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Asteroids: A miss is as good as a mile

The Armageddon prophets will lament again: Today a 500 meter large Asteroid whizzes "shortly" past the earth. Does man only have more luck than the dinosaurs or is an impact just a question of time?

 Moment of impact of an asteroid on earth
Picture by NASA

Actually we should pull off our hat for a short minute's silence, if today, Sunday, "NY 40", an Asteroid with a diameter of approximately 500 meters, by-pulls the earth with a speed of 32.000 km/h a little distance outside of the moon orbit. Let's hold one minute's silence for the dinosaurs, our pre-tenants on this planet, which were finished off 65 million years ago, by an about 10 kilometer large boulder.

Through the enormous impact of this "large brother" with an explosive yield of approximately 100 million megatons near Yucatan (Mexico), apart from the direct consequences for the organisms there as much debris and ash was hurled into the atmosphere that the sky darkened around the globe for years, temperatures sank approximately down to 40 degrees and a widespread death was released.

Mankind was simply lucky so far. "Every one million years", explains NASA expert David Morrison, "an Asteroid of two kilometers of diameters and a devastating explosive yield of one million megatons would have to come approached on collision course with our planet. In addition about a thousand Asteroids with a diameter of a kilometer regularly rush on more or less long orbits past the earth." And in the order magnitude of the "NY 40", which could even be observed with good field glasses over Europe past night, again estimated one million ping through our space front garden every once in a while. Even such "small" boulders of more than 50 meters, which lately hit an uninhabited area in Siberia in 1908, could be capable of devastating whole countries.

At present asteroid researchers think about it, how one could turn such a natural disaster away, presupposed one discovers the interstellar aggressor on time.

Professor Rudolf Dvorak of the university observatory in Vienna: "Technically we are not yet so far, but in ten to twenty years, one will supposedly be able to divert such an Asteroid from its dangerous course with the purposeful ignition of an atom bomb far outside in the universe. A few centimeter of deviation per second would already be sufficient."

Till then we have to wait and observe industriously, because one still only knows too little about the extraterrestrial projectiles. Astronomers so far discovered about half of all large, near earth Asteroids (larger than a kilometer) and computed the flight paths. None of them represents imminence. And for the others, still unknown there is an interesting American statistics.

Therefore the probability of loosing one's life in the USA amounts by one

Car accident 1 : 100
Electrical impact 1 : 5000
Aircraft crash 1 : 20.000
Asteroid impact 1 : 20.000
Tornado 1 : 60.000
Insect bite 1 : 100.000

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© A report by Tobias Micke (18-08-02) – Contact