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Asteroids: "It Came From Outer Space!"

Updated on February 3, 2012

Luck and another's gravity protects us

Jupiter's juggling act occasionally fails
Jupiter's juggling act occasionally fails

Time to kiss your a-s goodbye?

When this sci-fi movie was made 60 years ago, we knew relatively little about bodies in space that have - and will - collide with our planet.

The benign aliens arriving in the Arizona desert were tough indeed to have survived the impact, as were the observers not far away.

We know now that asteroids up to a mile across have collided with Earth over the millennia and have caused huge destruction, climate change and the extermination of species.

These catastrophic event are thankfully rare, but there have been thousands of other objects arriving from space, most burning up in our atmosphere, some causing local disasters.

Still many more have landed in our seas, the water swallowing most of the blast effect and the occasional tsunami not recorded.

When you understand just how many objects are found in a solar system, it becomes hard to see why we don’t suffer from more of these invaders, as they are now recorded in the millions.

Most asteroids are composed of rock and/or metal. Recently, some have been found made of, or containing, large amounts of ice. A popular school of astronomical thought suggests all our water came from outer space, locked in the ice in these visitors over billions of years.

This puts them in realm of the comets and meteors, some huge and often containing ice which melts away causing the tails of these particulate masses. Observers in huge telescopes on Earth were surprised when the first asteroids came to light, also with tails indicating their ice content.

But science is far more concerned by the danger presented to us by these chunks of material, some as big as football stadia, and many more large enough to spread mayhem in a large area where they collide.

In fact, the astronomers are less worried about the huge asteroids: their coming will be well anticipated, perhaps for years. And in any event, the collateral damage from the impact of one of these mountain-sized behemoths might spell the end of life on the planet as we know it and we could do little.

What disturbs meteorologists far more are the recently documented “Near Earth Asteroids.”

These might average only several meters across (some larger), but the danger is our defense system of the atmosphere. If one of the bodies does not burn up in time - in the outer fringes of the atmosphere, as most small objects do - it might last until it reaches the braking ability and oxygen-rich layers a few miles above the planet’s surface before exploding in an “air-burst.”

Such is the speed (around 200,000 MPH) of these invaders, that the local shock wave and super-heated air would destroy everything on the ground for miles around.

Most asteroids are held in the “Asteroid Belt,” which loops between Jupiter and Mars, held in orbit by the massive gravitational pull of the former giant. Several are up to 400 kilometers in diameter (one is 950 k!); they vary in size down to most the size of a particle of dust. Every so often, one begins to stray from its regular orbit and these are the few which may one day impact with Earth. Curiously, astronomers tell us they are moved by ‘photon force,” actually the tiny persuasion applied by the light from the sun!

Of the other observable bodies sharing this corner of space with us are comets, which may be large in total, but are formed by a mass of smaller particles and ice where an observable tail is present.

Then meteors, which are generally just tiny asteroids, often with tails. They present little danger to us in this form as they would burn up well outside any danger point.

There are around 50 listed types of asteroid themselves and they are all being as carefully watched as possible in order for warnings of their potential arrival to be announced.

If one day we are warned of the expected arrival of a large asteroid, such as the ones that landed before the demise of the dinosaurs and craters from whom can be found all over the planet, the old adage regarding what you do when your plane is about to crash might be pertinent:

“Bend down, put your head between your legs and kiss you’re a-s goodbye!”


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    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      No one gets out of this world alive, so this is just one more way of leaving. Very informative article as usual.

      Hope you are well . . .

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Cheers Idig...Thanks for visit


    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Cheers, Idig...Nice of you to comment


    • idigwebsites profile image

      idigwebsites 6 years ago from United States

      Well done...its is really a great hub...enjoyed reading it.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks for comments guys.

      We will be informed if a sizeable, or "air burst" threatening asteroid appears to be on a collision course. It will be harder to say just where it will impact until minutes or seconds before it arrives.

      People heading for shelters in the Beacons, or wherever, might survive the initial impact, but most mammalian and other large life NOT in the seas may not survive the "nucleur winter" of climate change such as that which preceded the loss of the dinosaurs.

      Apart from the huge bodies, most of us will be OK after the air-burst smaller asteroids, apart from those immediately underneath who could be vapourized. up! Just like all those hard men in your stories!

      Incidently, we may be facing an equally disatrous encounter much nearer home as the Yellowstone Caldera is increasing height rapidly and is 20,000 years overdue for an eruption. The effects will be similar to a huge asteroid impacting the planet.


    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 6 years ago from USA

      Being the optimist that I am (some say I've got my head stuck in the sand), I can pretty easily convince myself that a large asteroid will never collide with the earth anywhere near me. But thanks for making me worry a little! :)

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Oh great! Now how am I supposed to sleep tonight?!!

    • Suzie ONeill profile image

      Suzie ONeill 6 years ago from Lost in La La Land

      Genna East asks an interesting question. First, would the authorities give us a heads up? Second, if they did, what would (or could) we do if they did make an announcement. Seems to me like there isn't much we could do. Just say our farewells to our loved ones and make peace with the fact that life on our planet might be coming to a close. Interesting things to ponder!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Interesting hub.

      "There are around 50 listed types of asteroid themselves and they are all being as carefully watched as possible in order for warnings of their potential arrival to be announced."

      I can’t help but wonder if they will announce should this type of cataclysmic event ever appear on the horizon, and avoiding such an event would be impossible. But this poses an interesting question: What would we do if such an announcement was made?

    • profile image

      markbennis 6 years ago

      I would head for the nearest underground facility in the Brecon Beacons, ooops? Not sure I should have said that. ;)

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 6 years ago from New York

      LOL I'm not ready to 'kiss mine goodbye' just yet! Great hub though.