The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 16, 2013

We’re up to our asteroids in space rocks right now

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Is it over? Is it safe to come out?

Down here, yeah, under here. Of course I’m under my desk. Where else would I be? It’s not safe anywhere else.

In case you missed it, a 150-foot asteroid passed within 17,150 miles of Earth Friday afternoon, the closest such encounter in recorded history. In astronomical terms, that’s way too close for comfort, given the fact that some satellites are more than 22,000 above the planet.

And, earlier Friday, a 10-ton meteorite streaked to earth, blazing its way across the skies above Russia, causing a powerful shock wave that injured nearly 1,000 people, blowing out windows, causing the collapse of a factory roof and scaring the borscht out of a whole bunch of Russian folks. Coincidence? I think not.

So heck yeah, I’m under my desk. To quote a famous literary fowl, the sky is falling.

According to movoto .com, a real estate blog site, an asteroid between 16 and 33 feet in diameter hits Earth once a year, while 500 chunks of space rocks less than 16 feet in diameter hit Earth every year.

According to wired.com, the odds of your abode being struck by a falling meteor are roughly one in 3.9 trillion. I’m going to get me a helmet and check my homeowners’ insurance, just in case.

In contrast, the chances of a person being hit by lightning in a given year are one in a million. Oh, great, now I’ll have to go out and a get a lightning rod, too.

Lest you think meteors are no big deal, just ask the dinosaurs. Contrary to popular belief, dinosaurs were not done in by trans fats, high fructose corn syrup or liberal social policies. Instead, about 65 million years ago, a meteor some six miles across slammed into Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, near what is now the town of Chicxulub (gesundheit), spoiling the dinos’ whole millennium.

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program has found 9,697 near-Earth objects, 861 of which are one kilometer across or larger. Some 1,381 of these objects have been classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids.

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids are classified as those with an Earth Minimum Orbit Intersection Distance (MOID) of 0.05 AU or less and an absolute magnitude of 22.0 or less. What’s that mean? I have no idea, but it scares me, nonetheless.

There are enough things to worry about in this world without having to fret about being squashed by a supersonic celestial boulder. Heck, we’ve got to deal with the Kardashians, the flu, crippled cruise ships that go from the Love Boat to the Luvs Boat since they smell like dirty diapers, Congress and the profusion of reality TV shows; How much more can one poor planet take?

And there is apparently plenty to worry about. According to former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who is chairman emeritus of the B612 Foundation, which is committed to protecting the Earth from asteroids, there are between 500,000 and a million large objects in proximity to Earth. We’re doomed.

Actually, asteroids might not be all bad. Actually, the huge rock that barely missed our home planet on Friday is believed to contain nearly $195 billion in minerals and water. Of course, if it hit Earth, it would wipe out a city the size of London, so there wouldn’t be many people around to pick up the pieces, no matter what they were worth.

I had my own close encounter with a meteor once, in my youth, on Sept. 17, 1966, to be exact. A buddy and I were tossing a football around in my parents’ mid-Michigan back yard at dusk that Saturday evening. With the light all but gone, we were about to give it up and go inside, when the sky suddenly became as bright as high noon. In the eastern sky was a bright streak, which turned out to be a meteor. The intense brightness lasted several seconds. It was a cool, if eerie, experience.

There’s no sense worrying about all those big, honkin’ Earth-hunting chunks of rock floating out there in the blackness of space. The chances of them hitting our planet are slim. All we can do is live each day to its fullest.

And get ready to duck.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.