Sunday, February 15, 2015

NOVA - Meteor Strike

SPACEGUARD     Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.  On June 30, 1908, Moscow escaped destruction by three hours and four thousand kilometers—a margin invisibly small by the standards of the universe.  On February 12, 1947, another Russian city had a still narrower escape, when the second great meteorite of the twentieth century detonated less than four hundred kilometers from Vladivostok, with an explosion rivaling that of the newly invented uranium bomb.
    In those days there was nothing that men could do to protect themselves against the last random shots in the cosmic bombardment that had once scarred the face of the Moon.  The meteorites of 1908 and 1947 had struck uninhabited wilderness; but by the end of the twenty-first century there was no region left on Earth that could be safely used for celestial target practice.  The human race had spread from pole to pole.  And so, inevitably . . .
    At 0946 GMT on the morning of September 11 in the exceptionally beautiful summer of the year 2077, most of the inhabitants of Europe saw a dazzling fireball appear in the eastern sky.  Within seconds it was brighter than the Sun, and as it moved across the heavens—at first in utter silence—it left behind it a churning column of dust and smoke.
    Somewhere above Austria it began to disintegrate, producing a series of concussions so violent that more than a million people had their hearing permanently damaged.  They were the lucky ones.
    Moving at fifty kilometers a second, a thousand tons of rock and metal impacted on the plains of northern Italy, destroying in a few flaming moments the labor of centuries.  The cities of Padua and Verona were wiped from the face of the Earth; and the last glories of Venice sank forever beneath the sea as the waters of the Adriatic came thundering landward after the hammer blow from space.
    Six hundred thousand people died, and the total damage was more than a trillion dollars.  But the loss to art, to history, to science—to the whole human race, for the rest of time—was beyond all computation.  It was as if a great war had been fought and lost in a single morning; and few could draw much pleasure from the fact that, as the dust of destruction slowly settled, for months the whole world witnessed the most splendid dawns and sunsets since Krakatoa.
    After the initial shock, mankind reacted with a determination and a unity that no earlier age could have shown.  Such a disaster, it was realized, might not occur again for a thousand years—but it might occur tomorrow.  And the next time, the consequences could be even worse.
    Very well; there would be no next time.
    A hundred years earlier, a much poorer world, with far feebler resources, had squandered its wealth attempting to destroy weapons launched, suicidally, by mankind against itself.  The effort had never been successful, but the skills acquired then had not been forgotten. Now they could be used for a far nobler purpose, and on an infinitely vaster stage.  No meteorite large enough to cause catastrophe would ever again be allowed to breach the defenses of Earth.
    So began Project SPACEGUARD.  Fifty years later—and in a way that none of its designers could ever have anticipated—it justified its existence.
  From Chapter #1
Rendezvous with Rama
A novel by Arthur C. Clarke
Copyright 1973 

Today on Far Future Horizons, we present an exciting episode from the acclaimed PBS documentary series NOVA titled Meteor Strike. 

Today marks the second anniversary of the Chelyabinsk Event of February 15th, 2013. On this date, a 10,000 metric ton asteroid exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk with thirty times the explosive yield of the atomic bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.

The Chelyabinsk Event highlights the urgent need to establish a planetary defense system to protect the Earth from future impact events.

A potential disaster scenario where a sizable asteroid or meteorite explodes over or impacts a major urban center can no longer be treated as mere science fiction fancy. It happened on February 15th, 2013 when over 1,000 people were actually injured. And, it will one day happen again perhaps with far greater devastating results. 

On the morning of February 15th, 2013, a 10,000 tonnes asteroid crashed into the Earth's atmosphere, exploded and showered fragments over a wide, snowy area near the Ural Mountains.

According to NASA, the Siberian Meteor exploded with the power of 30 Hiroshima bombs and was the largest object to burst in the atmosphere since the famous Tunguska event of 1908, also in Siberia. That time, there were few eyewitnesses or clues except for fifty miles of flattened, charred trees.

This time, the event was captured by countless digital dashboard cameras, which have lately become a common fixture in Russian autos and trucks. Within days, armed with this unprecedented crowd-sourced material, NOVA crews hit the ground in Russia along with impact scientists as they hunted for fragments from the explosion and clues to the meteor’s origin and makeup.

Their conclusions add up to a chilling picture of how close we came to a far worse disaster, which NOVA sets in perspective by looking back at much greater explosions in the past — from Tunguska to the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

"Meteor Strike" puts it all together and asks: Is our solar system a deadly celestial shooting gallery with Earth in the cross-hairs  What are the chances that another, more massive asteroid is heading straight for us? Are we just years, months or days away from a total global reboot of civilization, or worse?

This NOVA documentary can be purchased from PBS Home Video

NOVA: Meteor Strike
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