Aside from all the neato deep space exploration NASA conducts, one of the space agency’s responsibilities includes keeping track of all the potentially dangerous objects hurtling around our own neck of the space woods. NASA tracks over 15,000 so-called near-Earth objects (NEOs), many of which have been passing uncomfortably close to Earth lately. The threat of these NEOs is so great that NASA and FEMA have recently teamed up for asteroid strike preparedness drills and the White House itself drafted its first “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy” earlier this year. Worried yet? Keep reading.
A team of astronomers from the Czech Academy of Sciences just released new data which show that Earth faces a larger threat from asteroid strikes than we realize. To make that claim, the researchers studied the Taurid meteor shower, an annual autumnal encounter with the comet Encke which creates bright fireballs as small chunks of rock and ice burn up in our atmosphere.
Using observatory data of Taurid fireballs seen in the sky throughout 2015, the astronomers believe they have discovered a new branch of the Taurid meteor shower with a clear orbital structure which puts it on a collision course with Earth every few years. Their results have been published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
According to an accompanying press release, the Czech astronomers believe that some of the asteroids in this new branch of the Taurid meteor shower could be hundreds of meters across, making the annual shower more dangerous than we realize:
During that time, the chance of impact of a sizeable asteroid (tens of meters) is significantly enhanced. Even if intrinsically weak, bodies of such size can penetrate deep in the atmosphere and pose a hazard to the ground. Further studies leading to better description of this real source of potentially hazardous objects, which can be large enough to cause significant regional or even continental damage, are therefore extremely important.
Let that sink in: continental damage. Oh, and did I mention NASA also recently discovered 28 new near Earth objects, ten of which are classified as potentially dangerous? Yep, it's one of those days. If you need me, I’ll be out back digging my bunker. Remember: low-acid canned goods can last up to five years. After that, well, hopefully you can learn to hunt - if any animals remain alive after the shockwave hits. The more we learn about the dangers of space and the histories of our planet and our galactic neighbors, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it’s not a question of if but of when and how bad. Just hope you're one of the lucky millions to be vaporized instantly. Some fates are much, much worse than death.