Department of Ho-Hum

by on May 3, 2014 at 4:13 pm in Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Or should that read Department of Uh-Oh?:

Asteroids caused 26 nuclear-scale explosions in the Earth’s atmosphere between 2000 and 2013, a new report reveals.

Some were more powerful – in one case, dozens of times stronger – than the atom bomb blast that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 with an energy yield equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT.

Most occurred too high in the atmosphere to cause any serious damage on the ground. But the evidence was a sobering reminder of how vulnerable the Earth was to the threat from space, scientists said.

There is more here.  You will find asteroid protection presented as the paradigmatic example of a public good in…um…my favorite Principles text.

1 Joe Smith May 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Of course an asteroid does not spew out radioactivity so there is a big difference between explosions of the same size.

2 Adrian Ratnapala May 3, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Yes. A merely “nuclear scale” asteroid is probably not a big deal.

The thing that is hard to wrap the mind around is that we are personally at greater risk from a dinosaur-extinction type event. Those things seem to happen at ~100 million year type intervals, and would probably kill humans on earth one way or another. So thats an expectation value of 70 deaths per year. That’s not much, but more than some things we might worry about.

3 Nathan W May 3, 2014 at 11:12 pm

It would be nice to be running at no more than 50% under carrying capacity, give or take, just in case.

Who wants to deal with any sort of extended winter in an overcrowded world.

How many are too many? Depends what you think you/we need to have a happy life, I guess.

4 mobile May 4, 2014 at 2:28 pm

An overcrowded world is a world with a large, if unsustainable, food supply.

(And anyway, the world already is under 50% carrying capacity)

5 Thomas May 6, 2014 at 1:47 am

I take it that you aren’t volunteering for the culling? How predictably left wing.

6 Mark Thorson May 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm

The key point being these explosions occur so high in the atmosphere that they weren’t even noticed. They are not dangerous.

Not like Mad Cow Disease. After the USDA panel of experts report said Mad Cow Disease has become a permanent part of North American cattle herds and USDA began finding infected cattle across the country, they shut down the testing program and forced Creekstone Farms to stop testing their own cattle for the disease. I haven’t eaten U.S. beef in several years, and unless Creekstone Farms is allowed to resume testing, I won’t be eating any more of it. Australian beef is perfectly safe, and I had been eating that, but I can’t get it any more. It all goes to Japan.

7 Rich Berger May 3, 2014 at 5:20 pm

How many deaths In US from mad cow disease so far?

8 dearieme May 3, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Ask the cows.

In Britain nowadays we’d fear mad horse disease.

9 Mark Thorson May 3, 2014 at 8:55 pm

I made a FOIA request to the CDC to get some of that information, and the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center did provide the records I requested to the CDC, but the CDC refused to release them to me. At this time, the only deaths from variant CJD acknowledged by the CDC are people who had been overseas so there was plausible deniability for the U.S. beef industry. No cases have been acknowledged since 2006.

If there were no deaths from variant CJD in the records I requested, I don’t know why they would withhold them. I believe there have been deaths which are known but not publicly acknowledged in U.S. citizens who have not been overseas. Until I see the records I requested, I’m not going to touch U.S. beef.

10 Rahul May 4, 2014 at 1:32 am

FOIA denied on which grounds?

11 Mark Thorson May 4, 2014 at 11:32 am

After filing my FOIA request, CDC’s stated policy was that I should receive a postcard when the case was entered into their system and a response within 20 working days. I received neither. After a little over a month, I called the CDC FOI office, and I was told that the records I requested had been received by the CDC and were in the process of being reviewed for release. I was told the same thing in a follow-up call a month later.

Three months after making my original request, I received a written reponse from the CDC that they had no such records in their possession! That may indicate they destroyed the records rather than give them to me.

12 eddie May 5, 2014 at 10:16 am

I would strongly assume incompetence rather than malice.

13 Alexei Sadeski May 4, 2014 at 4:26 am
14 Donald Pretari May 3, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Most asteroids are cowards…,2722/

TUCSON, AZ—Though initial calculations showed it to be on a direct collision course with Earth, a pansy-ass asteroid approximately the size of Rhode Island has instead altered its trajectory to avoid the planet by more than 40,000 miles, astronomers at the University of Arizona reported Monday.

“Guess it just didn’t have the spuds to go through with it,” Richard A. Kowalski of the school’s Catalina Sky Survey said. “Real big surprise. Maybe you can try again when you accrete a little more mass than 6.32 x 1015 kilograms, okay? Chicken-shit.”

15 Chris Hansen May 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Let’s not forget Gamma Rays. Those are pretty f-ing dangerous (unless you have an atmosphere and magnetosphere between you and them–thank you Earth).

16 Dan Weber May 3, 2014 at 7:14 pm

That’s entirely the atmosphere. Magnetic fields don’t noticeably deflect gamma rays, which are essentially photons.

17 Alex Godofsky May 3, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Is this really a public good? Couldn’t your hypothetical privatizes asteroid-protection program threaten to not intercept asteroids that would strike countries that don’t pay their dues, thus making it excludable?

18 ShardPhoenix May 3, 2014 at 9:28 pm

As far as I’ve seen it’s not possible to predict the landing site with high precision yet, and even if it was, if the asteroid is big enough you don’t want it landing anywhere.

19 Nathan W May 3, 2014 at 11:14 pm

I think we’re talking about asteroids that are big enough that we don’t want them to land anywhere, yeah.

20 Boom U Go May 3, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Mega-volcanoes erupt every 200,000 to 400,000 years and we are due…remove a third of American West from use…and bring on Ice Age…

21 Mark Thorson May 3, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Civilization-destroying volcanic eruptions are much more frequent than that.

22 carlospln May 3, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Hekla? Santorini?

Is that the best you can do?


23 Alexei Sadeski May 4, 2014 at 4:31 am

Hekla3 didn’t destroy civilization nor bring on an ice age.

Same for Minoa.

24 Mark Thorson May 4, 2014 at 11:43 am

Some scientists blame Hekla 3 for the Bronze Age Collapse, which wiped out several civilizations.

Hekla appears to be ready to erupt again.

The Minoan eruption is generally blamed for the collapse of the Minoan civilization.

25 Marie May 3, 2014 at 8:12 pm

I have insider information that only 8 light minutes — minutes! — away from the Earth’s surface — surface! — there are reactions going on right now that are putting off more energy than hundreds — not dozens — of Hiroshima-sized bombs.

To be fair, though, I love these kinds of stories, they are fun.

26 mkt May 3, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Not only that, they are thermonuclear fusion reactions, not piddly fission ones, as with the Hiroshima bomb.

27 TallDave May 3, 2014 at 10:38 pm

The Sun is a surprisingly poor fusion reactor, it has the mass-equivalent energy production of a compost heap, which is why no terrestrial reactor attempts to do p-p fusion like the Sun. But the enormously long mean free path through the solar mass dictates that confinement will be exceedingly high (it’s so big that the energy produced takes a very long time to get out, so it gets very hot).

28 TallDave May 3, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Sorry, should be “enormously long distance radiation has to travel due to the small mean free path through the solar mass”

29 Lord May 4, 2014 at 12:04 pm

We were only a week off from a Carrington level CME in 2012. Perhaps everything is a little more common than we think.

30 Government May 3, 2014 at 10:32 pm

No, no, you can’t tax asteroids.

31 chuck martel May 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm

It’s OK if I get run over and killed by a bus while riding my bike down to the saloon but I’d feel pretty bad if everyone on the planet was simultaneously incinerated by an exploding asteroid. How many times do you suppose a similar event has already occurred somewhere else in the vast reaches of the cosmos? Do you think the beings that once lived there are still sad about it?

32 Ray Lopez May 4, 2014 at 12:25 am

That’s why I have argued that while anthropogenic global warming is real, another more immediate threat is bolides from space, which causes all five Big Five extinctions in earth’s history. I support this organization: which tracks such outer space bodies.

33 Roy May 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

I hate to tell you this, but geologists have no evidence that the End-Triassic, Permian-Triassic, or Ordovician extinctions had anything to do with bolides, and very few geologists believe the Late Devonian was either. Several prominent advocates of an extraterrestrial cause for the Late Devonian Extinction have actually changed their minds. And while I am a fan of the Chicxulub Impact structure and the epic tsunami that devastated North America at the end of the Cretaceous, there is considerable evidence that the actual extinction event happened half a million years later.

I still think Tyler is right about defending ourselves from such events. As to volcanic eruptions, I can’t even imagine how we would be able to do anything about them with anything like currently imaginable technology.

34 Willitts May 4, 2014 at 2:11 am

Asteroids are also the best example of exogenous shocks.

35 Ali Choudhury May 4, 2014 at 4:03 am

Nothing will happen policy-wise until a fairly large city gets obliterated by an asteroid strike.

36 Ronald Brak May 4, 2014 at 9:12 am

So if a fairly small city got obliterated people would shug their shoulders and say, “Meh, it’s only 100,000 dead. Let’s put no more resources into asteroid defence until at least 500,000 get killed.” Personally I think something would be done in that case, especially since there is a good chance we would have seen it coming as many city killlers that cross earth’s orbit have been identified. There’s nothing like months or years of, “It will probably hit the ocean or an uninhabited region,” followed by, “Oops!” to get people motivated to do something the next time the situation comes up.

Right now, although I haven’t crunched any numbers, I think we’d be better off working to eliminate malaria, but once we got that beat, and it won’t be long if we get our act together, asteroid defence will probably look like a very sensible place to put some resources.

37 Ray Lopez May 4, 2014 at 10:06 am

@Ronald Brak: one theory is that the Oort cloud and/or unexplained forces make bolides come in ‘bunches’*. So if one strikes, likely, like cockroaches, others will soon follow. Hence it pays to have a plan in place before the first strike.

* Thus is was not a coincidence that the bolide that struck in Russia last year followed in the path of a near-miss of a larger bolide that passed by earth at the same time.

38 Roy May 4, 2014 at 11:19 am

It depends on the city. But let’s say something as big as the bollide that helped create Chesapeake Bay 35 million years ago hit Antarctica or the Sahara, not even generating a tsunami, than say a repeat hit on Hampton Roads, which after all exists today because of an impact crater.

39 l file May 4, 2014 at 6:32 am

I wonder how many of those harmless asteroids we would have wasted money on intercepting if we had the capability to detect and intercept?


40 andrew' May 4, 2014 at 6:57 am

It might not be wasted if developing the technology makes it available for the big one.

41 andrew' May 4, 2014 at 6:58 am

It might not be wasted if developing the technology makes it available for the big one.

42 John May 4, 2014 at 10:07 am

Seems like the conclusion “a sobering reminder of how vulnerable the Earth was…” may be unjustified and the exact opposite could be drawn. All these threats were neutralized by our atmosphere.

So the big question seems to me to be the distribution of the size of things that reasonable could hit the earth in the next 10,000 years. We know we’re already removed a few of these so is the likelihood of future impacts dropping because there are not that many such items, are there processes that are replacing these objects or are we still too ignorant to really know the risks.

The cynic in me reads the conclusion as someone looking for increased funding.

43 Dave May 4, 2014 at 10:49 am

I don’t know how, but I’m pretty sure a War On Asteroids would just bring us more asteroids.

44 The Anti-Gnostic May 4, 2014 at 11:15 am

It would certainly bring us more Asteroid Warriors.

45 Ronald Brak May 4, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Gaining the ability to move asteroids out of a collision course means we have the power to move them into a collision course. So there is the possible that developing an asteroid defence will lead to an asteroid attack. I am optimistic that we will actually be safer with an asteroid defence than without it, but I guess it is possible the technology could be abued. Who knows? Maybe in the future earth’s fascistic government will drop an asteroid on Buenos Aires as a false flag attack to convince humanity to go to war against alien bugs.

46 Mark Thorson May 4, 2014 at 10:12 pm

The Asteroid Gap is Obama’s fault. McCain would not have let us get behind like that.

47 Marie May 5, 2014 at 10:37 pm

We’d better start training our kids to fight that, just in case.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: