Unfortunately for us, earth has experienced at least five mass extinctions during the past 540 million years. Some scientists believe it may be as many as twenty. In other words, mass extinction events are not uncommon.
The underlying theme of this fascinating speech is of course much more fundamental. The real issue at hand here is governance. How do we, as a species, handle impending catastrophes? How do we allocate resources to initiatives that will benefit us in the long-term?
The probability of impact by one of these before the end of the century is 0.0005 percent. On the other hand, recent research suggests a 2 percent probability of global catastrophe from anthropogenic climate change by the end of this century.
Buying insurance is seldom gratifying. But here's a case in which plunking down cash for a policy is just ... good policy.
There is no doubt that a huge asteroid impact on Earth would be devastating to many life forms. However, we often forget that asteroid impacts may have played a crucial role in the emergence of life on Earth, and possibly even in the fact that humans are here to talk about them!
Will we again be hit by the sort of asteroid that ended the dinosaurs? Probably, but we'll never see it coming; in fact, we already missed it if we can assume that maybe we've been threatened by menacing space junk in the past and our modern technologies might have already prevented us from a painful case of mass extinction.
What should have been a global wake-up call of massive proportions has so far ended up being yet another push on the snooze button. If the public doesn't understand the threat - how can we expect them to react to it and put pressure on the politicians?
There's something so visceral and frightening and seductive about the idea of Earth's destruction that it manifests itself through human art, and it has for millennia.
Apophis' chief claim to fame is that it briefly achieved the highest level ever measured on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale before it was downgraded. Nevertheless, it still has a one in 250,000 chance of hitting Earth on its second visit.
If you want to believe the universe is out to kill you, it's easier to do it with a random piece of space rock than with a Mayan death ray from the black hole in Sagittarius.
When I got an email saying that Dr. Charles Elachi would be speaking at MIT on September 17th, I knew I didn't want to miss it.
If the U.S. seeks to send a manned space mission to Mars or reach similar such milestones by the end of the 2020s -- or sooner -- it need provide no more than it did in the 1960s: funding, political will, and presidential accountability.
For all the Star Wars and Star Trek resonances in this mission, Robert Heinlein's The Man Who Sold the Moon seems a better fictional precursor.
The announcement this week of an asteroid mining venture -- backed by Google executives, the Perot Group, and James Cameron, among others -- is precisely the sort of item that conjures both absurdity and horror in its full implications.
Innovators like Steve Jobs don't just happen -- they are grown. The question is how? The simple answer is: young minds must be challenged and engaged.
I believe we will go to space because we have to in order to continue our growth as human beings. There is little choice involved.