Will the world eventually become extinct?
A leading scientist at The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (or NASA, as we know it), made a prophetic announcement on Monday, saying that planet Earth is due an “extinction-level” event, of which humans will be powerless to mitigate or prevent.
Speaking at San Francisco’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, NASA scientist Dr. Joseph Nuth pontificated the very real dangers presented by asteroids and comets, making the connection between “extinction-inducing” comets and the time between them. Drawing on his ample years in the industry, Dr. Nuth commented that large asteroids and comets which have led to extinctions in the past have mostly happened around 50-60 million years apart. Using this trajectory, the last major comet extinction on record was believed to have happened around 65 million years ago with the meteor shower that ended the reign of the dinosaurs during the cretaceous period. Therefore, according to this timeline, Nuth has commented that the earth could face a similar experience in the not-too-distant future.
Although sounding suspiciously akin to the plot of a far-fetched science fiction film, Dr. Nuth’s morbid foresight was perhaps intended to be more than a suggestive talking point—perhaps the purpose of his controversial prophesy was to give NASA the motivation to pre-emptively build a defence system against such events, ones that are not yet available. In order to illustrate his very relevant point, Nuth refers to the astrological ‘near miss’ of 2014 (whereby a comet passed dangerously close to Mars and was only spotted 22 months prior to collision), implying rather ominously that had the target been Earth, the 22-month warning period would not have been sufficient time to prepare.
Given their perilous and potentially extinction-inducing outcomes, much has been discussed about preparing for calamitous astrological events, but no plans are yet in motion for Earth to prepare a sufficient defence. One option openly discussed on NASA’s blog was kinetic impactors, devices created to be flung in the path of oncoming asteroids to knock them off their trajectory. Whilst in essence this sounds like a good solution, the only downside is time—experts say that it would take 20 YEARS to build and launch an impactor capable of reaching the target and nudge it away from Earth’s path, insinuating that even more time would be needed to deflect “larger asteroids (hundreds of kilometres in diameter) that present the most catastrophic threats”. To mere mortals with absolutely no knowledge of the intimate workings of outer space, it’s easy enough to think ‘Why don’t NASA just create an army of kinetic impactors, just in case?’ Well the truth is it’s not as easy as that, with NASA itself commenting on the fallibility of this method: “Kinetic impactors may not be effective in changing the orbit of the very largest asteroids”.
This begs the question—what would we do if an asteroid WAS hurtling its way onto the Earth’s path? Many believe that this was in fact Dr. Joseph Nuth’s point, making the astrological society contemplate the ‘what if’s’ of a very real situation, a situation that over 65 million years ago wiped out an entire ecosystem and way of life.
After all, the army have their pre-emptive battle plans if things should go awry for the greater good, so why shouldn’t NASA? Even if it costs billions of pounds, shouldn’t we arm ourselves against the aerospace unknowns?