Look! Up in the sky! It’s...

Seaway News - - NEWS - Arthur Black Ba­sic Black

Not to alarm you or any­thing, but sup­pose, tomorrow morn­ing you looked over the rim of your Tim Hor­ton’s Dou­ble Dou­ble to per­ceive a mas­sive fire­ball scream­ing across the heav­ens to­wards you.

Sup­pose fur­ther that this fire­ball turned out to be an in­com­ing me­teor trav­el­ling at, let’s call it 67,600 kilo­me­tres an hour. And for the sake of ar­gu­ment, let’s imag­ine the fire­ball ex­ploded right over your town.

Al­ready hap­pened, my friend — last Fe­bru­ary. The re­sult­ing shock wave burst with what sci­en­tists say was the force of 40 Hiroshi­mas, shat­ter­ing thou­sands of win­dows and in­jur­ing more than 1,600 peo­ple who suf­fered ev­ery­thing from tem­po­rary blind­ness to skin-peel­ing sun­burns. Thing is, it hap­pened over the re­mote city of Chelyabinsk in Rus­sia, so we hardly heard about it.

In any case this me­teor was lit­tle more than a cos­mic snow­ball, as me­te­ors go – merely 19 me­tres in di­am­e­ter. Sci­en­tists es­ti­mate there may be as many as 20 mil­lion space rocks that size whizzing around our so­lar sys­tem.

Up un­til the Chelyabinsk in­ci­dent, sci­en­tists didn’t even bother track­ing space junk that small. They fig­ured only rocks more than 30 me­tres across were dan­ger­ous. Chelyabinsk has changed the odds. Sci­en­tists used to say we could ex­pect a se­ri­ous hit from outer space about once ev­ery cen­tury and a half; now they reckon it’s more like once ev­ery thirty years.

We’ve seen this movie be­fore. Back in 1908 a comet ex­ploded over the Tun­guska re­gion of Rus­sia, flat­ten­ing an es­ti­mated 80 mil­lion trees and scar­ing the be­jeep­ers out of thou­sands of ru­ral Rus­sians.

Then, of course, there was The Big One. Sixty- five mil­lion years ago an as­ter­oid six miles wide ploughed into Mex­ico’s Yu­catan, un­leash­ing world wide tsunamis, for­est fires, acid rain and an evic­tion no­tice to the world’s di­nosaur pop­u­la­tion.

Canada’s num­ber has also come up in the me­teor lot­tery. Eons ago, an un­in­vited in­truder from outer space scoured a crater 16 miles wide and 40 miles long cre­at­ing On­tario’s Sud­bury basin and leav­ing be­hind a vast and rich min­eral de­posit for which, nearly two bil­lion years later, share­hold­ers in Inco are still giv­ing thanks.

Nat­u­rally, such an event had min­i­mal ef­fect on Sud­bury’s prop­erty val­ues, oc­cur­ring as it did back in the Me­so­zoic Era – but what if it hap­pened to­day? And how likely is that any­way?

More likely than we’d like to think – and more likely than we used to be­lieve. Ac­cord­ing to the jour­nal Sci­ence, the ex­perts now reckon the Earth is seven times more likely to get se­ri­ously stoned from outer space than was pre­vi­ously be­lieved — and they’re talk­ing about rocks even big­ger than the one that ex­ploded over Chelyabinsk last year.

And don’t for­get: that one ex­ploded in the at­mos­phere. What if it had ploughed into the city? Or into New York? Or Toronto? Or Salt Spring Is­land?

Not to alarm you or any­thing.

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