NEOs: Near Earth Objects, or Nasty Existential Obliteration

Paul Raven @ 19-01-2009

meteorite impact sculptureHere’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]


Mysterious Peruvian meteor illness solved

Stephen Years @ 25-09-2007

meteor_peru.jpg
Photograph by Miguel Carrasco/La Razon/Reuters

Exactly one week ago I wrote a post about the meteor strike in Peru that made the local residents near the impact crater sick. Being the science fiction fan that I am, I immediately began coming up with worst case scenarios: galactic plague; interstellar biological first strike; zombie inducing spores; etc. Well, it turns out that there is a perfectly benign explanation:

The illness was the result of inhaling arsenic fumes, according to Luisa Macedo, a researcher for Peru’s Mining, Metallurgy, and Geology Institute (INGEMMET), who visited the crash site. The meteorite created the gases when the object’s hot surface met an underground water supply tainted with arsenic, the scientists said. Numerous arsenic deposits have been found in the subsoils of southern Peru, explained Modesto Montoya, a nuclear physicist who collaborated with the team.


Peruvian villagers become sick after meteor strike

Stephen Years @ 18-09-2007

Villagers in Southern Peru became sick with a mystery illness last Saturday after a meteor struck nearby. The villagers complained of headaches and vomiting caused by a strange odor. Several police officers also became sick while investigating the impact. Rescue teams and experts were dispatched to the scene, where the meteorite left a 100-foot-wide (30-meter-wide) and 20-foot-deep (six-meter-deep) crater.

One can not help but think of Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain.

UPDATE

Via the BBC:

An engineer from the Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute told the AFP news agency no radiation had been detected from the crater and ruled out the fallen object being a satellite.

Renan Ramirez said: “It is a conventional meteorite that, when it struck, produced gases by fusing with elements of the terrain.”

The gases are believed to have affected the health of about 600 people who visited the site.