Sunday, June 2, 2013

Beginning of the end?

One of the quotes that has stuck with me through the ages goes something like this:
'The reason dinosaurs are extinct is because they didn't have a space program.' 
That quote can be attributed to Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven, both science fiction writers of great renown. With all due respect to Mr. Niven, I'm going to go with Clarke as the originator of that observation. Perhaps Niven expounded on that idea, which is all right by me.
In my mind, the benefits have always outweighed the cost. If we take a look at human history, we have always felt the need to expand our horizons. That time is fast approaching once more.
Last February 15th a meteor entered the atmosphere in Russia, detonating with a force of 440 kilotons of TNT. It is estimated the blast was 20 to 30 times more powerful than an atomic bomb.
For those of us who are scientifically challenged, that was a big damn explosion. Over 7,000 buildings in 6 cities were destroyed, sending 1,200 people to the hospital.
Imagine the city you live in and the 5 closest towns to you. Now envision them destroyed or damaged beyond our ability to repair them. 
Scientists estimate the meteor was 17 to 20 meters long (52 to 65 feet) and the kicker? It came out of nowhere! No one saw it coming. We earthlings have this huge blind spot called the sun, and we're only moderately lucky at spotting the ones that come at us from the other direction. Here's the wikipedia entry. 
If you're thinking to yourself, 'Oh, that's just one and it happened to Russia.' Well guess again kiddies.
That happened last Friday. It came as close as 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers.) or 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon. Here's a better link. Estimates say QEII is nine times larger than an ocean liner. The fact it shares the initials with the Queen Elizabeth II is just coincidence.
This asteroid is big enough to have a smaller chunk of rock orbiting it like a moon. Wrap your head around that. While it did pass us and we're not in danger from that chunk of rock, it will be back... in 200 years.
So let's think this one out. A rock half the size of a football field can level several cities. The asteroid that caused the dinosaurs extinction was believed to be about 6 miles long.
So QEII, which measures approximately 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) across, can bring us a world of hurt no matter where it lands.
We are overdue for a culling of the herd. Is this a call for mass killings? No. Instead, I want to put the idea out there that we need to expand our horizons. We humans need to be sending colonists to the Moon. We need to set up colonies on Mars and the Jovian satellites. I do not say this lightly or with visions of Star Trek in my head. Who ever goes first must realize it will be a one way trip, both into the history books as well as out into the solar system.

No comments: