Field of Science

Got your meteorite insurance?

The recent meteorite event in Siberia, has a number of people wondering just how great is the risk of riding on a planet racing through rock littered space?  Other than TPP’s gut reaction that if this is the sort of worry that keeps you awake at night, you need some help, botanists really don't know about such things.  However, this was an interesting question and people with more data have thought about it as well.  Meteor Crater in Arizona is quite a blemish on the surface of the Earth, and according to the people who have studied it, an area of 1000 square kilometers was devastated by this meteorite strike.  Based upon the number of such craters on Earth, a meteorite strike this big happens about every 1500 years.  The Earth is pretty  big in comparison with a surface area of about 510,000,000 square kilometers, so your chance of being in the wrong 1000 square kilometers, is 1 in 510,000, but this is only going to happen once every 1500 years, so that’s one in 765,000,000 chances of getting slammed by a meteorite in a year's time.  (And in the process TPP figured out the “calculate” command buried deeply in MSWord.)  To put this another way, about 1 person will get killed by a meteorite somewhere on Earth about every 50 years.  Some people worry about the “big one”, a meteorite big enough to pretty much wipe out most of life on Earth, the sort hypothesized to have caused the big extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous.  Now we have the technology to be able to observe such a threat and predict where and when the impact will occur.  For one of these events, best get an extra large margarita, sit back and just watch the show.  The dinosaurs never knew what hit them, but that’s how we differ from them.  HT to bandolier.

3 comments:

Mark OC said...

Hi TPP, I like your post about meteors, and it makes me wonder whether you might be the expert I'm looking for... I'm doing research for a UFO book and there's an interesting puzzle that only a botanist will be able to solve. Interested?

btw, here's my blog post about the recent meteor activity:
http://www.highstrangenessufo.com/2013/02/meteor-attack.html

Mark O'Connell

The Phytophactor said...

Mark OC has an interesting puzzle that only a botanist will be able to solve. Should TPP dip his toe into the deep dark waters of UFOlogy? Why the hell not? All the goofy botanical questions end up being directed to me anyways. Bring on the puzzle Mark, and it'll be posted for the hive mind to contemplate.

Mark OC said...

Thanks for taking up the challenge, TPP! It's a complicated story, but I'll try to be succinct.
It involves a famous wave of UFO sightings in southern Michigan in March, 1966. Over the two nights in question, the 20th & 21st, in two different locations, dozens of sober, reliable witnesses saw what seemed to be car-sized objects swoop down from the sky and settle over swampy areas. No one got within 500 yards of the objects on either night, so descriptions of its size, shape and appearance are varied. But all witnesses described white, blue, red, yellow, green and silver lights that moved up and down and side-to-side, changed in intensity and vanished whenever any other light source was pointed at them.
The US Air Force expert who was called in to investigate the sightings, Northwestern University astronomy professor J. Allen Hynek, was rushed into making a premature assessment of the sightings and declared that the witnesses may have seen swamp gas. It made some sense to Hynek that decaying organic matter in the swamps, released by the spring thaw, could create pockets of luminescent floating gas...
This set off a national furor, and Hynek's verdict was resoundingly mocked and condemned.
No one has ever been able to prove that the lights were or were not swamp gas, but there is one significant clue that, to my knowledge, has never been considered.
The first night, the 20th, was clear and in the 40s. The second night, the 21st, was also in the 40s, but there were terrible thunderstorms across the region, and the mystery lights were spotted shortly after the rain stopped.
My question is this: would the heavy rain on the 21st have inhibited the release and combustion of swamp gas, or would there have been no difference between the dry conditions of the 20th and the rainy conditions of the 21st.
Seems to me that the rain factor would have made some difference, but I don't know!
Can you help?