Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Will the Mayans Have the Last Laugh?

Is it going to be the end of the world as we know it?  Were the Mayans right after all, give or take a couple of months with calendar changes, Daylight Savings Time, or whatever?  (No, please don't panic - at least not yet.)

Do you believe that the asteroid 2012 DA14 is going to miss the Earth on February 15?

After all, it is going to get closer to Earth than the moon, and even closer than a number of satellites.  (Even the International Space Station!) Back in the 1960's I would have said "Far out, man!"

It is going to zip by so quickly that observers in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia will have to know exactly when and where it will be in their sky.  (They will need a telescope or binoculars.) We in North America?  It will be too dim for us.

Now, though, just imagine if the scientists and their calculations are wrong.  Don't misunderstand me.  I - should I say I am a firm believer in science?  Or, that I have faith in science?  I need a little English Language jump-start here.

I do know, however, that scientists can be wrong.  Just because computers say something is fact doesn't mean it is fact. Scientists have been known to make math errors.

I remember The Mars Metric Mistake of 1999. Oopsies! (Goodbye, Mars Climate Orbiter).  OK, this was an English/metric conversion error but it happened, and it has happened more than once.

In other words, miscalculations are always possible.  No, it isn't time to panic or quickly build a fall out shelter.  And I'm not about to engage in conspiracy theories based on "the government" knowing something and not telling us.

So - not speaking as a scientist but as a layperson - my understanding is that this asteroid will be over the Indian Ocean when it comes closest to the Earth.  And let's say those calculations are wrong....

There are some seismically active areas (remember Krakatoa?) in this area where the Indian Ocean and the Pacific meet on the borders of Indonesia.

Now think of an asteroid turned meteor the size of (as it's been described online) a "Safeway" plowing into the Indian Ocean, possibly triggering an earthquake.  The Indian Ocean is prone to tsunamis. (Remember December 26, 2004?)  If it ends up in the Pacific, well, there is the Ring of Fire.

 And, what about all the water vapor that would be created in the instant of impact?

This asteroid will not destroy the Earth if it impacts us.  But it would cause some serious damage to some place on our planet, and could indirectly lead to thousands of deaths.

But, take comfort.

There are a couple of people well versed in science who read this blog.  I am sure they will set me straight.

But, unlike the "Mayan Apocalyse", which I never dreaded for a minute, I am going to be just a little on edge - until February 16.

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