In the history of the solar system, and even in human history, there are clear records of extraordinary and devastating catastrophes… On the landscapes of other planets, where the records of the past are better preserved, there is abundant evidence of major catastrophes. It’s all a matter of time scales. An event which is improbable in a hundred years, may be inevitable in a hundred million years. Even on the Earth in this century there have been bizarre natural events.
Cosmos – A Personal Voyage (1980) [video]
On June 30, 1908 an incoming meteor exploded approximately 5 miles above Siberia. The force of the air burst explosion, estimated at between 15 and 30 megatons, or about 1000 times bigger than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, was so powerful that it annihilated everything in an 830 square mile area, and reports suggest that that explosion was heard up to 1000 miles away. Because of the remoteness of the impact zone, the Tunguska Event over Siberia had very little effect on the human population in the region, but the destruction of some 80 million trees in the area shows just how powerful a blast was created.
Should a Tunguska type event occur on our planet today, especially over a populated metropolitan area, millions would be killed instantly, with many millions more being affected by the social and economic reverberations that may result from the catastrophe.
According to NASA, there is a distinct possibility that an asteroid recently identified by star gazers in Spain could hit Earth around February 15, 2013. Based on its size and trajectory, it’s estimated that the 60 to 100 meter wide asteroid, dubbed 2012 DA14, could be similar in scope and devastation to Tunguska should it enter our atmosphere.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure where on Earth the impact would occur, but they are sounding proximity warnings now:
The asteroid, known as DA14, will pass by our planet in February 2013 at a distance of under 27,000 km (16,700 miles). This is closer than the geosynchronous orbit of some satellites.
There is a possibility the asteroid will collide with Earth, but further calculation is required to estimate the potential threat and work out how to avert possible disaster, NASA expert Dr. David Dunham told students at Russia’s University of Electronics and Mathematics.
“The Earth’s gravitational field will alter the asteroid’s path significantly. Further scrupulous calculation is required to estimate the threat of collision,” said Dr. Dunham, as transcribed by Russia’s Izvestia. “The asteroid may break into dozens of small pieces, or several large lumps may split from it and burn up in the atmosphere. The type of the asteroid and its mineral structure can be determined by spectral analysis. This will help predict its behavior in the atmosphere and what should be done to prevent the potential threat,” said Dr. Dunham.
In the event of a collision, scientists have calculated that the energy released would equate to the destructive power of a thermo-nuclear bomb.
How close is it? In 2005, scientists warned of the potentially hazardous asteroid named YU55, which passed within 200,000 miles of earth. In space distance terms, 2012 DA14 which will be within 20,000 miles of earth, is just a stones throw away.
It’s close, as demonstrated by the following orbit diagram from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
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