Had a bad week? Or just simply looking for a way to kill time at work as the year winds down? How about simulating asteroid collisions with the Earth? [via Space.com]
Just to get the disappointment up front: you don’t get a Hollywood CGI rendering of your imaginary impact (though there is a sort of intro video of a rock falling into the gravity well that runs while the calculations are being done, a bit like a cut-scene from Bruce Willis Saves The Planet While Wearing a Grubby Wifebeater Vest: The Computer Game or something). But what you do get is a list of statistical stuff: energy released in impact, crater size, thermal radiation, that sort of thing.
So, a pretty decent tool for doing the worldbuilding due diligence on your apocalypse novel… or simply exercising your inner misanthrope (fluffy white lap-cat and hammy accent optional).
Here’s something else that, alongside finding we have living neighbours on the planet next door, might give the space programs of the world a much needed kick in the backside. President-Elect, take note of the large number of Near Earth Objects, and our current inability to track them all effectively, let alone deal effectively with one on a collision course:
The numbers here are stark. NASA’s Near Earth Object Program reports that we’ve found 5,955 NEOs, some 763 of which are at least one kilometer in diameter. 1008 NEOs larger than 140 meters across come within 4.5 million miles of Earth’s orbit, dangerous to us because perturbing influences could change their trajectories in the future. Centauri Dreams believes that the discovery of an object on a collision course with Earth would galvanize the space program as researchers looked for the best ways to deflect its path. The problem is time.
As existential risks go, a meteor strike is rather different to the others – statistically less likely to happen (or so we hope), but fast and utterly devastating of it does. Keep watching the skies, people… [image by larkspurlazuli]
A lobby group of scientists have urged the United Nations to invest in a system for detecting near-Earth asteroids that could collide with the planet. We’ve got a lot of existential risks on our plate right now, of which being clobbered into a prehistoric state by a lump of space rock is just one – and a fairly remote possibility, thankfully. But it’s also one that we’d need every spare moment of advance warning to deal with… Bruce Willis will need time to put on a clean vest, if nothing else. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that. [image by goldenrectangle]
That said, space rocks striking planets might have their upsides… at least on currently uninhabited planets. A paper from a Japanese university suggests that meteorites colliding with Earth may have been the source of the amino acid groups that began the chain of life. Not quite as science fictional as panspermia, but still quite a mind-bending thought.