Signs of the Times
Signs In The Heavens
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Scientific Lunacy or Bible Prophecy?
In the late 1980's, there was very little acceptance among geologists and geoscientists that giant asteroids, the size of mountains, had impacted our planet. Today, a mere ten years later, there is almost universal agreement among scientists that Earth has experienced several enormous impacts. Funny, isn't it, how science has radically changed its course of thought in such a short time! The notion that Earth has been pummeled by giant asteroids was regarded as scientific lunacy in 1978 when geoscientist Dr. Luis Alvarez, (University of California at Berkeley) first advanced the idea that the dinosaurs became extinct because of an asteroid impact. Today, however, the evidence of asteroid impacts on Earth is indisputable. More than 150 impact sites have been identified and studied. One of the largest impact craters (about 175 miles across) is located in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, many scientists now believe the dinosaurs became extinct worldwide because of the Mexico impact.
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9
If anyone still doubts the possibility that giant asteroids can and do impact planets, then a quick review of the July 16-22, 1994 comet impact of "Shoemaker-Levy 9" should remove any doubt. This comet plunged into Jupiter with detonating forces that far exceeds all the combined nuclear warheads on Earth. Even though the comet fragmented into 21 pieces before smashing into Jupiter, it took only one piece to blast a crater in the planet large enough to place two planets the size of Earth side-by-side!
If the impact on Jupiter is not evidence enough, examine the full moon with a pair of binoculars or an inexpensive telescope and you can clearly see hundreds of craters caused by asteroid impacts. The pockmarked surface of the moon proves there is a lot of debris floating around in space. In fact, scientists have recently documented more than 200 NEO's (near-Earth objects) that regularly intersect Earth's orbit around the sun each year! All this information proves a simple fact: Earth travels in a cosmic shooting gallery.
Here is a simple law of physics: When one object collides with another object, energy is released. The amount of energy released in a collision is directly related to the size, speed, density and direction of the objects. In the case of cosmic collisions (such as an asteroid impacting Earth), an additional factor is added to the equation because of the atmosphere. When an asteroid plunges toward Earth at speeds of 30,000 to 75,000 miles-per-hour, the front of the asteroid experiences a dramatically increasing level of atmospheric pressure - much like the pressure a person would feel holding an arm out of a car window while accelerating from 30 to 100 miles-per-hour. As the asteroid comes closer to Earth, the atmosphere becomes more dense and the pressure against the asteroid increases significantly. When the asteroid hurls through Earth's atmosphere at high speed, it produces friction which superheats the molecules in the asteroid. The heat causes the electrical forces bonding the molecules together to sheer. As a result, the asteroid explodes with a force that is a million-fold greater than that of man-made atomic bombs.
If the composition of the asteroid is not very dense, the asteroid can explode in mid-air. In fact, this is apparently what happened on June 30, 1908 in Siberia. An asteroid having an estimated diameter of 200 feet exploded above the tundra and leveled every tree in a 50 mile radius! The destruction radiated out from the mid-air explosion like bicycle spokes for more than 800 square miles. Since this happened before the age of telecommunication in a remote part of the world, very few people were aware of the impact for several years. However, one survivor told how he was instantly transported about a mile from where he was standing one morning by the wind of a great boom! He claimed the wind blew his clothes off, destroyed his house and blew his family and all his goats away. About 20 years after the explosion, Russian researchers finally went to Tunguska to examine the evidence. Yes, a very large area of trees were lying on the ground in a radial fashion (trees pointing away from the explosion), but there was no impact crater and the matter was dismissed as a mysterious explosion of "swamp gas" - until the 1980's.
As the awareness of an asteroid threat grows, scientists have dedicated more time to this area of study. In April 1997, at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, scientists created a 3-D computer model of a comet impacting the Atlantic ocean. For this computer simulation, they chose a ½ mile-wide comet that would impact the Atlantic ocean at a 45 degree angle. (In cosmic terms, a ½ mile-wide comet is very small.) Using reference data tables and a new supercomputer from Intel, they calculated the impact would release the energy of 15 million Hiroshima-strength bombs. The study revealed very startling information. For instance, the blast could vaporize up to 1 trillion tons of water, which would form ice-crystals that would seriously damage the ozone layer and affect weather patterns for many months to come. Computer data also suggests that the resulting tidal wave would be about 300 feet high - in which case, Florida and much of the East coast of the United States, along with the coastal regions of Europe would be washed away.
The threat of an asteroid impact has attracted considerable media attention including the recent movies "Deep Impact" and Armageddon." In February 1997, NBC aired a dramatic mini-series about an asteroid impact. According to the Nielsen ratings, this mini-series received the highest ratings of any mini-series ever presented on TV. More than 60 million Americans watched the series. During the same month, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) aired two documentaries featuring prominent scientists around the world validating the inevitability that Earth will be impacted again. The words, "It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when . . . ." were repeated several times. The conclusion of the late pioneer Dr. Eugene Shoemaker of the U.S. Geological Survey, and many others, is that Earth will be impacted again. Their claims are based on the law of nature that random events take place in predictable intervals of time. Scientists reason that civilization-threatening impacts happen every 100,000 years or so, and they conclude that we are near the interval or point in time when such an impact is due to happen again.
The March/April 1997 nightly appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet also raised visual awareness that there are objects traveling through space that come close to Earth. Even though the comet posed no threat to Earth, there were some sensationalists who speculated that Hale-Bopp could change course and impact Earth. Then, there was talk about a UFO hiding behind the comet, "a companion object" that contained extraterrestrials who were coming to visit Earth. Unfortunately, the 39 members of the cult group called "Heaven's Gate" took the misleading information seriously and committed suicide so they could join the UFO that was allegedly "hiding" behind Hale-Bopp. No doubt, insanity continues to plague the human race. But, the threat of an asteroid impact is not lunacy or dementia - according to the best that science has to offer, it is a matter of timing.
Helpless or Helpful?
From the point of survival, the threat of an asteroid impact is one of those things that man is almost powerless to do anything about. If an asteroid is headed for Earth, who can stop it? Some scientists think an asteroid can be stopped and are urging developed nations to join resources and technology to prepare an international defense against this cosmic threat. The latest "rescue" plans include schemes to nudge or push asteroids away from orbits that would impact Earth. But such a plan presumes there will be enough warning time and the availability of the right equipment to push a huge mountain out of the way while it is traveling toward Earth at 40,000+ miles-per-hour. Yet, other scientists are convinced that literally nothing can be done. They argue that to blow an oncoming asteroid apart could make matters much worse, causing fragments to impact Earth in numerous places resulting is a much wider area of devastation. So, scientists still wrestle with what option is the best plan of defense.