The most exciting atmospheric event of recent times had nothing to do with global warming.
The bus-sized meteor that burst into the atmosphere over Siberia on Thursday has deservedly garnered a lot of attention. It’s the biggest such atmospheric explosion since the Tunguska Event, in 1908, and took place many miles above the surface of the planet, its hundreds of kilotons of energy mostly absorbed by the atmosphere. And a million Chelyabinsk windows.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the incident showed the need for leading world powers to develop a system to intercept objects falling from space.
“At the moment, neither we nor the Americans have such technologies” to shoot down meteors or asteroids, he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
American astronomer and celebrity Neil deGrasse Tyson explained that, below a certain size, such asteroids approaching Earth are undetectable. (Nomenclature clarification: an asteroid is a rock in space; a meteor is one that hits the atmosphere; a meteorite is one that hits the ground.) And there’s nothing we can do about them. They almost literally come in “under the radar.”
But bigger objects could be tracked, are tracked. And potentially something could be done about those. Which is good, since they could be Earth killers.
Not surprisingly, deGrasse Tyson’s followers were blessed with a meme blast saying, “Asteroids… are nature’s way of asking: ‘How’s that space program coming along?’”
For my part, NASA’s current bowing out to industry is a step in the right direction. For it’s only when there’s a lot of space traffic that we can expect expert space traffic cops — who (whether public or private) would be better equipped to stop the next big wannabe-meteorite.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.