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Cosmic Car Accidents

by edlu | on Feb 26, 2012 | No Comments

Did you know your odds of being killed in a car accident tomorrow are the same as the Earth suffering an asteroid impact tomorrow of greater than 100 Megatons? 100 Megatons is many times larger than all the bombs used in WWII. But while your death in a car accident would be a tragedy, the difference with an asteroid impact is that we are all riding in the same car!

By the way, the statistic mentioned above is not in dispute. It comes from a combination of counting craters on the moon, directly counting meteors in the sky, and using our limited telescopes on Earth to search small regions of the sky for asteroids. Take a look at the chart below (from the National Research Council Report Defending Planet Earth). 100 Megatons by the way is nothing close to the scale of something that would wipe out all life on Earth. In fact it may even result in quite limited damage if it hits in a suitably desolate spot (like northern Canada or Siberia). Of course if it hits the wrong spot, things could be pretty bad. Is this a risk we want to take?

Do you wear a seatbelt? Do you have an airbag in your car? Why aren’t we taking the same precautions with
our own planet? We should be searching the skies, finding and mapping all asteroids that could hit the Earth so
we can deflect them as needed. There are a number of ways to deflect asteroids that we are confident would work (a subject for a later post). The harder thing may actually be getting people to take the problem seriously enough to spend the relatively small amount of money needed to find and track asteroids ahead of time so we have advance notice of a threat. Take a look at what we are doing about the problem at the B612 Foundation.

The amazing thing is that we as a species have developed the tools to slightly change the evolution of our solar system, and to prevent our planet from being hit by asteroids. Now if we only had the wisdom to deploy these tools. Drive safely!

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