Odds of dying in a plane crash: 1 in 5,051.
Odds of dying in a car accident: 1 in 237.
Odds that asteroid Apophis will strike Earth in 2036: 1 in 45,000…
At least, according to recent NASA reports. But regardless of its likelihood, it’s very difficult to read about “killer asteroid” Apophis without a montage of Michael Bay scenes running through your mind.
We consider life’s risks only when it is convenient enough. The Bay Area is the most expensive real estate market in the country, despite a 62 percent risk of a 6.7-or-greater earthquake striking anytime before 2032. But more of us will toss the peanut butter out if the evening news reports a salmonella scare.
The risk asteroid 99942 Apophis poses is small, but the result of it could be catastrophic. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson compared it to the force of “100 nuclear bombs.” Expecting it to rocket in the water near Santa Monica, the resulting tsunami could “wipe out the entire West Coast of North America.” Hitting land, the dust clouds would significantly alter climate patterns, and falling in the ocean, the chlorine and bromine vapor could destroy the ozone layer.
At American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Francisco last month, veteran astronaut and physicist Ed Lu requested international funding for a gravity-altering spacecraft. The “Gravity Tractor” would deflect Apophis at a cost of $300 million. Launching the spacecraft early would reduce the amount of energy and cost of the mission.
Still, there is more errant space debris to worry about. Some are impossible to detect because, like Apophis, the sun obscures their paths or reflects in a way that make the objects appear smaller than they actually are.
Four years ago at the AAAS meeting in Denver, RAND policy analyst Geoffrey Sommers sent conspiracy theorists to their backyard fallout shelters after saying, “If an extinction-type impact is inevitable, then ignorance for the populace is bliss. As a matter of common sense, if you can’t intercept it and you can’t move people out of the way in time, there’s nothing you can do in terms of reducing the costs of the potential impact.”
Sommers later said his comment was taken out of context, besides, who could keep a secret that — literally — big?
This year, David Morrison, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, warned the AAAS, “There is a danger of an asteroid killing the Earth.” We might have a week’s warning or no time at all to find out a killer asteroid has been sneaking around the sun. “You wouldn’t know it until the sky lit up and the impact shook the Earth.”
A little alarmism once in a while is hardly a bad thing. Do you love your job? Have you seen Paris? Angkor Wat? Is the person you sleep next to the same one you think about all day? Whether the world is going up in flames twenty years from now or not, you’ve only got only one chance to live.
Joanne McNeil is Brainwash‘s Science and Tech Editor. Her website is joannemcneil.com.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire