Saturday, May 5, 2012

Send In the Asteroids

Earth-crossing asteroids - objects with highly elliptical orbits that cross the plane of Earth’s more circular solar orbit - are whizzing by us in the dark reaches of space. According to a recent post in, "At least three hundred of these potential killers are known, and in the next few decades some of them will pass uncomfortably close."

"A recent survey of how people are most likely to die rated asteroid impacts pretty low - something like 1 in 100,000 . . . . about the same probability as death by lightning or a tsunami . . . . Chances are excellent that you don’t have to worry, nor most likely will any of the next hundred generations. But we can be absolutely sure that another big impact of the dinosaur-killing variety is coming someday, somewhere. In the next fifty million years, Earth will suffer at least one big hit, maybe more. It’s all a matter of time and probability."

Cold comfort, says Miguel. You don't have to tell me twice. Probabilities be damned, if something bad is going to happen you can bet that someone will be around to worry me about it beforehand, over the 50 million years or so before it hits. This is something even the Transportation Safety Authority can't protect us against.

"Get your hands off my cupcakes!"

As the Final Day approaches, perhaps as early as 2029 when a 900-foot diameter rock is predicted to cross Earth's path well inside the Moon’s orbit, what remains of American capitalism will market asteroid survival in climate controlled asteroid shelters, home-brewers' survival kits, post-crash courses, late-night cable reality programs ("Asteroid Wars"), seminars and workshops, two-year associate degrees, certification classes and pre-loaded assault rifles at End Time prices. 

American Protestantism will feature endless Youtube clips of Pat Robertson explaining how this all comes of our forebears' pact with the Devil sometime before the American Revolution; boxed CD sets of Joel Osteen sermons ("This Wasn't Supposed to Happen to Us, Lord," "Why Is This Happening to Me, Lord?", "Leveraging the Asteroid to Realize Your God-given Prosperity Potential," "Thank You for New Marketing Opportunities, Lord"). Not to mention a spate of Final Days bumper stickers.

Astronomy Sucks!

I Uranus

Asteroidal impacts may not occur often, but when they do they take out really big things - every last dinosaur, entire NFL football seasons, white ethnic majorities, Republican prayer breakfasts, African countries and Chinese dams. On the other hand, there's no denying they have their upside: no more marriage equality initiatives to vote down, no more worries about the Violence Against Women Act (since, in the aftermath, violence will be pretty much equal opportunity), no more Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action initiatives, no more EPA. Hell, no more E, come to think of it.

Admittedly there are "asteroid skeptics" among us, and they do raise some pretty tough questions for asteroid alarmists like Miguel - most notably, this humdinger: if, instead of God, it really was an asteroid that destroyed all the dinosaurs, then how did all the other "passengers" on the ark - mammals, white people, unicorns - manage to survive? A stumper, I'd be the first to admit.

 "Head for the big wooden thingy!"

But seriously, what can we expect should the planet suffer asteroidal impact? "If a ten-mile object hits the oceans—a 70 percent chance, given the distribution of land and sea—then all but Earth’s highest mountain peaks will be swept clean by immense globe-destroying waves. Nothing will survive up to a few thousand feet above sea level. Every coastal city will utterly disappear." For all of that, every other city will probably disappear as well - maybe Lhasa will be unscathed but who wants to live there? 

"I thought I just saw Fukushima go by."

Let's face it, if an asteroid does hit Earth there won't be much anyone can do to stop it. "When one of these projectiles is finally observed, it will likely be much too close for us to do much about it. If we’re the bull’s-eye, we may only have a few days’ warning to settle our affairs."

So let's say I have three days warning - probably a realistic estimate - what would I do? Well, for starters I'd probably get myself to Portland's 10th annual "Filmed by Bike," where I could get several items ticked off my bucket list all at once. First, I'd get to visit Portland, a city already renowned for a sort of precious idiocy, just before it's washed off the face of the earth; second, I'd finally get to attend a film festival featuring movies filmed entirely by people riding bicycles; third, I'd get to ride my bike - a ride to the opening night street party no less, led by cycling celebrity Gary Fisher; and finally, dream of dreams, I'd get to meet someone named Ayleen Crotty. After that you can send in the asteroids.

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