Great Balls Of Fire
edited: Friday, November 08, 2002
By Johnny Phoenix
Posted: Monday, August 12, 2002
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What are the chances of an asteroid wiping out wipe on Earth and what questions does this raise?
In order to understand things better I always try to simplify the terms. So when people talk about the probability of a global extinction as a result of an asteroid strike there are an awful lot of things that you have to consider. Most people will simplify to it’s extreme, as in it will either hit us or it won’t, which is fair enough but if you wanted a bit more of an insight you would have to look at the evidence that history and research has provided.
For that you have to start at the beginning. The main problem that we encounter in trying to start at the beginning is that scientists are only roughly aware of when the beginning was. Ask them when the earth was formed, some will reply hundreds of millions of years ago. It seems pretty open as it could mean 200 million years ago or 800 million years ago. Some scientists believe that the earth is over 4.5 Billion years old which means the gap is further widened and accuracy at this point, packs it’s bags, stamps its feet and walks off in a huff.
Answering Cosmic Questions
But you can’t answer cosmic questions from various starting points or rational thinking will pack up its belongings and order a taxi to follow accuracy. You have to pick a starting point that you believe through your own knowledge and subscribe to the progressive thinking along the same line. I personally choose to believe for the sake of accuracy that the world is 846, 987, 213 years old and it started on a Sunday. The great thing about answering cosmic questions is that no-one can prove you wrong but if anyone takes the trouble to count back the number of years and add leap years to dispute the day I say the world started, you deserve to be shot on sight. Trouble is with accuracy gone, the bullet will probably miss anyway!!
Has life been here before?
Anyway, I have my start date and therefore, we can start to theorise based on that date. There is a theory that the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago was home to a race of advanced beings far more advanced than man. Some people might balk at the suggestion and shout “We would have found evidence, fossils, coke cans”, but as the song says “It ain’t necessarily so”.
Imagine an asteroid struck tomorrow big enough to cause tidal waves that would destroy every civilisation in every country, washing away buildings, structures, people, everything in it’s path. A dust cloud would be sent up that would cause another Ice age lasting thousands of years as it blocked out the light of the sun. Mud formed would become clay, grass would grow and die every year, adding millimetres of soil, covering roads, and remnants of buildings as they decayed anyhow and formed dust. Hundreds of thousands of years later, there would be no trace that we had ever been here. So if that could happen now, who’s to say it hasn’t already.
In four hundred thousand years, there may be some lay-theologist sat at his computer wondering whether his own race of lizards are the only intelligent bi-pedals to ever walk the Earth. He could theorise that monkeys have the capability to evolve and become a race, called humans, laughable I know, but it could happen.
After all, the brightest minds in the world still cannot build a pyramid like the ones in Egypt, Plants indigenous to one continent have been found in separate continents, before any history of sea travel or intelligent life.
What are the chances then?
Ok, my point is that Asteroid, big global killers have been hitting the earth for hundreds of millions of years. There have been many Ice ages and they have apparently been around about 20 million years apart, give or take 5 million years. (In the distance, accuracy slams a door loudly in order to make a point)
This has happened quite a few times, but not recently. In fact, if you simplified you would say that if you averaged it out, we have had an extinction level event every 20 million years or so. The trouble is that this average is now being ruined because the last one was over three times that length of time ago.
To put it simply let’s say time was a roulette wheel with each spin taking a 10 million years. Every time it stops on red we get and ice age, every time it stops on black we don’t. Well the history of the planet Earth would go like this “Black, Red, Black, Red, Black, Red, Black, Black, Black, Black, Black, Black.” As any gambler will know, red is going to come up sometime and the chances are it is coming up soon.
What can we do ?
This is where fate and chance divide paths. Chance means that there is a possibility something can be avoided. Fate is surer of itself. The Earth has been hit in the past by extinction level asteroids and it will be again, that is certain. In fact the Asteroid that will hit us is already on its way. The fact that we don’t know how long it will take to get here is the real question.
What we are discussing is whether its arrival will be within our lifetime and the possibility of that happening. So if we accept that we know it is coming, and we accept from the roulette wheel theory that it is certainly due, we can take some solace that it could arrive anytime within the next 10 million years.
Most of us have around fifty years left so the odds of it hitting within that time are 10 million – 50 or by simplification 200,00 to 1 odds that we will be wiped out in our lifetime.
I’m quite relaxed about those odds and would hope that the scientists of the world will spot anything that looks like its heading our way. They just missed seeing one that missed us by a hairsbreadth in cosmic terms and in one voice the scientists of the world said “oops, sorry about that”. Actually It should have hit us, but you have me to thank for the asteroid missing due to some observations I had made – accuracy was sulking in the corner causing the asteroid to miss and you are welcome.
If they announced tomorrow that we had a big one on its way in and it was likely to wipe out the earth, I would put my trust in the governments of the world to be able to stop it. I think we have the technology both known and secret to be able to stop it.
Preserving Our History
But in order to prevent the loss of our civilisation, I think that some historical records should be stored on the moon. So if we are ever wiped out and another civilisation evolves in another few hundred million years, the lizardmen civilisation will have Elvis Presley records to listen to, Shakespeare to read, Einsteins theories, Recipes for Big Macs and a big sign saying “WE WERE HERE FIRST”