sexta-feira, 25 de julho de 2014

Are we ready to face space Armageddon?

It was a chilly late November afternoon in 1954. A 34-year-old Ann Elizabeth Hodges was having a nap on a sofa in her Oak Grove home in Albama near Sylacauga. Suddenly, one small black rock slammed through her ceiling and fell on the radio before hitting her leg.

Astounded US Air force later confirmed the black rock to be meteor which eventually came to be known as Sylacauga meteorite.

But Ann was not the first person to be hit by alien object. One Italian manuscript stated that in one Milanese friar was killed by meteorite in 1677. One Ugandan boy was hit with tiny fragment of meteor in 1992.

Though incidence of individual humans getting hit by alien rocks is really very rare in recent times, but incidence of large scale of devastation brought in by marauding meteors is just too many in the history of the planet earth.

Sixty five million years ago 10-km-wide asteroid hit north of Yukatan peninsula unleashing chains environmental revolutions which ultimately drove dinosaurs to extinction.

In 1490 an asteroid broke over Chinese city of Chiling-yang driving 10,000 people to death. In 1908 a 50-metre-wide asteroid exploded over Siberia resulting deforestation of 2,000 square km area and death of thousands of animals.

Again another meteor exploded over Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, causing strong shockwave which in turn injured more than 100 people.

Australian engineer Michael Paine has shown through his simulation model that the planet earth has been hit by large alien rocks as many as 350 times causing drastic climate change such as ice age in the last 10,000 years.

He has predicted that the space rocks could cause death to as many as 13 million people, even inducing war and bringing famine in next 10,000 years.

Earth-hitting asteroids could trigger a tsunami as well if the meteor plunges into the ocean and Paine simulation has estimates of average 470,000 deaths per tsunami.

Ukrainian scientists have warned that an asteroid is on the way towards earth and it would hit the blue planet in 2032, though Nasa does not think it to be on collision course.

So how is the world gearing up to face this menace?

The present situation is such that no country could afford to ignore this peril and UN has constituted a global body christened as International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) involving the US, Russia, Germany, Holland, EU, Italy and International Astronomical Union (IAU) to co-ordinate and develop mitigation measure of ever growing dangers of asteroids.

Nasa's Near Earth Asteroid Tracking System is operational for last decade and now IAU's asteroid tracking satellite is very much in pipeline too.

But as the problem could hit any nation, there is urgent need for global co-operation. Other space powers like India, China, Japan, France, the UK are also being invited to IAWN. Other countries like Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Argentina are to be invited too.

Former astronaut Ed Lu rightly stated," Chelyabinsk was bad luck. If we get hit again 20 years from now, that is not bad luck-that's stupidity."

But despite all warning and tracking systems one big question still looms large. What would happen if suddenly one asteroid is seen rushing towards blue planet? Can we destroy it? Once Nasa's famous response was to pray.

The author is a senior journalist specialised in technology. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely his and not of Times of Oman.

Source: Times of Oman

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