Asteroids, Meteors and Fireballs! What would you do if it happened to you?

Asteroids, Meteors and Fireballs! What would you do if it happened to you?

By Carrie Eckles

February 15, 2013 was an interesting day astronomically speaking. For some people, it was absolutely terrifying.

The day began with a meteor that wreaked havoc in the Chelyabinsk area of Russia’s Ural Mountains. Later on that day, planet Earth was treated to an extremely close (by cosmic standards) flyby of an asteroid. And still later that evening, in San Francisco and surrounding areas, people reported seeing a fireball. Naturally, all these cosmic coincidences got people joking (or rather, half-joking) about the apocalypse.

While, technically, these space cases have nothing to do with each other, you gotta admit that three in a day is more than a little random and is a startling reminder of how, at any moment, it could happen again.

Asteroid 2012 DA14

Asteroid 2012 DA14

Asteroid 2012 DA14

They didn’t see this one coming until fairly recently. In fact, several news outlets quoted sources that said that, with such short notice, there was literally nothing we could’ve done about it if we were faced with a Hollywood disaster scenario. There would’ve been no Bruce Willis self-sacrificially saving the day.

The asteroid was 150 feet across, which may seem small, but considering the fact that it was hurtling past the Earth at a speed of 17,450 miles per hour (or 4.8 miles per second, according to NASA), it could make a huge impact if it had indeed hit our planet. According to earthsky.org, Earth would’ve survived such an impact, if it had occurred, but the asteroid would’ve been able to do enough damage to flatten an entire city. To put that in perspective, if this asteroid had impacted Earth, it would’ve hit us was the equivalent violence of 2,500 kilotons of TNT. According to popsci.com, the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was only about 17 kilotons of TNT. So, basically, an asteroid hitting the Earth, while it might not kill all of us, would most certainly impact many of us and should be stopped, if we can.

And that’s why many people, former astronauts like Ed Lu at the forefront, are crying out that more money be spent on finding these near-earth objects. Currently, we only know about 10% of them. I’m not an alarmist, but that number doesn’t satisfy me. Because the fact is, with more funding, we could know about a lot more. And, if we knew about them earlier, maybe Bruce Willis could have a chance to save our asses a la Armageddon.

Also note that the asteroid flew by earth less than 17,000 miles away from us. It was closer to our planet than many of our satellites, passing right by them—luckily. Yes, space is an empty place—that’s why it’s called that. And though the chances of this asteroid hitting our satellites were extremely small, it was still a possibility. Again, that’s not to alarm people—it’s simply a reasonable plea to get smart about this.

The more time that passes without a super large collision, the more likely it is to happen. In 1908, just 105 years ago, a meteor (that some even think was actually an asteroid) hit the Tunguska region of Russia. (Poor Russia, I know. It’s not fair they got hit twice in a blue moon, but one must consider the sheer size of the country as a possible reason of the century-spanning double-whammy.) The Tunguska impact devastated the region. And while that in itself is a tragedy in terms of the lives of the local

people, we have to consider what it would’ve been like if it had, say, hit London instead. London at that time was heavily populated. (And still is.) It would’ve changed history as we know it. And we have to consider that, while the chances are small, the same thing could happen again.

The difference between then and now is that now, we are very interdependent on one another. What happens on the other side of the world affects us here. What happens to us here makes them over there sad. We would all be lost without each other, which is why we should all focus on trying to detect these relatively little monsters that do so much damage before they get a chance.

(That said, with three unlikely cosmic occurrences happening in one day, the chances are slim we will be in apocalyptic danger anytime soon. But if February 15, 2013 showed us anything, it’s that the universe is a random place and we are subject—and sitting ducks—to its whimsy.)

The Chelyabinsk meteor

 Chelyabinsk meteor

Chelyabinsk meteor

No one saw it coming, because, indeed, it was very small. It was part of a meteor shower; meteor showers are common occurrences that we don’t really think much of because of their relative frequency. But the Chelyabinsk meteor was different, not only because it came upon the Urals region on the morning Earth was to expect the flyby of 2012 DA14, but because of the sheer damage it did. According to NASA, the meteor had the intensity of 30 Hiroshima bombs.

People were momentarily entranced as the brighter-than-the-sun object hurtled past them. It created a horrible sonic boom which shattered windows. Over a thousand people were injured. And Spicies, this thing was small. This was no doomsday asteroid. This was a meteor. It was a meteor and it caused so much destruction. We didn’t see it coming, because it was simply too small to see. But maybe, one day in the future, when we have early warning systems, we might be able to at least brace for impact. I mean, one would hope so—right?

The San Francisco Fireball

San Francisco Fireball

San Francisco Fireball

Happily, the San Francisco fireball of February 15, 2013 was just your everyday run-of-the-mill meteor. No one was killed. People were more fascinated than terrified, potentially because their lizard brain, the part that controls fight or flight told them that what was happening before their eyes was nowhere near as serious as what happened that morning in Chelyabinsk. In fact, what happened in San Francisco is pretty much the norm for meteors. I myself have seen them on that scale without even trying. In fact, I once saw a super tiny one at very close range and since it made no sonic boom and was so very small, my fight or flight instincts told me that I should just enjoy the show.

But I digress. One thing the San Francisco Fireball did was spark jokes and nervous half-jokes about the apocalypse. Despite scientists stressing that all three of these events were unrelated to one another and were merely random occurrences, people still had their doubts on some social media sites and it got me thinking…

What would you do if it happened to you?

This is where I get all Spicie on you. Here at Spicie, when we talk about current events, we don’t just want to spew our opinion or read like any other news piece—we want to make you think.

So, my question to our Spicie readership is: What would you do if some huge meteor was headed your way? There’s no time to prepare in any real meaningful way in terms of stopping it. You might have just a few moments notice. Maybe all you have is enough time to get in your basement or call your mother.

What would I do? Well, my mom died, so calling my mother is out. (Though, I guarantee you, if I were in such a predicament, I would probably wildly think “I want my Mommy”…because you only feel that way once she’s not there, you should know.) But especially since my mom is dead, I’ve come to realize that family is most important. Whether they are blood family, family by marriage, or family through strong friendship, they are the people you love most in the world. So, if I couldn’t be with them, I’d just at least call them. I’d tell them that everything was going to be fine, even if it was a lie. I’d tell them I love them. (And you should be doing that every day already. I try to, at least.)

I wouldn’t smoke a cigarette, because I promised my mom I never would again and I mean to keep it. But I probably would break out the tequila or something, because if one has to die alone in a catastrophe, you might as well be hammered. If my underage relations were with me, we’d nix the drinking and do some random dancing instead. Random dancing a la iCarly is the way I would want to go out if a meteor was hurtling at me. Because, if I had to die, I’d want to die living.

Love long and prosper

Love long and prosper

So, to sum it up: love and live and love living and love the ones you love while you’re living. I bet you anything the people in Chelyabinsk or any other disaster come to that conclusion once the whole shock thing dies down. I know I’ve been through enough personal disasters to bring me to that conclusion already. I didn’t need a meteor to tell me anything.

But you know what? If we had early warning systems already in place, and had more resources to scour the space around us, we wouldn’t even have to think about this. It wouldn’t be an issue. As human beings, we like to know what’s going on around us. Despite all the weirdness of February 15, these were all misses in cosmic terms. Earth survived to see another day. And if we take the time to look around us, it’ll survive many, many more. And if we take the time to actually love and live, we won’t have any regrets either way.

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