Look! Up in the sky! It’s...
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.