by Jeff Foust
Monday, September 16, 2019
Fire in the Sky: Cosmic Collisions, Killer Asteroids and the Race to Defend Earth
by Gordon L. Dillow
hardcover, 288 pages, ill.
US $ 27.00
Hardly One Week goes by without telling a story about an asteroid that is approaching Earth in relative terms. Although these specific items never pose an immediate threat, tabloids and websites sometimes make them into a kind of "terror from heaven" story. (This seems to be particularly true in British tabloids today, perhaps to lessen the stories about Brexit or end the debate once and for all.)
Of course, none of these asteroids brought death and destruction to these stories, but the threat in general is very real. "The likelihood that an asteroid or comet of potentially catastrophic size is storming toward the Earth is exactly one-to-one," author Gordon Dillow writes in Fire in the Sky his new book on the threat through such effects. "The only variable is when."
|"The likelihood that an asteroid or comet of potentially catastrophic size will rush to Earth is exactly 1-in-1," writes Dillow. "The only variable is when."|
Dillow became interested in the subject when he witnessed a much smaller collision: a meteor he saw over his home in Arizona in the early hours of June 2, 2016. It turned out to be an asteroid a diameter of almost two meters, which released half a kiloton of TNT. This fireball made a brief splash on the news, but aroused his interest in the subject to the point where he decided to write a book about it, even though he knew little about the subject before that flash in the early morning.
What follows is a good introduction to the subject known to those who already know about Chicxulub and Chelyabinsk. Much of the book is historically marked after Daniel Barringer (unsuccessfully) attempted to search for the meteorite remnant of the object that created the Meteor Crater at the turn of the 20th century, and was later edited by Gene Shoemaker to do so It was indeed an impact that created the crater. There is also the father-son team of Luis and Walter Alvarez, who discovered the layer of iridium-rich material at the KT boundary, claiming it was caused by an asteroid impact that wiped out dinosaurs and many other life forms 65 million years ago , These are as many character studies as historical reports of science that bring these individuals to life.
Later, more recent events, such as the Chelyabinsk event, are investigated and efforts are made to search for encapsulated near-Earth objects under the term "planetary defense" and to plan their effects. He spends one night with an astronomer at one. The Arizona Observatory is looking for near-Earth asteroids and follows planning exercises for asteroidal effects carried out by intergroups and astronomers. (In two earlier exercises in which impacts were simulated, in Pasadena, Texas, and Pasadena, California, it was speculated that a similar exercise this spring would target at a conference outside of Washington, DC, on Pasadena, Maryland, a poor science Fiction movie, the asteroid has hit New York.)
|As his book argues, there is much more to do to avert such influence, but the good news is that we know the threat better and are prepared for it than ever before.|
Dillow argues that governments like the US need to spend more on finding, studying, and preparing for dealing with potentially dangerous asteroids. (He adds that companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries could be a "big help" without knowing that both companies were acquired and seemingly abandoned the ambitions of asteroid mining.) But what he does not say is like much more money should be used for planetary defense? NASA's spending on the field has increased from a few million a year to $ 150 million over the last decade, also funding the development of a mission called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) to test, such as Kinetic Impactor could shift the orbit of a threatening asteroid. This level of funding appears to be stable for at least the next few years and could support the development of other missions in the coming years, such as the NEOCam Observatory on the Search for Near-Earth Asteroids. Yes, asteroids pose a threat to the Earth, as well as other phenomena that have a more short-term impact, such as climate change. What is the best use of resources?
Dillow is right that sooner or later, a large asteroid or comet will pose a threat to the Earth, even though no such object threatens to collide with Earth for decades, despite the histrionic headlines in the tabloids. As his book argues, there is much more to do to avert such influence, but the good news is that we know the threat better than ever before and are prepared for it.
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