Saturday, March 7

Perspective

The week just past, while we in North America were wholly consumed with doom and gloom about the economy, endless partisan political bickering and yawning over the sad state of American culture in general, important events were unfolding.

These events were out of our control, far beyond our sight, even beyond our feeble imaginations, but would have instantly seared their way onto our collective chimp-brains forever had things gone just a little differently.

Earlier this week a small asteroid sailed silently past the earth. It missed my house by roughly 48,000 miles, (.02 LD, or Lunar Distance) give or take a few meters. This is only somewhere around twice the distance of some man-made earth-orbiting satellites, and in cosmological terms could almost be defined as a glancing blow. This rogue space-rock was about 35 meters in diameter (115 feet) and was traveling along at a zippy 35,000 miles per hour or more.


Now, you or I, given a flat place to walk and the proper motivation, could pace out 35 meters in about thirty seconds. It isn't really that far, and the Earth is pretty large, considering. It could take more than a few days to walk all the way around this darned planet thing. So what's the big deal about a rock the size of a ten-story building?

This orbiting nugget is roughly the same size as the space-rock that entered the earth's atmosphere over the Tunguska region of Russia in 1908. The resulting air-blast from the vaporizing pebble was equal to approximately one thousand Hiroshima-type nuclear bombs. It flattened and burned 830 square miles of forest, and registered on barographs in Britain.

Testimony of S. Semenov, as recorded by Leonid Kulik's expedition in 1930.

"At breakfast time I was sitting by the house at Vanavara trading post (65 kilometres/40 miles south of the explosion), facing North. [...] I suddenly saw that directly to the North, over Onkoul's Tunguska road, the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest (as Semenov showed, about 50 degrees up - expedition note). The split in the sky grew larger, and the entire Northern side was covered with fire. At that moment I became so hot that I couldn't bear it, as if my shirt was on fire; from the northern side, where the fire was, came strong heat. I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down, but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few yards. I lost my senses for a moment, but then my wife ran out and led me to the house. After that such noise came, as if rocks were falling or cannons were firing, the earth shook, and when I was on the ground, I pressed my head down, fearing rocks would smash it. When the sky opened up, hot wind raced between the houses, like from cannons, which left traces in the ground like pathways, and it damaged some crops. Later we saw that many windows were shattered, and in the barn a part of the iron lock snapped."

The Tunguska Event of 1908 was in the exact middle of nowhere. Now imagine it happening again, but this time in the exact middle of somewhere. A chunk of rock like this hitting a major metropolitan area or densely-populated regions of the third world would have instantly resulted in millions of dead humans, inestimable losses of property, and knowing what little I know about the way the leaders of most governments on the planet behave, there would have been more than a few intercontinental ballistic retaliatory strikes sent whizzing towards high-value targets around the world, just in case the big explosion was an attack by enemies unseen, unknown or imaginary. When in doubt, MIRV them.

If you think that's sloppy thinking, remember the immediate reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing. No one thought it was a tinfoil-hat-wearing Kansan. At first, everyone around here thought it was an attack by A-Rabs. Now, multiply that devastating explosion's effects by a million or more times. Missiles would start flying before the shock waves peter out. Remember, we are not long out of the trees, and we act as such.

Since there are a total of say, four or five people worldwide on the constant lookout for flying rocks, we had a couple of weeks notice that DD45 - the rock has a name - was headed our way. One of the slide-rules-in-charge determined that there was no danger. Orbital mechanics liberally applied, we slept soundly, unknowing. Some rocks fly by without anyone seeing them beforehand. Think about that.

So, if you're feeling particularly self-important, or perhaps think that your particular political persuasion or what passes for a religion is the only answer to the complex questions of life, the universe and everything, you might consider pulling your head out of that dark place and looking around a bit. There may be another stony visitor on the way.

Enjoy your day.

Thus spake the rabbit.

2 comments:

D and N said...

Bend over.
Put your head between your legs.
Put your big, wet lips out and kiss your ass goodbye.
Been nice knowing you.
You and the boss Lapin welcomed here to eat what food's left, but wear butter because Monster Jr and I will cook you after it's gone.
"Wait, wait.......we've discovered what's in the book. It's recipes for humans!" Or something like that from TWILIGHT ZONE!

BlondieLox said...

beautiful post.