in the Milky Way. This bubble is astronomically large (literally), and currently spans approximately 200 light years across."

Or think of it in terms of our orbiting trash. According to NASA, "More than 500,000 pieces of debris, or ‘space junk,’ are tracked as they orbit the Earth. They all travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph, fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft."

While some of the junk falls back to earth, other bits exit into outer space. In other words, the cosmos might rain meteors on earth, but humans too have already interacted with the universe by sending manmade debris into space.

But more significantly, our rovers have been on Mars, roaming and digging, and studying its soil. China is planning a potential colony on the moon. And we have plenty of space probes that travel about in our solar system. Voyager 1, the first probe ever sent out, has gone past our solar system into deep space. 

And all the while we map the universe, searching for planets that may be hospitable to life. Astronomers, in fact, have discovered hundreds of other solar systems, and 864 exo-planets so far -- planets that are outside our solar system. One planet in particular, 150 million light years away, is believed to have an atmosphere.

Clearly, our destiny is in outer space. Globalization is but child's play compared to empyrealization, when man now recognizes earth as existing in an open system with the rest of the cosmos and that he is interacting with, and increasingly, having an effect upon it.

But meanwhile there's the issue of falling meteorites. The one that exploded over Russia last Friday was undetected. There are several million asteroids that orbit the sun and less than 1 percent so far is tracked. If man's destiny is in space, man's home world needs to be protected for that destiny to be fulfilled.

The dinosaurs didn't' fare too well. We have a better chance. We've come by and large to accept that we changed the weather. Whether or not we can deflect a large meteor as in the Hollywood movie, Armageddon, remains to be seen. Brilliant minds are at work. And there’s nothing like an external threat to galvanize humanity.

NASA budgets aren't the only

NASA budgets aren't the only vehicle for supporting more comprehensive and effective watch of the skies. Don't knock the effectiveness and dedication of the army of global amateur observers - which can include any of us who are sufficiently turned on and motivated to help. Tapping into amateur energy and zeal is operatively and costwise far and away the most effective way to go. All we need is to ensure that their - and NASA's - efforts are backed up by a suitable on-line info system for them to post to and for the public to learn from.

By the way, we can take heart from the article's example - NASA's precautionary responsibility to potential life on Europa. 44 years ago NASA was also precautionarily responsible to life on Earth. Lunar astronauts, on return to Earth, were kept in quarantine to prevent the very unlikely possibility of bringing in lunar microbes.

But other parts of the US government work not for precaution toward planetary life but in the opposite direction: for increasing risk. The Dept of Ag, headed by a one-time lawyer for Monsanto, is doing utmost to greenlight introducing GMOs - from its perspective preferably unlabelled - into the global environment.

So we can survive asteroids.

So we can survive asteroids. Now if we can only figure out how to survive ourselves. We may be the only species in this universe to ever have led to it's own extinction with out any earthly or heavenly help. Which at that point does it matter because who would care?

Boris Badenov's picture

I don't know about this

I don't know about this one?
checkout this:

I have to wonder why we

I have to wonder why we didn't see this 10,000 ton big-as-a-house asteroid before it entered the atmosphere... The shockwave was the equivalent of a dozen nuclear bombs... Wasn't anyone tracking it? How big do they have to be to get tracked?

According to Ed Lu of the

According to Ed Lu of the B612 Foundation, NASA is only budgeted to look for dinosaur-killer size asteroids, orders of magnitude larger than the Russian asteroid. NASA is not budgeted to look for continent killers, much less city killers. Furthermore, I read that Congress cut the budget in the last cycle from $50 million to $20 million.

It's extremely difficult to

It's extremely difficult to track incoming meteoroids as small as a large bus (which is the size of the one that hit Russia). Plus, NASA's budget has been cut from over 4% of GDP to 0.5% of it doesn't have the resources to ramp up detection capabilities. In fact, it often relies on amateur astronomers to detect asteroids and comets.

Your sarcasm is noted.

Your sarcasm is noted. However let me point out the crucial difference in the incorrect philosophy you imply. The 'greater good' is a god defined by 'whatever the majority wants'. This god contains no objective arbiter for judgement. Slavery at one time was also a majority vote. However a meteorite aimed at Earth is objectively negative for everything Earth. It is measurable in scientific units of Force, cost of damage, lives lost and centuries barren. It is objectively in every individual's best interest to join abilities in the combat of this danger. It is no different to a football team or war. But neither football, war nor meteor collisions represent normal life which philosophies for living should be based upon.

Cynicism, not sarcasm. ;-)

Cynicism, not sarcasm. ;-)

hmm .. working together for

hmm .. working together for the collective good of humanity ..

I dunno ..

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