Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Asteroid Collision with Earth Predicted for 2036


This article was updated on January 3, 2010

The Earth and all of its inhabitants are in for a rough time ahead. Why worry and what started all the commotion? A surprise near miss of a space rock in 2004 named Apophis that's only a mere 750 to 1,000 feet wide that NASA says appears to be on a collision course with Earth. You could say it's predicted that we're about to become the object of affection in a cosmic game of 8-ball. Arizona's 4,000-foot-wide Barringer Asteroid Crater has apparently been waiting expectantly and/or impatiently for his big brother to arrive. The only trouble is the result of that predicted reunion is bound to be wider than the average state!

There are two dates you’ll definitely want to put on your calendar. The first is Friday April 13th 2029; the second is Sunday April 13th 2036. For all intents and purposes, Sunday April 13, 2036 is definitely not going to be a good day. The fact that NASA scientists have pegged it down to the exact day has me a bit more concerned than the prospect of developing potential beachfront property in Reno Nevada. On top of that they’re even giving odds of 1 in 345,000. Astrobiologist David Morrison of NASAs Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA has declared the threat real and credible. Considering the odds are lower than at being in an airline crash, being struck by lightning, or Boston winning the World Series three years in a row, that little ratio should give you pause!

On Friday April 13, 2029 Apophis is expected to come so close to us that you won’t even need binoculars to see it pass between the earth’s surface and our orbiting communication satellites! Astronomers warn that if it passes within an orbit of exactly 18,893 miles, it will enter through a “gravitational keyhole” in which the Earth’s gravity will alter its orbit just enough so that the asteroid will slingshot around the sun and hit us exactly seven years later on Sunday April 13, 2036.

Should the rock actually hit earth, it'd have the equivalent punch of 65,000 Hiroshima bombs or approximately 880 million tons of dynamite. Scientists have actually pegged an impact “line of risk” based on the inclination and hour of the expected hit. A likely scenario is that it will hit the Pacific Ocean just off the U.S.’s west coast. This would cause a huge crater in the ocean and the resulting tsunamis could be waves of over 50 feet or more high and not just one, but thousands pounding everything inland for hundreds of miles, with massive loss of life.

Right now there are only two factors that could alter this doomsday scenario. On the negative side, we have the nightmare that it'd break apart in Earth's gravity and shower chunks over a larger area instead of concentrating the impact on one site, such as what happened when the Shoemaker-Levy comet broke up before it hit Jupiter. For the better, maybe our battered Moon will get in the way. Merely looking at our lunar buddy with a good pair of binoculars will tell you how many times it's saved our butts before. Then again, the latest theory is that that very same moon was created when a Mars-sized planet hit us, sheering off enough material to create our lunar neighbor. Fortunately Apophis appears to be much, much smaller — thank goodness.

While the tendency is to laugh this off, (after all, I'll be 86 by then-what do I care?) just ponder that the scientific community is so concerned about this, that in recent years Congress has authorized funds to identify asteroids more than about half a mile in diameter that might cross Earth's path by 2008, and plans have been put into the works to develop strategies to deflect, ram or destroy those threats by 2015.

Now before you scoff at only 1,000 feet in diameter consider this; a rock only approximately 200 feet in diameter took out Siberia's Tunguska forest in 1908 devastating an area the size of Rhode Island and destroying 60 million trees.

If you think about it, this might be a good thing! At least the resulting worldwide dust cloud will solve our "Global Warming" problem!

Just to be on the safe side, I think I'll spend the day in church and see about altering my future homeowner's insurance policy.

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