Wesley Baucom, Staff Writer
The event itself is rare, but if a large meteor were to strike the Earth it would be the end of everything we know. Proper measures may be in place, but the chaotic and somewhat unpredictable nature of the cosmos’ wrath should not be put on the backburner. One did, after all, obliterate the rule of the dinosaurs. Granted, dinosaurs were not nearly as advanced as human civilization is today, and didn’t have the means to protect themselves from what came hurtling towards them. Though here we are, with at least some means to protect ourselves from cosmic terror. Just recently, however, a few meteors have skimmed by Earth, with little detection or plan in place to keep our planet safe.
There are three cases just this year of “Near-Earth” asteroids that came close to impact. The first and most recent asteroid named 2019 OK grazed Earth by 40,400 miles—closer than our own Moon. 2019 OK was a considerably large asteroid, yielding a size of about 187 to 426 feet across, and researchers have said that it could’ve had a destructive impact range of about 50 miles if it had hit. The second case of a Near-Earth asteroid is the Asteroid 2006 QV89. Although it was classified as a “non-risk” it was still labeled as something to watch out for. With a length of 98 to 131 feet, it’s still a smaller asteroid. This one in particular is of no consequence, as many astronomers have shown that it would not hit Earth, and even if it did, it would’ve been unlikely to strike any urban areas.
However, it’s destructive potential cannot be ignored, and must still be taken into account given its recent orbit near our planet—in fact, it’s the smaller asteroids that are harder to detect. The next case is not one asteroid but two. Both named: 2010 C01 and 2000 QW7. These are both the size of large buildings, though they have been long detected and observed by NASA’s Near-Earth Objects Observations Program. Because of the long-distance observations, it was deduced that they were again of no consequence and would harmlessly pass us by. Despite the risks involved in each of these cases, they were still a potential threat and a danger and should be treated as such. It would take only one meandering ball of rock to cause serious damage. Thankfully, there are measures in place to protect against the destructive potential.
I met with the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ own Erika Gibb, chairman of the physics and astronomy department, to talk about such measures in place. After shaking her hand I entered her comfortable corner office, and the overcast light from the large windows shined through her elliptical, crystalline glasses. I just had to ask: Is there any risk with meteors? “We’re always getting hit by something, but when you look at the distribution, there are a whole lot of little things, but there are far fewer large objects.” Gibb then pulled up a chart on her computer monitor, and a descending graph was displayed on the electronic screen. On the graph, the sizes of meteors sharply declined as the population increased. So all in all, Armageddon is not around the corner. “We could get hit by a 100-kilometer object anytime, but we tend to detect these easier, but it’s these smaller, 100-meter objects that are harder to find but can still cause local damage.” She did confirm that there are in fact measures in place to “deflect” the meteors should they turn our way. Small rockets would land on the meteor and then the giant rocks would be nudged safely out of Earth’s path. “It’s nothing sexy,” Gibb claimed, but big explosions like the ones in hot-shot movies would follow Hollywood in its own self-destruction. So, should we put more into place for potential deflection? “It’s not something that’s so likely to happen that we should dedicate all of our resources to it now…but it will happen eventually. It’s kind of in our best interest to devote a little time and money to figure out how to be ready to move it out of the way.”
In closing, civilization will be more than safe from impending doom for the time being. NASA and other organizations all have vigilant eyes and telescopes pointed toward the vastness of space at this very moment. If anything were to happen we’d hear about it. And hopefully, it won’t be something sensationalized by media to spread mass panic. Everything is, in a lot of cases, still up in the air. So sit back, relax, look at the sparkling night sky in wonder and awe, knowing that things will be OK for a time.