One Year Notice

The impact of a meteorite or comet is today wi...

The impact of a meteorite or comet is today widely accepted as the main reason for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while now.

I was once given two months to vacate a house that I was renting.  It was pretty scary because I rally didn’t have anywhere else to go. When I finally did find a place it was…like…right on the edge of the deadline and I didn’t want to get locked out.  Moving myself out quickly, I gave myself a back injury that persists to this day.

Around one year ago, scientists found a comet inbound.

Now, let me be clear first, because I don’t want to frighten anybody.  Comet ISON (C2012 S1) will NOT hit us.  It’ll miss by something like half the distance to the sun.  Back yard astronomers, as well as the pros, scan the skies with photography every night, looking for movement. Then, when it is found, they can track its motion and it really doesn’t take much to nail down where the object is headed.  I don’t know how to do it, but lots of folks do.  The methods and math aren’t simple, but they are widely known and very straight forward, so as to make it impossible for governments to lie to us about such things.  Sure, orbital mechanics carry some variables, but none of those are anywhere near large enough to matter much against the momentum of an object this large, moving this fast, over such a short period of time.

But ISON’s size and speed…and the short time since its discovery…are important for another reason.

What would our lives be like right now if they’d done their magic math and calculated that ISON would smack us dead-on?  What if we had lived out this past year with the reality of a major impact event coming late this year projected to wipe out civilization?

Somebody discovered this object on September 21st, 2012.  Prior to that we possessed no knowledge of its existence.  ISON is thought to be around three miles (almost 5 Kilometers) across.  That probably isn’t big enough to wipe out a species as versatile as ours, but it’s enough, more than likely, to bomb us back to the stone age.

Some folks on the Internet discussed the possible damage here.  There is even a cool BattleCalc style damage calculator that Purdue University put together here.

You see, infrastructure is a touchy thing.  Infrastructure means all of those layers of technology that we rely on to allow us to continue to go to work everyday to build or prop up more layers of technology to rely on.  The knowledge base that supports it all is really only one or two generations of hunter-gatherer away from being forgotten.  A major, planet altering event like a class 8 caldera eruption (long notice and unlikely) or a celestial impact (umm, potentially SHORT notice), that kills enough people could cause the network of skills that supports our current population to come unraveled like a moth-eaten sweater.  Ten years of that would kill off most of our species through starvation and strife, because the land really can’t support more than a certain density of hunter-gatherers.  Then, after one or two generations of eating rabbits, twigs and berries for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the memory of all we see around us today would fall to dust.

“Mommy, what’s that?”

“We call it the ‘food tower’.  See that cat walking in that fourth square opening on the third level?  Take careful aim…Good Girl!  Now climb up there and get it and I’ll teach you how to dress it out for breakfast.”

Three mile wide comet impacts do that sort of thing, and it could happen someday…just one year after astronomers look at their charts some morning, cuss, and spill their coffee.

Please understand, one year is not enough time to do anything about an incoming killer impact, so it’s a really good thing this comet won’t hit us.  It’ll pass us like so many others, just a cosmic shot across our bow.

Comet ISON seen by Hubble

Comet ISON seen by Hubble (Photo credit: UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences)

So we still have some time.

I don’t know exactly what to do about it…but somebody needs to.


~ by Bill Housley on October 18, 2013.

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