Bad Astronomy

More good science in HuffPo

netherlands_meteorSteve Newton of the wonderful National Center for Science Education has written another article promoting science in the Huffington Post, this time about asteroid impacts. And special bonus; he gives your loyal host here a shout-out.

Specifically, he mentions that I have said that the Hale-Bopp comet was larger than what wiped out the dinosaurs. It’s true: the object that created the Chicxulub crater off the coast of the Yucatan was something like 10 km (6 miles) across. The nucleus of Hale-Bopp was roughly 60 km (36 miles) across, meaning it would have had something like 100 times the mass of the dinosaur killer. I have vivid nightmares about asteroid impacts, and one 100x the size of the K-T extinction event is beyond scary.

Right now we lack the capability to stop such a comet impact; Hale-Bopp was discovered less than two years before it sailed by the Earth. It missed us by a huge margin, but had it been aimed at us things would look a lot different around here right now. We may be years away from being able to stop such an event, but as I’ve written before, people like Rusty Schweikart and Dan Durda are seriously considering what we can do, and have even started the B612 Foundation to look into it.

If we’re serious about such threats, were just a few years away from being able to prevent them. Given that statistically big impacts are very rare and only happen every few hundred thousand years or so, I’m rather liking where we stand right now. But that’s if we actually do something now. We need to start working on mitigation techniques, and rockets to carry them. I’m glad the B612 Foundation is working on it.

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