Recently, a NASA scientist announced that humanity doesn’t really stand a chance at this point if a big space rock comes slamming into our fragile little blue planet. As 2016 begins to wrap up, I felt it appropriate to look back upon a few of the apocalyptic dangers from space that made the news over the last year. I think many of us felt that this was the year; it was finally over and the universe was going to put 2016 and our species to rest. Many complain that 2016 was basically one of the worst years ever; true to not, NASA definitely played its part to scare the crap out of us.
One of my favorite stories was the asteroid lovingly named Bennu. This 500 meter goliath, weighing in at 60 million tons, is currently the subject of intense study. The concern is that as this asteroid passes near Earth in 2018, the gravitational ‘wobble’ caused by the Yarkovsky effect (a trajectory shifting caused by it absorbing and releasing solar heat) will bring Bennu much closer to Earth when it comes around again. A small satellite named OSIRIS-REx was launched in September; its job is to attach to the asteroid, vacuum up samples of rock for study, and then head back to Earth. It should be home sometime in 2023. God speed little buddy.
Just to raise the blood pressure, NASA announced in September of 2016 that Earth had a near miss with an asteroid. To make matters better, they had no idea it was there until after it screamed past our planet at 56,000 miles per hour. The asteroid passed between the Earth and Moon, coming within 60,000 miles of the planet. The icing on the cake? This type of stuff happens all the time. NASA actively tracks 15,000 ‘Near Earth Objects’, over a thousand of which are really bad assuming they hit us.
To deal with the chaos and destruction of an asteroid strike, FEMA partnered with NASA in late October of this year to engage in “wargame” like simulations to test how humanity would deal with the looting, pillaging, and extreme levels of death. While they did not release the exact details of the simulations, the purpose was to establish how FEMA would deal with the media and maintain population control during such an event. Not like it really matters anyway...
A little over a week ago, a NASA scientist speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union was brutally honest with his peers in regards to the ‘asteroid problem.’ Dr. Joseph Nuth just came right out and said it,
...the biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment...But on the other hand, they are the extinction-level events, things like dinosaur killers, they’re 50 to 60 million years apart...you could say, of course, we’re due, but it’s a random course at that point.
It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling as we approach Christmas that it all could be over, and according to the planet’s leading space agency, we’re basically screwed if it does happen. This is one of those “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” moments. We know enough so we’re afraid, but not enough to stop the end of humanity. Sit back, enjoy your rum filled eggnog, sing a carol, and hope 2016 literally does not end with a bang.