When the big one hits, all our worries are over. 1998 QE2 -- almost three kilometers in diameter -- missed us this time by a few million miles, but I hear that thousands of others may eventually have earth's number.
No more civil wars in Syria. No more global warming. We will all be toast. But perhaps a bit of extinction would be OK.
A huge asteroid hitting the earth is the global equivalent of a nighttime heart attack. Well, you might suspect it is coming -- high blood pressure, angina, cholesterol -- but, then, suddenly curtains. We might have a bit of warning, but no medicine that does much at all. Bruce Willis won't save us. There is something reassuring about that prognosis... tomorrow it is over. Russian, American and Chinese fail to push, shove or destroy the asteroid, and the doctors at Mayo Clinic can't cure you. Same difference. Dead, gone, done.
The most important thing about asteroids, particularly the large variety, is that we will know but won't be able to do a frigging thing about it. And, we will reflect, perhaps even poetically and creatively, about all the insanity we have inflicted on each other, other species, and our soon-to-be-extinct planet. Those last days, with terrible irony, might be the most insightful we as a species have ever had.
Not long ago there was a tiny meteorite that exploded somewhere above Chalyabinsk, Russia (north of Kazakhstan). I happened to be in northern Kazakhstan at the time hundreds of miles away. It was morning. A bright light, and much later a sonic boom. A wake up call from beyond. Yes it was bizarre, and frightening, because the noise and light came from hundreds of miles away from an object only a couple dozen meters wide.
Best to understand that we and our problems are insignificant in cosmic terms. Nothing in the scope of things. Having killed ourselves with countless wars, destroyed environments and eliminated habitats, an asteroid or two might sort things out. I do not ask for cataclysmic calamity... I am simply saying that it has happened before, life continued, and revived. We, earthlings, have however really done ill to each other far more than asteroids. In the early 20th century a much larger object impacted Siberia laying waste to hundreds of square kilometers. A few decades later, Stalin's gulags killed millions, Hitler tried to exterminate entire peoples, and then a world war killed perhaps 20,000,000 more in the Soviet Union alone.
Asteroids, meteorites, space objects -- or heinous political leaders? I'm not asking for it. Rather I and many others could be saying that a new beginning - a clean slate for life -- might not be a bad idea. A celestial alternative, shall we say, to a Holocaust, gulags, slavery and other human savagery.
Daniel N. Nelson leads an international consulting firm in Northern Virginia.