Monday, July 30, 2012

Should we worry about "1999 RQ36"? - ScienceReport

"The dinosaurs disappeared because they could not adapt to their changing environment... (Arthur C. Clarke)

"The extinction was a pivotal moment in Earth's history."

What I think about when reading such headlines as "ASTEROID TO HIT EARTH" and "DISASTER IN 2013?"

And so I click and read the online article with a racing heart, fearing that everything I have come to know and love will vanish Deep Impact-style. Of course the odds of an extinction-type event are very slim, although the Dinosaurs might have something to say about that - according to a panel of 41 international scientists an asteroid that struck the earth "with the force of a billion Hiroshimas" caused their (that is the dinosaurs not the scientists - that would be breaking news) fatal demise 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Period, leaving the Earth a wasteland, virtually devoid of all life and with temperatures plummeting. It is also believed the event would have led to extinction within days.

Mammals survived, in most cases, so the future of Humankind was secured. And I guess, without this fatal moment in Earth's past, we would never have had the opportunity to fully enjoy Steven Spielberg's 1993 dino spectacular Jurassic Park (based on the novel of the same name by author Michael Crichton) - true, how would such a movie be of interest when you can simply visit these splendid beasts in the local zoo? That is, if we had even survived and evolved in the first place with Godzilla still walking the Earth.

After all, the words of Dr Gareth Collins, based in London, really struck a chord, "The extinction was a pivotal moment in Earth's history, which ultimately paved the way for humans to become the dominant species on Earth."

2012 DA14 is a near earth asteroid that recently came to my attention - OK, to the world's attention! It was first discovered this year after it took a stroll past our planet. According to reports, the heavenly body will make a return visit on 15 February, 2013, but will not impact with our beloved Earth. But if the thought of 2012 DA14 isn't enough to send you packing and grabbing your ticket for Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's spacecraft ("When Worlds Collide") then perhaps the 1999 RQ36 asteroid will do the job instead?

This roaming mass (which is believed to date back to the very formation of our solar system, 4.56 billion years ago) has gained enough concern for NASA to launch an unmanned spacecraft in 2016 as part of its OSIRIS-Rex programme (Google it, they're even on Twitter) with the aim of collecting samples from the asteroid itself, in an attempt to understand the very nature of the threat. 1999 RQ36 is the size of five football fields.

Even with slim odds, the asteroid has been put at the top of the danger list. I do also expect to panic if actor Elijah Wood ever discovers an unusual object in outer space.

Further reading: Near Earth Object Programme - 1999 RQ36