Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Can We Learn From History?

Posted by hyperpat on January 4, 2007

Let’s go back in time a little – say, about 65 million years. Pretty nice place we had then, without all these pesky simians running around. Of course, you might not have liked the climate, being more than a tad warmer than today, with swamps and rain forests all over the place. And perhaps the larger denizens of this time frame might not only give you pause, they might make you heartily wish you had a handy hole in the ground that you could drop into. But nothing lasts forever, and the 80 million year reign of these giants is about to come to a very sudden end.

Look, up in the sky! An orange glow and a fiery streak stretching from one horizon to the other. That lovely fern you were munching the top off suddenly has become a flaming candle. And very shortly thereafter, things got kind of dark -and stayed that way for months. Byebye, dinosaurs. You didn’t make the grade in nature’s casino.

And that was only a medium sized rock.

Today, Apophis, a 390 meter sized rock, is projected to pass within about 25,000 miles of the Earth in 2029, and due to orbital changes caused by such a close approach, has a real possibility of hitting the Earth in 2036. If it does, damage would be very extensive, even if not quite as bad as the Chicxulub 10 Km-wide planet killer of 65 million years ago.  Larry Niven’s and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer is a pretty good fictional account of just how bad this could be.

Now hopefully, we have a few more smarts than those giant lizards of yesterday. We know that even if this particular rock doesn’t hit us, there are others out there, one of which is sure to have the Earth in its cross-hairs at some point in the future. We also know that to do something about these rocks, we need time. Time to develop the appropriate technology. Time to send a mission to the offending mass. Time to change its orbit. If we fritter away what time we have, if we don’t actively work towards real space flight, if we don’t provide the necessary funding, if mister average citizen continues to think that space flight is a waste of money, then we’ll deserve the dinosaurs’ fate, because we’ll have been just as dumb.

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