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Science

Death from space

(Published in Grail World 9/1998)

The latest research clearly shows that in the history of the earth there have been far more devastating collisions with comets or minor planets than previously assumed. These so-called “impacts” repeatedly destroyed life on earth as “death from space”. GrailWelt editor Siegfried HAGL describes the development of "impact research" and gives an outlook on protection options.

The earth under attack

Greek philosophers once postulated a perfect heaven with ideal bodies following an eternal divine order. This world view of Aristotle was valid throughout the Middle Ages, and even Renaissance people had difficulty recognizing the discovery of sunspots, because a heavenly body like the sun had to be "spotlessly pure".

 “The big ones Disasters have always been a necessity for development, but not the downfall of so many peoples that has hitherto always been associated with it.

If the people had not given up the connection with the essential helpers and the clear heights in a carelessly wicked way, they would always have been warned of any emergency in good time and would have been carried away by the endangered regions in order to avoid destruction! "                      Abd ‑ ru ‑ shin (1875-1941).

When the "new astronomy" of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton developed a heliocentric view of the world, they held on to the unchangeability of the stars for a long time.

Even at the end of the 18th century, reports of meteor falls were considered gross errors, hoaxes, or forgery, and the highly learned French Academy of Sciences ridiculed a village mayor with tongues of fire and din of a village mayor who was watching one of him and many of his fellow citizens related crash of a bolide (a fireball) reported.

In the 19th century, people began to eagerly collect the meteors that had reached the earth's surface, as the only way to obtain and analyze extraterrestrial material.

The notion that larger rubble could impact and wreak havoc has been suppressed, and the unmistakable impact craters on the moon have been interpreted as being of volcanic origin. It was considered almost impossible that a comet or a minor planet (planetoid, asteroid) could hit the earth and cause a catastrophe as an "impact".

It was only when the Nobel Prize winner Luis Alvarez (1911 - 1988) and his son Walter were able to attribute the previously inexplicable dinosaur death 65 million years ago to the impact of a celestial body in 1980 that a serious technical discussion about the possibility of a collision of the earth with another began Star.

Then the huge impact crater of the "dinosaur impact" was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico and further, previously overlooked craters followed. In our vicinity is the Nördlinger Ries, for example, which was recognized as an impact consequence long after the Second World War.

In 1973, the astronomer Eugene Shoemaker, who recently fell victim to an accident, began researching planetoids, whose orbits came close to that of the earth, in order to predict possible collisions and initiate countermeasures. Shoemaker is also (together with his colleague Levy) to thank for the discovery of comet S ‑ L 9, which hit Jupiter in 1994.

Alexander and Edith Tollmann in their bestseller “And the Flood existed” described the flood events as a crash of the earth with a comet in a more detailed way that everyone can understand and showed the course of this global catastrophe about 9,500 years ago, which was far more than 90 % of the people living at the time are likely to have fallen victim.

If you follow this important book, the flood impact caused an earthquake of unimaginable proportions, accompanied by volcanic eruptions. A heat storm that raced along at a speed of 1,000 km / h snapped trees and set forests up in flames. Huge amounts of nitrogen oxides went down as acid rain. Only then did the flood come: tidal waves crashed onto the continents. Particles of dust hurled into the air darkened the sun; a drastic cooling with - depending on the geographical latitude - months to years of winters followed.

No wonder that this catastrophe left a severe trauma in the few survivors, which still has an effect today as fear of comets, fear of the end of the world, or the effort to foresee the next "end of the world" with the help of astrology, astronomy or religion and to physically and mentally adjust to it.

Impact danger: scare tactics or warning?

In the meantime, the discussion about the likelihood of impacts has started and the subject has even been discovered by Hollywood. New traces of impact craters are constantly being found on all continents, and more and more scientists are accepting the threat from the cosmos, which many observations underline:

  • Everyone knows the meteor crater near Winslow (Arizona) - a tourist attraction. A celestial body struck about 50,000 years ago at a speed of 20 km / s and a mass of a few million tons. If such a projectile hit a large city, it would be destroyed.
  • The Tunguska meteor that fell in Siberia in 1908 is estimated to be around 60 m in diameter. He destroyed a forest area of more than 1,000 km2after it exploded in midair.
  • On December 8, 1992, the planetoid Toutatis sped past the earth at about 9 times the moon distance at 140,000 km / h (39 km / s). Its diameter is given as 1.5 to 3 km. In 1999 it will probably come a little closer to the earth. In the event of a collision, a catastrophe comparable to that of dinosaurs would have to be feared.
  • A about 100 m large planetoid passed the earth on May 18, 1996 at a distance of only 450,000 km (a little further than the moon) - closer than any other object of comparable diameter that has ever been observed.
  • In October 2028 the asteroid 1997 XF 11 could approach the earth up to 50,000 km (approx. 1/7 the distance to the moon or 4 earth diameters).
  • In August of the year 2126, the comet Swift ‑ Turtle is said to come extremely close to the earth.

In order to dispel all doubts about the possibility of cosmic collisions, astronomers were able to observe the impact of the comet Shoemaker ‑ Levy (S ‑ L 9) on Jupiter in July 1994.

An evaluation of the available data shows, on a statistical average, the impact of a body 100 m in diameter and more on our globe every 10,000 years.

World history - a chain of catastrophes?

We have to accept the fact that there have been repeated impacts in the past that devastated entire stretches of land, continents or, in extreme cases, almost the entire earth. This creates a new picture of developmental and cultural history.

In the classic way of looking at it, that was Story of life a continuous upward trend, driven by Darwin's mutations and selections. Drastic cuts, catastrophic interruptions, the destruction of a large part of the flora and fauna as a result of cosmic catastrophes were not planned. It becomes necessary to include impacts in natural history and to move away from the picture of steady upward development.

Not different in that Cultural history: If the statistics are correct, then mankind has experienced and survived perhaps 100 impacts of varying magnitude since the Paleolithic a million years ago. Some of them may have settled in uninhabited areas, others only had a regional effect. However, some collisions are very likely to have knocked back developing cultures, perhaps almost completely destroyed, and forced survivors to start over at a lower level. This is how we can understand puzzling discontinuities in the rise of our civilization. For example, that the bow and arrow dates from around 15,000 BC. Were invented, then fell into oblivion, only to be invented a second time many millennia later.

These impact experiences have flowed into legends, fairy tales, rites and religious teachings and their traces can still be found in hidden corners of our subconscious to this day.

What can we do?

Until a few decades ago, impacts were considered an inevitable fate, imposed by the merciless coincidence of the universe; or they were viewed as God's punishment for human wrongdoing. In both cases the earth, humanity, was defenselessly exposed to the threat from the cosmos, without any chance of help. One could only hope for the power of prayer ...

In our days there is for the first time the chance to actively counter the cosmic threat. For an "impact prophylaxis" to be aimed for, two things would then be necessary: observation and defense.

1st observation: You can only protect yourself against recognized dangers, so "Enemy reconnaissance" comes first:

  • Stars that can come threateningly close to the earth must be discovered in good time and their orbits precisely calculated in advance. In the case of small planets or comets with short orbital times (less than 50 or maybe 100 years) this seems possible. The search for these dangerous neighbors has begun, but much remains to be done. It is estimated that there are around 2,000 "earth-crossing" asteroids with a diameter of more than 1 km which, when impacted, trigger global catastrophes that endanger civilization. About 7 % of these have been discovered. Objects with a diameter of more than 100 m, which can destroy entire stretches of land, are estimated at 300,000. And smaller chunks of 20 m in diameter and more - enough to destroy a city - there can be up to 100 million. Fortunately there are computers and automated measuring processes, otherwise one would have to despair with the number of astronomical bodies to be taken into account.
  • It becomes more difficult with comets that either have very long orbital times (more than 200 years) or perhaps do not belong to our solar system at all. Astronomers often only discover these comets months or weeks before they come close to Earth, and the time for conceivable countermeasures is short.

2. Active defense: Our space technology is well advanced, and we live in the first civilization in human history that can calculate a real chance of distracting or destroying a celestial body that would strike earth. At first glance, this is a utopian goal, but one that does not seem unattainable. Exceptionally, costs should not play a role in this case, and even if every country on earth would divert 10 %, 20 % or more of its armaments budget to avert the greatest of all possible dangers, humanity could only gain in the long run. May critics gossip about “unemployed cold warriors” looking for new “Star War games”, the threat from space is too real to be taken lightly.

The following defense options are already being investigated in circles at NASA and other scientific bodies:

  • In the case of a small asteroid with a diameter of less than 100 m, whose orbit is known, a relatively small explosion in the perihelion (the point closest to the sun) may be sufficient to change its orbit in such a way that dangers for the earth are averted. Conventional explosives, brought to exactly the right point by a missile and detonated exactly, could be sufficient. A plan that sounds utopian, but not impossible.
  • Objects with a diameter of 100 m and more require atomic explosives. It is not recommended to just dismantle the planetoid or comet into several pieces, each of which is sufficient to destroy a large city. One would have to achieve a change of path. A neutron bomb ignited in close proximity to the target object could cause material from the celestial body to evaporate. The recoil of the evaporating matter could then push it into a harmless orbit for the earth. The larger the body to be deflected and the closer it has already come to the earth, the larger the explosive devices required, and in extreme cases nuclear weapons seem necessary as they do not yet exist.
  • If you don't like the nuclear weapons option, you can also try another idea from the arsenal of anti-missile weapons: You pack tungsten balls in a missile head and throw them in space in the path of the comet or planetoid. When spheres and target collide at cosmic speed, the spheres penetrate deeply, generating great heat inside the astronomical body, which evaporates its rock and breaks the target into small chunks that burn up in the earth's atmosphere.

These defensive weapons would have to be available on earth or in orbit so that they can be directed to their target in good time. Before you send them off, you should know the nature of the object to be defended against. In an iron meteor, the tungsten spheres would not do much, and a body consisting of loose conglomerates could be broken up into rubble, which could be even more dangerous for the earth than the initial state. So there is still a lot of knowledge to be gathered before we can hope for reliable impact prophylaxis! The provision of nuclear weapons of previously unknown explosive power is also not a pleasant alternative, which still requires some political preparation in order to make a conceivable abuse impossible.

Unfortunately, in 1997, US President Clinton stopped a NASA project that was planning to send a small spacecraft to the asteroid Tautatis in 1999 to learn about this nasty neighbor in space as a first step on the road to impact preparedness.

But the search for asteroids and comets that could endanger the earth is ongoing; the possibilities of defending against these threats from space are discussed. It is to be hoped that insight will increase everywhere in the world, and that there will be enough time before the next impending impact to protect our civilization against the greatest of all conceivable threats to the extent humanly possible.

Literature:

Tollmann, Alexander and Edith: “The world year is running out”, Böhlau-Verlag, Vienna, Cologne, Weimar 1998.

Tollmann, Alexander and Edith: "And the flood did exist", Droemer-Knaur, Munich 1993.

Jaroff, Leon: “Save the Earth!”, In TIME, Special Issue “The Age of Discovery”, winter 1997/98.