In answer to the title of this post, probably not. As a child, it was always a fear of mine that I would suddenly awake to a giant space rock hurtling towards the earth, a terrifying ball of fire intent on wiping out all existence on earth. I probably watched Armageddon far too many times though, and had very little faith in Bruce Willis’ ability to save humanity. It is very normal to fear something that we do not fully understand, and the media has a way to heighten this fear through misinformation and dramatisation. Should we have this fear though? Let’s look more into this.
Early this month, Asteroid 2017 BS32 hurtled past our tiny planet missing it by an estimated 161,280km. Now on a galactic and universal scale, that is pretty close, but when you consider that every planet in our solar system could fit between earth and the moon, not so much. But could it have destroyed the earth? The asteroid was of similar size to that of one that entered earths atmosphere in Russia, 2013, from this we can assume that the effects would have been comparable. The meteorite, due to its size and shallow angle of atmospheric entry, exploded in the air, injuring over 1000 people seriously enough to seek medical attention. The injuries were mainly due to broken glass from windows, that shattered due to the immense shock wave. From this we can conclude that, although the event was unfortunate for many, the earth is still here.
The near-miss of Asteroid 2017 BS32 follows news that another galactic stone, dubbed 2016 WF9, is on course to pass the Earth on February the 25th. Although NASA has stated that the space rock will fly by at a distance of 32 million miles from the planet, one alternate theory seems to be standing out. This theory, articulated by Dr Zakharovich, is that ‘NASA are lying through their teeth’. He believes that the asteroid is in fact a fragment of the fabled planet Nibiru, so is much larger than predicted, and heading straight for us! This of course, is highly unlikely, as Nibiru is likely a fictional planet formulated by doomsday theorists.
Indeed, the threat of a giant rock causing considerable damage to our planet remains a distinct possibility. Experts at NASA have reportedly attended an “emergency” summit to explore the risk posed by asteroids. They have warned it’s “not a matter of if, but when” we will be forced to deal with an asteroid slamming into the Earth’s surface.
But what exactly is an asteroid?
An asteroid is a small rocky mass which orbits the sun, but is too small to be classed as a planet. Most of them are found in the Asteroid Belt, a ring which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It’s thought that asteroids are debris left over at the formation of the universe about 4.6 billion year ago. Some can be very large, but others can be tiny, even as small as a grain of sand. Because of their smaller size, asteroids lack the gravitational pull to pull themselves into a sphere, meaning they usually have a rocky, irregular appearance.
So, should we be worried about asteroids?
History reassures us that the most dangerous asteroids are very rare. About once a year, an asteroid the size of a car hits the atmosphere, burning up before it reaches the surface. Larger asteroids, that are believed to strike Earth every 1,000 to 10,000 years, could destroy a city or cause devastating tsunamis. Asteroids large enough to wipe out life, which would need to be over a quarter of a mile wide, only strike once every 1,000 centuries. So, the probability of a life altering asteroid crashing into the Earth during our lifetime is really quite small.
What would happen if one struck the Earth?
When an asteroid crashes into the Earth, it’s known as a meteorite, and can potentially cause catastrophic damage, depending on the size. For example, it is theorised that it was in fact an asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs, as the immense force of the impact threw up a dust cloud which blocked out sunlight, destroying life. To this day its crater, known as Chicxulub, still exists in Mexico. At the time, experts say that it released the same amount of energy as an atomic weapon. So, an asteroid’s effects on Earth ultimately depends on the individual asteroid, but it is clear the if one large enough did strike the Earth, the consequences could be catastrophic.
In conclusion to this, I believe that we are safe from any immediate dangers posed by an asteroid strike. We can refer to history and probability to reassure us that it is highly unlikely that an asteroid of earth threatening size will hit our precious little planet. The media often choose to write or talk about worst case scenarios in order to draw attention to their articles and stories, nothing more. With the ever increasing level of technology aiding in the surveillance of this field and the number of brilliant minds keeping watch, I believe that we are safe. With a little self-education, and faith in those watching the skies, we can reassure ourselves and one another.