What are the odds you will die from an asteroid or comet hitting the earth?

Picture of an asteroid hitting the earth.

Today, one of the most bizarre forecasts about the end of our planet involves a catastrophe caused by an asteroid or a comet.

Such acronyms as NEOs (near-earth objects) and PHOs (potentially hazardous objects) are heard in connection with apocalyptic forecasts about the earth being destroyed by impacts with celestial bodies.

Hollywood has rushed to translate these fears into box office profits with such movies as Deep Impact and Armageddon.

Just what are the odds that you or your children will perish by a fireball from heaven?

Should you expect a rain of chunks of iron and ice to bombard your backyard soon?

If you live near a coastline, will your home be leveled by a huge tidal wave caused by a rogue asteroid plunging into the sea?

Orbiting amid planetary debris

 Orbiting planetary debris of the solar system.

Our solar system consists of much more than the sun, nine planets, and their moons.

Comets (conglomerates of ice and dust), asteroids (small or minor planets), and meteoroids (mostly fragments of asteroids) are also orbiting within the solar system.

Scientists have known for a long time that earth is subject to bombardment from space.

We have only to look at the moon’s battered landscape to realize that we live in a cluttered neighborhood.

Were it not for the atmosphere and the continuous recycling of earth’s surface by plate tectonics and erosion, our planet’s face would be as cratered as the moon’s.

Scientists estimate that as many as 200 million meteors are visible in the earth’s atmosphere every day.

Most of the objects that enter the atmosphere are small and burn up virtually unnoticed.

Some of these objects, however, survive the fiery heat of entry and are slowed down by air friction to a speed of about 200 miles an hour [320 km].

What is left of them hits the ground as meteorites.

Since most of them fall into oceans or uninhabited tracts of land, rarely have they caused harm to people.

It is estimated that the objects that enter our atmosphere add hundreds of tons daily to the earth’s weight.

Additionally, astronomers estimate that there may be about 2,000 asteroids larger than six tenths of a mile [1 km] in length that either cross or come close to the earth’s orbit.

They have discovered and tracked only about 200 of them.

Also, there are an estimated one million asteroids larger than 160 feet [50 m] across that come dangerously near earth’s orbit.

Asteroids of that size can reach the ground and cause damage.

Such a comparatively small projectile packs about ten megatons of energy—equal to a large nuclear bomb.

While earth’s atmosphere can protect us from smaller impacts, it cannot stop those with ten megatons or more of energy.

Some researchers claim that, statistically speaking, we can expect a ten-megaton impact about once a century on an average.

According to some estimates, the impact frequency of objects close to a mile across is once in 100,000 years.

Telltale craters, explosions, and collisions

Picture of a meteorite crater.

It is not difficult to believe that our planet has been hit by large objects raining down from space in the past.

Proof of these impacts can be found in the more than 150 discovered craters that pockmark earth’s surface.

Some of them are clearly visible, others can be seen only from aircraft or satellites, and still others have long been buried or are on the ocean floor.

One of the most famous of these craters, known as Chicxulub, produced a scar on earth’s surface 110 miles [180 km] in diameter.

Located near the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, this huge crater is believed to be the impact site of a six-mile [10 km]-wide comet or asteroid.

Some claim that the climate changes triggered by this impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and of other land and sea animals.

In Arizona, U.S.A., an iron meteorite gouged out the spectacular Meteor Crater—a hole nearly 4,000 feet [1,200 m] across and 600 feet [200 m] deep.

What would the casualties be if a meteorite like that hit a city?

A popular display at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, shows that if such an object were to hit Manhattan, that crowded borough would be completely destroyed.

On June 30, 1908, an asteroid or a chunk of a comet estimated to be less than 300 feet [100 m] across roared into the atmosphere and exploded some five miles [10 km] above the largely unpopulated Tunguska region of Siberia, as mentioned in the introduction.

The blast, estimated at 15 megatons, devastated an area of 800 square miles [2,000 sq km], knocking down trees, starting fires, and killing reindeer.

How many people would have died if ground zero of that explosion had been a densely populated area?

In July 1994, telescopes all over the world focused on Jupiter as fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into that planet.

The temporary scars formed on Jupiter will remain deeply engraved on the minds of those who saw the collisions firsthand.

Watching Jupiter suffer hit after hit left experts and laypersons alike wondering what would happen if, instead, the earth had been the target of the comet.

What would happen if an asteroid or comet hits the earth?

 Dust remaining suspended in the atmosphere blocking sunlight.

With trepidation, scientists have considered the dire consequences that a comet or asteroid impact would have on our planet.

This is how they envision the immediate results of a major collision.

First would come an explosive plume of rock and dust.

The falling debris would produce a meteor shower that would turn the sky red-hot and ignite forests and grasslands, killing most land life.

Dust remaining suspended in the atmosphere for a longer period would block sunlight, causing temperatures to plummet and halting photosynthesis on the darkened surface below.

Suppression of photosynthesis would also lead to a breakdown in the oceanic food chain, condemning to death most marine creatures.

According to this scenario, the environmental disaster would be rounded out by global acid rain and the destruction of the ozone layer.

Were such an asteroid to hit the ocean, it would produce tidal waves, tsunamis, with tremendous potential for destruction.

Tsunamis would travel much farther from the impact site than the initial shock wave and would produce widespread destruction in coastal areas thousands of miles away.

Says astronomer Jack Hills: “Where cities stood, there would be only mud flats.”

However, one must be careful about such assertions.

Much of this theorizing is mere speculation.

Obviously, nobody has seen or studied an asteroid colliding with the earth.

Also, today’s hype-crazy media are quick to come up with sensational headlines, based on incomplete or even inaccurate information.

Actually, it is said that the chance of being killed by an object falling from the sky is significantly less than the chance of being killed in a car accident.

What can be done?

A picture of astronaut visiting an asteroid.

Many experts believe that the best strategy for avoiding disaster by an approaching comet or asteroid would be to launch a rocket to intercept the invader and, at least, change its course.

If the asteroid is small and is detected many years before its calculated impact, this blow might be sufficient.

However, for a larger object that might collide with the earth, some scientists propose the use of nuclear weapons.

In such a case, it is believed that a carefully placed nuclear blast would nudge the asteroid into a safer orbit, turning a hit into a miss.

The size of the asteroid and its proximity to the earth would determine the size of the nuclear explosion that would be needed.

The problem is that none of these possible defensive measures can be effective without adequate advance warning.

Such astronomy groups as Spacewatch and Near Earth Asteroid Tracking are exclusively dedicated to asteroid hunting.

However, more needs to be done in this direction.

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Why soil is very important to future human existence?

A sample of soil in a hand.

Occupants of skyscrapers and apartment houses towering above asphalt and concrete corridors of large cities seldom see it.

Single-home urbanites with small lawns, front and back, pay little attention to it.

To those who live in suburbia, it is a dirty nuisance when it is tracked into their homes.

It is different things to different people.

Boys dig in it.

Little girls make mud pies with it.

Mothers abhor it.

Washing-machine manufacturers make windfall profits because of it.

Bulldozer operators make their living moving it.

Farmers plow it, cultivate it, and plant it.

It is used as a dumping ground for poisonous chemicals, rendering it useless for generations to come.

When we expire, we are buried in it.

Abusing the earth soil resource

Furrows dug in readiness for planting.

Of all earth’s most precious resources, none are so much abused, misused, and taken for granted as is our soil.

Defying all wisdom, it has been overplowed, overplanted, overfertilized, overpolluted.

Pioneers and settlers moving into new territories bought land cheap.

They stripped it of its trees and much of its vegetation as they plowed straight furrows up and down the hills and planted their seed.

Then the rains came, and the plowed furrows turned into watercourses that became great gullies scarring the land, taking the topsoil to the riverbeds and, in time, out to sea.

When there was no more good land, they moved on, and with their stubborn genius for not learning from their mistakes, an endless cycle of ruined land was left in their wake.

Meanwhile, the settlers kept coming, plowing topsoil too thin to plant.

Within a generation the land was ruined.

Cattlemen let their teeming herds graze the uncultivated land to a barren waste.

Next came the droughts.

The eroding soil, the barren land, and the blowing winds brought on the great dust bowls

The dust blew in clouds thousands of feet in the air, from horizon to horizon.

It came through the cracks around the doors and windows.

It piled in high drifts in the streets and fields, covering sheds, tractors, and farm equipment.

Millions of acres of farmland were destroyed by soil erosion.

Precious topsoil, just one inch (2.5 cm) of which experts say can take several hundred years to build, was now, in a matter of a few months, gone with the water and the wind.

Finally, some did learn from their mistakes.

National soil conservation systems were established to help the farmers save their land from erosion.

Contour plowing was introduced.

Deep furrows were cut that ran around the slope of the land instead of up and down the hills.

This method enabled the water to collect in the troughs and soak into the ground rather than letting it run off and carry the topsoil with it.

Conservation workers went up and down the land showing farmers the need for contour plowing and thereby saved millions of acres of topsoil from being lost.

Was this, however, the panacea needed to arrest this cancerous erosion of the earth’s soil?

What about the lesson learned a half century ago—time-tested contour plowing and windbreaks that prevent water runoff?

Sadly, in order to keep up with the demand from foreign markets for grain farmers were encouraged to plow from “fencerow to fencerow.”

Straightaway they responded by maximizing their grain production, and throwing all caution to the winds, they bulldozed erosion terraces and rows of trees that served as windbreaks and held the soil in check.

They plowed unusable land and up and down hills and abandoned crop rotation—a proved method of soil retention.

Indeed, the farmers realized a bumper crop of grain production and with it came a greater farm income.

But, alas, offsetting the handsome profits were the lamentations that went up from the same farmers when they realized that their farms were eroding away, by many tons to the acre.

The National Wildlife magazine writes: 

The consequences of such actions could be enormous in the years ahead. Ours is already a hungry world. If, as the experts believe, one-third of the earth’s cropland is eroding faster than nature can replace the soil, we are losing productivity. We may cultivate the same number of acres, but as the soil gets thinner, we will harvest less food from it.”

What Soil Loss Means for You

Holding a seedling with it's soil in the hand.

Whether you live in a bustling metropolis or on a farm, you will indeed pay the price for the loss of soil.

If we are interested in food prices at the end of the century, we should be looking at soil erosion rates today.

The less soil we have, the more food will cost.

As the earth’s inhabitants move steadily closer to 8 billion and the population pressure explodes on the land, the soil will inexorably disappear.

In China, for example, where the loss of cropland is a mounting problem, authorities are now trying to conserve land by encouraging cremation instead of interment in the traditional burial mounds seen throughout the countryside.

In this crowded country the living compete with the dead for land.

In countries where population is exploding with staggering soil loss, the results can be catastrophic.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Africa, where grain production is on a drastic decline and famine is an ever-present threat.

Africa was essentially self-sufficient in food production in the 1970's.

Now however, millions of people from the continent are fed with grain from abroad.

Conditions are expected to worsen in the years to come.

It is estimated that a third of the world’s population, live in countries where cropland and soil are rapidly dwindling.

It seems incredible that something as basic as the very soil on which we stand should be disappearing at such a rate that by the end of the century there will be 32 per cent less per person than there is at present.

As our soil and cropland go with the wind and the rain, the world will find it increasingly harder to feed its exploding population.

Read more…

Why is belief in fate so widespread?

A picture of bombed buildings.

Fate in real life

"Fate took the lives of many and spared others,” declared the International Herald Tribune.

The year was 1998, terrorists attacked American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed almost 200 people and injured hundreds.

However, “timing blessed the embassy’s most senior diplomats,” noted the newspaper.

These were spared because they were attending a meeting in an area of the building away from the blast.

But a high embassy official, who would normally have attended but did not, was in an area closer to the explosion and was killed.

“Fate also dealt cruelly with Arlene Kirk,” stated the newspaper.

When returning to Kenya from vacation, Arlene volunteered to give up her seat on the overbooked flight.

Other passengers, however, volunteered their seats before her, allowing her to board the plane.

As a result, she returned to work at the embassy the day of the blast and was killed.

Human's are no strangers to calamity.

Yet, explaining tragedy is never easy.

Regularly, in accidents and catastrophes all over the world, some die while others survive.

It is not just in times of disaster, however, that some wonder, ‘Why me?’

Even when it comes to the good things in life, some seem to have better chances than others.

While for many life is a constant struggle, for others things seem to fit into place easily.

Thus, you may ask, ‘Could it be that this was all somehow planned?

Does fate control my life?

Sometimes the unexpected happens.

There is just no way of predicting it.

Remarkable events, both good and bad, often come down to a matter of timing.

However, you may share the view of those who instead of explaining things as the product of chance see the hand of another force at work—Fate.

Belief in fate or destiny is one of the oldest and most widespread of human’s religious beliefs.

Professor François Jouan, director of the Center for Mythological Research at the University of Paris, says:

“There is not an age or civilization that has not believed in some divine master of destinies . . . to explain all that is inexplicable in our existence.”

That is why it is common to hear people say: “It was not his time to die” or, “That’s the way it was meant to be.”

Fate definition

A picture of fate of humans.

What is the meaning of fate?

The English word “fate” comes from the Latin fatum, meaning “a prophetic declaration, an oracle, a divine determination.”

While sometimes a random force is thought to determine the future in an unavoidable and inexplicable way, more often than not, this force is thought to be a god.

Historian of religion Helmer Ringgren explains:

An essential element in the religious attitude is the feeling that human destiny is not meaningless or fortuitous, but has its cause in a power to which will and intention may be attributed.”

While some measure of intervention is often thought possible, many people see humans as relatively powerless pawns in a game beyond their control.

Thus they ‘meet their fate.

Theologians and philosophers have long grappled to explain fate.

The Encyclopedia of Religion says:

The notion of fate, in whatever variation, language, or shade of meaning it occurs, always retains a basic element of mystery.”

One thread running through the labyrinth of ideas, though, is the notion of a higher power controlling and directing man’s affairs.

This force is thought to shape the lives of individuals and nations in advance, making the future just as inevitable as the past.

Does it make any difference whether you believe in fate?

English philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote:

The circumstances of men’s lives do much to determine their philosophy, but, conversely, their philosophy does much to determine their circumstances,”

Indeed, belief in fate—whether or not there is such a thing—can determine how we act.

Believing it to be the will of the gods, many passively accept their situation—however unjust or oppressive—as though it were their unchangeable lot in life.

Thus, belief in fate undermines the notion of personal responsibility.

But why is belief in fate so widespread?

A brief look at its origins will provide the answer.

A widespread belief

Picture of tarot cards.

WHY is belief in fate so widespread?

Throughout the ages, humans have sought to unravel life’s mysteries and to find some purpose in unfolding events.

Historian Helmer Ringgren explains:

It is here that the categories ‘god’, ‘destiny’, and ‘chance’ enter the scene, depending on whether the events are derived from a personal power, an impersonal order, or no order at all,”

History is replete with beliefs, legends, and myths relating to fate and destiny.

Assyriologist Jean Bottéro says:

We are largely formed in all aspects of our culture by the Mesopotamian civilization, it is in ancient Mesopotamia or Babylonia that we find “the oldest perceptible reactions and reflections of mankind on the supernatural, the oldest identifiable religious structure.”

It is also here that we find the origins of fate.

According to French scholar of ancient civilizations Édouard Dhorme,

as far as we go back in Mesopotamian history, we find the soothsayer and the idea of divination.”

Divination was an integral feature of life.

Indeed, Professor Bottéro says that,

everything could be considered as the possible object for examination and divinatory deduction . . . The entire material universe was taken as the evidence from which the future could in some way be extracted after a careful study.”

The Mesopotamians were thus fervent practicers of astrology as a means to predict the future

In addition, the Babylonians used dice or lots in divination.

In her book Randomness, Deborah Bennett explains that these were to,

eliminate the possibility of human manipulation and thereby to give the gods a clear channel through which to express their divine will.”

However, the decisions of the gods were not considered to be inexorable. Help to avoid an evil fate could be had through an appeal to the gods.

In the 15th century B.C.E., there was extensive contact between Babylonia and Egypt.

Religious practices connected with fate were included in the cultural exchange that ensued.

Among the many Egyptian gods, Isis was described as the “mistress of life, ruler of fate and destiny.”

The Egyptians also practiced divination and astrology.

One historian says: “Their ingenuity in questioning the gods was without limit.”

Egypt, though, was not the only civilization to borrow from Babylon.

Among the ancient literary styles were the epic, the legend, and the tragedy—in which fate played a key part. In Greek mythology, man’s destiny was represented by three goddesses called the Moirai.

Clotho was the spinner of the thread of life, Lachesis determined how long life was to be, and Atropos cut off life when the allocated time had expired.

The Romans had a similar triad of gods whom they called the Parcae.

Ideas about fate, though, are by no means limited to the ancient world.

Revealing their belief in destiny, many Muslims say “mektoub”—it is written—when faced with disaster.

While it is true that many Oriental religions emphasize the role of the individual in personal destiny, there are, nevertheless, notes of fatalism in their teachings.

Karma in Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, is the inescapable destiny resulting from acts in a previous life.

In China the earliest writings discovered are on tortoiseshells that were used in divination.

Fate also formed part of the beliefs of indigenous peoples in the Americas.

The Aztecs, for instance, devised divinatory calendars used to show the destiny of individuals.

Fatalistic beliefs are also common in Africa.

Some christian religions teach that God predestines individuals for success.

Success in business and the accumulation of wealth were seen as signs of God’s favor.

Belief in fate pushes some to take radical action.

In the second world war, Japanese suicide pilots believed in kamikaze, or “divine wind.”

In the past decades, suicide bombers have often made headlines with their horrific attacks.

The idea that the gods had a purpose and that it was possible to play a role in it added religious overtones to a grisly death.

Fatalism plays an important part in these “religiously inspired suicidal attacks.”

John B. Noss, in his book Man’s Religions, acknowledges:

All religions say in one way or another that man does not, and cannot, stand alone. He is vitally related with and even dependent on powers in Nature and Society external to himself. Dimly or clearly, he knows that he is not an independent center of force capable of standing apart from the world.”
The widespread acceptance of the concept of fate actually shows that humans have a fundamental need to believe in a superior power.

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Why doomsday preparations can't guarantee your survival?

Nuclear attack on a city.
I’m telling people to get out of the cities and move to small towns, because civilization all through the world is doomed.”
So warned one advocate of a growing movement that both intrigues and frightens: the survivalists!

They are, as their name suggests, a people bent on survival of what they feel is an inevitable global catastrophe— be it nuclear, natural, social or economic.

From where disaster will come matters little to them, for they prepare for any eventuality.

Ominously entitled books such as Life After Doomsday provide them with “eye-opening information about shelters, food storage, home medical techniques, survival psychology, and shelter defense.”

Periodicals such as Survive keep them up to date with the latest survival paraphernalia: rifles, freeze-dried foodstuffs, combat gear and prefabricated fallout shelters.

These, though, are just a sampling of an array of products that have created what U.S.News & World Report some time ago called “A New Growth Industry.”

Some survivalist sophisticates have even invested in underground condominiums so as to ride out a ‘nuclear Armageddon’ in comfort.

Make no mistake.

The survivalists mean business.

True, for many their military maneuvers and target practice seem a macabre fantasy.

Life magazine reports on the growing popularity of the “National Survival Game.”

Here army-fatigues-clad participants tramp through the woods shooting harmless pellet guns at one another—a rehearsal for post-disaster guerrilla warfare.

Childish play? Perhaps to some.

But others view such maneuvers as serious business.

Explains a survivalist:

“When things get tough, people will be stealing from us. . . . People will be killing for a loaf of bread.”

Survivalist lunatics or realists

Picture of a nuclear explosion.

Many are nevertheless tempted to laugh off survivalists as charter members of the lunatic fringe, but others feel that they are not so irrational after all.

The threats of nuclear war and overpopulation with resulting famine, crime, economic collapse, or even the breakdown of the social order, are not the wild imaginings of neurotics.

These problems perplex and deeply disturb even the experts.

For example, according to The Auckland Star, a research group called Worldwatch recently published a study claiming that “the world is on the verge of an economic crisis caused by the depletion of natural resources.”

Unlike those who practice “psychic shutdown,” the survivalists try to face these fears.

Though they come from a variety of social and economic backgrounds, and though their movement is fragmented by different philosophies and approaches, they are united by this powerful common denominator—FEAR.

They feel that the “system” has failed—that governments, police forces, courts and monetary systems are simply not equal to solving the mounting problems of this decade.

They therefore choose to be self-reliant and trust that their own initiative and abilities—honed to a fine point by advance training—will save them when the disaster comes.

A practical approach?

But are fallout shelters, freeze-dried foods and caches of gold practical approaches to future survival?

How effective would they be in the case of an actual nuclear war?

Limitations of doomsday preparations

A family before being consumed by a nuclear explosion.

An article entitled “Long-Term Biological Consequences of Nuclear War,” appearing in Science, began by saying:

Recent studies of large-scale nuclear war (5000- to 10,000-MT yields) have estimated that there would be 750 million immediate deaths from blast alone; a total of about 1.1 billion deaths from the combined effects of blast, fire, and radiation; and approximately an additional 1.1 billion injuries requiring medical attention"

Suppose, though, that a shelter was so fortuitously placed as to escape this immediate annihilation.

Newsweek predicts:

Even in the best shelters diseases such as typhoid and cholera could run rampant. Waste disposal would be primitive; medical care would be marginal, and many bodies would decompose long before they could be buried. Most shelters would be dark, cold and cut off from outside communications; an erratic electromagnetic pulse from the blast could destroy radio transmitters. Crowding, panic and uncertainty would heighten the tensions. Latecomers could spread contamination, and acute psychological shock would be contagious in the close quarters.”

Yet this grim scenario was of a mere limited nuclear war!

In her book Nuclear Madness, Dr. Helen Caldicott further states:

Those who survived, in shelters or in remote rural areas, would reenter a totally devastated world, lacking the life-support systems on which the human species depends.” The offspring of survivors would inherit a frightening legacy: “Exposure of the reproductive organs to the immense quantities of radiation released in the explosions would result in reproductive sterility in many. An increased incidence of spontaneous abortions and deformed offspring, and a massive increase of both dominant and recessive mutations, would also result.” For how long? For “the rest of time,”

In a companion study, a team of scientists reached this chilling conclusion:

The extinction of a large fraction of the earth’s animals, plants and microorganisms seems possible, and extinction of the human species itself cannot be excluded."

No wonder that novelist Nevil Shute imagined that, following a nuclear war, “the living would envy the dead.”

The chances of survival-training paying off thus appear dim.

But even granting the possibility that the scientists’ predictions are overblown, survivalism still has a fatal weakness.

While nuclear war would probably end governments and armies as we now know them, it would not erase the basic cause of war.

Putting one’s own selfish interests first invariably leads to strife.

Are the ideologies that now bind the survivalists of such an unselfish nature that greed and selfishness would not dominate their thinking when faced with the scarcities that a global catastrophe would generate?

When disaster does strike, they will (at least at first) try to practice good principles.

We will share what we have to the best of our ability.

But what about when supplies begin to run short?

“We’ll kill them,” Mr. Younkins says. “It’s real simple: It’s us or them in that situation.”

Surviving after an apocalyptic event.

In such a climate of terror, hidden stores of food or gold might spell a survivalist’s death sentence.

A lesson from the past

A legion of roman army.

Survivalism is really nothing new.

In fact, the survivalists are reminiscent of a group that existed in the first century of our Common Era: the Jewish Zealots.

As the seventh decade drew to a close, hostility between the Jews and their oppressive Roman rulers was reaching its flash point.

Religious fanaticism, natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and food shortages all fueled fears that the end of the existing system of things had come.

Like the survivalists of today, some tried to fortify themselves for the future.

When Roman armies under the command of General Cestius Gallus moved against Jerusalem, some Jewish Zealots managed to capture the city of Masada.

In their 1,300-foot-high (400 m) rock fortress, the Zealots had a battery of weapons and an ample supply of food and water. Survival seemed secure.

Roman General Titus, however, destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E., leaving Masada as the focal point of Roman attack.

For seven long months the Zealots held out.

But Roman engineers succeeded in constructing a huge ramp that granted their soldiers access to the fortress.

Knowing that capture meant a miserable existence as slaves, the 960 men, women, and children of Masada committed mass suicide.

Their efforts to survive by taking refuge in a heavily armed mountaintop fortress proved to be futile.

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