Remember the “other factors” pointed to by Rare Earth hypothesis proponents I mentioned in the previous post? Things that may be necessary for the evolution of complex life that aren’t intrinsically accounted for in the Drake Equation? One of those is the presence of a significantly large, so-called “gas giant,” like Jupiter, in the same system as a habitable planet. The idea is that such a sturdy stalwart acts to gravitationally Hoover up enough of the biggest asteroids loitering around the neighborhood so as to allow the critters on an inner planet enough time to figure out things like civilization, technology and e-mail before they shoot cosmic craps and some big space rock slips in and ruins it for everyone.
Fat fucking lot of good it did for the residents of Chelyabinsk, Russia on Friday, February 15th.
But hey, we’ve seen our burly protector in action, through the 1994 impacts of Shoemaker-Levy 9 cometary fragments. So we know it does its job, as least sometimes, as the largest piece of Shoemaker shrapnel was on the order of 100 times the size of the little guy that injured over 1,000 and did more than $33 million in damage last week. Imagine a fleet of those jerks showing up on our doorstep. Thanks for having our back, Jupes.
Our watchful big brother can’t catch ‘em all, however, and some of the smaller stuff sneaks on through. On average we can expect an interloper the size of the Chelyabinsk object every 30-60 years. This most recent assaulter was the largest since the then mysterious 1908 blast at Tunguska, in the Siberian region of (would you believe it?) Russia. The solar system is obviously trying to strike at our population’s strategic vodka reserves.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Asteroid early detection is no joke. Fortunately, NASA estimates that they’ve locked down the orbits of more than 90% of the near Earth objects large enough to wipe us out (those at least a kilometer in diameter), and none of them should come calling anytime soon. The outlook is less rosy when considering debris with diameters in the 100 meter range, as we’ve only got a handle on about 30% of those. To compare, Friday’s visitor was probably less than 20 meters in size. There are hopes that new projects like ATLAS will aid in increasing our detection limits, but even that won’t spot rocks as small as the Chelyabinsk body. Maybe it’s time to spend more than $3 million a year on such things?
Additionally, perhaps this will finally shut up the Tunguska conspiracy nuts. Some people will try to find a mystery anywhere, and plenty claim something stranger must have happened then because no large meteorite fragments were found. Forgetting the fact that no one bothered to look for 13 years. And ignoring the discovery of the predicted silicate and magnetite spheres in the surrounding soil and tree resin. Or the anomalously high amounts of iridium, an element that’s rare on Earth but more abundant in asteroids. The first fragments of the Chelyabinsk object have been identified, but it’s probably easier to know where to look when you can see the damn hole in the ice.
The ubiquitous video footage of the meteor’s approach, thanks in part to Russia’s obsession with dash cams, has nothing but bad implications for the “UFO phenomenon,” to boot. If interstellar snoops are constantly dropping by, why aren’t they repeatedly filmed from a myriad of different angles, as in the montage above? And don’t tell me they know enough to avoid the former Soviet republic; I’ve seen sighting reports from less than 2 months ago. Hell, the meteorite that struck a parked car in Peekskill, New York in 1992 was filmed by *16 different people,* in a time prior to our now inescapable cell phone preoccupation. If aliens were around as much as the proponents claim, they’d have a weekly dedicated segment on TMZ.