Happy Tunguska Day

That would be today, the 100-year anniversary of when a small (maybe 40m) something exploded over  Siberia, devastating several hundred square miles. Andrew C. Revkin blogs in the NYT on the status of efforts to protect us from collision with asteroids, comets, and meteors.  Duck-and-cover:

To a person, they said the lawmakers they worked for were convinced of the threat and need to invest more in protection. And to a person, he recalled, they apologized that new money was unlikely because making the deflection of asteroids a priority might backfire in reelection campaigns.

As I noted in a post last month, the threat from space objects is real and much more worthy of defense funding than preparations for large-scale conventional war.

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4 Responses to “Happy Tunguska Day”

  1. Fabius Maximuson 30 Jun 2008 at 10:21 am 1

    Can we vote for “both as a waste of money”? Or add to the list immediate and fast collapse of oil production, super-bug pandemics, larger asteroid or comet impact, massive climate changes, eruption of a super-volcano, or a supernova exploding within 50 light years, and many more.

    The number of high impact – low probability scenarios is legion. Why pick one and ignore the others? Perhaps we might allocate a sum to defend against such things — then list them all, rank by odds and effect, and allocate the money accordingly.

    Just a guess, but I suspect this process would result in funding some interesting research — and 0 (zero) programs to prevent or even mitigate these threats.

    [CR: Ah, Fab. Ever the curmudgeon. Unfortunately this is a high impact, high probability scenario, so it might be worth looking into. It doesn’t have to be either / or with other problems we face — I’m suggesting reprogramming some of the money we currently waste on weapons to defend the Fulda Gap over to deal with what is a more likely, if not more severe, threat.

    By the way, I wasn’t aware of any technology to mitigate the effects of super volcanoes or nearby supernovas. Perhaps you could enlighten us?]

  2. Fabius Maximuson 30 Jun 2008 at 10:59 pm 2

    Not being an astrophysist, I would never question a conclusion from that primo journal of science “The Atlantic.” It seems to overturn the consensus that asteroid/comet impacts are a low probability event, but I have not been regularly reading the Sunday Science Sections in my local rag. Put me down for a billion dollar contribution.

    If others do not prove so generous and we do not build a space defense system, all is not lost. Perhaps we can somehow survive another 1,000 years — as we somehow survived the last few thousand. By 3000 AD pushing comets away might be a typical Boy Scout Eagle Project.

    As for super-volcanoes and nearby supernovas … the immediate solution is simple: underground cities. Building these will provide even more push to the economy than your space defenses, as they perfectly meet Lord Keynes description of fiscal stimulus: digging holes.

    The longer-term solution requires immediate crash research to develop deflector shields. I have it on good authority that we will have them by 2300 AD. The spin-offs will be fantastic, even greater than Apollo (e.g., TANG and zero-g pens).

  3. Maxon 01 Jul 2008 at 9:19 am 3

    Simiarly far fetched,

    A man-made singularity ?


    some critics fear the Large Hadron Collider could exceed physicists’ wildest conjectures: Will it spawn a black hole that could swallow Earth?

  4. Mycophagiston 18 Jul 2008 at 12:34 pm 4

    Near-Earth asteroid – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Near Earth Asteroid threat

    Impact rate

    Asteroids with diameters of 5-10m impact the Earth’s atmosphere approximately once per year, with as much energy as atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, approximately 15 kilotonnes of TNT. These ordinarily explode in the upper atmosphere, and most or all of the solids are vaporized.[15] Objects of diameters of order 50 meters strike the Earth approximately once every thousand years, producing explosions comparable to the one observed at Tunguska in 1908.[16] Asteroids with a diameter of one kilometer hit the Earth an average of twice every million year interval.[1] Large collisions with five kilometer objects happen approximately once every ten million years.

    Historic impacts

    Illustration of the impact of an asteroid a few kilometers across. Such impacts are expected to occur less often than every 100 million years.

    The general acceptance of the Alvarez hypothesis, explaining the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event as the result of a large asteroid or comet impact event, raised the awareness of the possibility of future Earth impacts with asteroids that cross the Earth’s orbit.[16]

    On 30 June 1908 a stony asteroid exploded over Tunguska with the energy of the explosion of 10 megatons of TNT. The explosion occurred at a height of 8.5 kilometers. The asteroid which caused the explosion has been estimated to have had a diameter of 45-70 meters.[17]

    On June 6, 2002 an object with an estimated diameter of 10 meters collided with Earth. The collision occurred over the Mediterranean Sea, between Greece and Libya, at approximately 34°N 21°E and the object exploded in mid-air. The energy released was estimated (from infrasound measurements) to be equivalent to 26 kilotons of TNT, comparable to a small nuclear weapon.[18]

    Some things you can’t do a thing about, some things you can. Certainbly worth the preparation… :(