Over a century ago Ignatius Donnelly summed up our precarious existence: We are but vitalized specks filled with a fraction of God's delegated intelligence, crawling over an egg-shell filled with fire, whirling madly through infinite space, a target for the bombs of the universe. By bombs Donnelly meant the untold number of asteroids and comets that fill the heavens around us which on perhaps not a few occasions have smashed into Earth itself, and may do so again.
Through revolutionary new techniques in observation, detection and photography, modern astronomers and astrophysicists have now identified two new classes of celestial objects which could pose a real danger to our planet within the foreseeable future, called NEA's (Near Earth Asteroids) and ECC's (Earth-Crossing Comets).
In March, 1989, a half-mile wide asteroid designated 1989C came within 450,000 miles of us, and now appears to be in an orbit that brings it close to the Earth every 13 months. Astronomers hypothesize that within 20 years it could strike the Earth, the Moon or Mars.
On December 8, 1992, asteroid 4179 Toutatis, between 1 and 2 miles across, came within 2.2 million miles considered a near-Earth event or close call astronomically.
On May 20, 1993, yet another asteroid (1993 KA2) streaked by, 30 feet in diameter and weighing an estimated 6,000 tons, flying within 90,000 miles. The problem was, astronomers did not discover it until after it had passed.
One particular NEA observers are watching closely is asteroid 2340 Hathor, which makes repeated close approaches to our world, and because most of its orbit lies within that of the Earth, it is often very difficult to observe clearly. Its next close encounter with us will take place December 21, 1997.
In the ECC (Earth-Crossing Comet) category, a very serious future candidate for an Earth grazing will be comet Finlay, due to pass by our planet on October 27, 2060 perhaps as close as 100,000 miles. In 1993, astrophysicist Brian Marsden announced that comet Swift-Tuttle could possibly strike Earth in the 22nd century. It is scheduled to pass the Sun incoming from deep space on July 11, 2126, and on August 14 will come very close to our world. Should the slightest irregularity occur in its long periodic path during the intervening one and a half centuries, it could hit the planet dead-center, and with a force equivalent to 100 million megatons of TNT.
For one week in July, 1994, astronomers watched a planetary body under attack, when two dozen pieces of the disintegrated comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 plunged into Jupiter with explosive results, equivalent to 40 million megatons of TNT going off in a chain reaction. As several scientists have warned, this was Earth's wake-up call for a similar possible event to happen to us.
At times our planet's recent cosmic encounters have been more than mere misses. On September 22, 1979 an explosion took place off the southern tip of South Africa, near the Antarctic Prince Edward Island. At first it was thought to have been a nuclear weapons test by either South Africa or Israel, but is now recognized to have been an exploding meteor instead.
Between 1975 and 1992, orbiting infrared detectors operated by the U.S. Department of Defense detected 136 observable fireball meteoric impacts worldwide.
On October 1, 1990, an explosion greater than one kiloton of TNT occurred 18.5 miles above the central Pacific Ocean, with a luminosity burst equivalent to that of the Sun, seen over an area of several hundred miles. Only after many months of analyzing the satellite detection data was it determined that the explosion probably had been the result of a 100-ton stony asteroid impacting the upper atmosphere and disintegrating.
Without a doubt the most dramatic skyfall in modern times took place on June 30, 1908, at 7:17 AM, when an explosion detonated approximately two miles above Yuzhnoya Boloto, the Southern Swamp, a water tableland between the Stony Tunguska and Chunya Rivers, in central east Siberia. Within seconds, a forest of 1,200 square miles was charred by tremendous heat, and all the trees were knocked down in a radial pattern outward from the blast center. A herd of 1,500 reindeer was burned beyond recognition, and scattered over several miles. Nomads living within a 40-mile radius of the blast were thrown to the ground, their clothes almost burned off their backs, while houses shook, ceilings collapsed and windows shattered.
Meanwhile, at Irkutsk, 550 miles from the epicenter, the noise of the explosion was heard, and seismograph needles quivered for an hour. Three thousand miles away, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, other earthquake recording instruments were also set in motion, as well as in Germany, and even in Washington, D.C., on the other side of the world. For three nights following the Siberian explosion, the skies over Russia, the Orient and northern Europe were filled with mysterious silvery clouds, that often irradiated with eerie yellowish-green to rosy hue colors; In Tokyo, Berlin, Copenhagen and London, the flourescent vapors glowed so brightly that at midnight it was possible to read a newspaper by their light.
Today, Russian and other world researchers believe the Tunguska object was a stony asteroid about 400 to 500 feet in diameter, which released energy equivalent to the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Probability calculations suggest that the Earth is subjected to a Tunguska-like impact event in as little as once every 50 years. The fact that Tunguska took place almost 90 years ago tells us we are long overdue for a repeat performance from the heavens. In fact, the most recent observations and photographic scans of the night sky reveal the sobering fact that small asteroids the same size as that which caused the Tunguska explosion pass closer to the Earth than the lunar orbit with a frequency of about once a week.
Computer models which calculate the atmospheric shielding effects on incoming celestial objects indicate that rocky or iron asteroids 2,000 feet or more in diameter, and icy cometary bodies of 4,000 feet or more in size would be able to penetrate the atmosphere and hit the surface with forces of 10 to 100 megatons of TNT respectively. Most anything of less size will either burn up or explode before surface contact could be made.
The destructive energy potential of an object traveling Earthward at a speed of 8 miles a second is equivalent to 100 times the object's volume in TNT. The one saving grace is that the density of our planetary atmosphere aids in obliterating most falling celestial objects through resistance by friction before they have a chance to hit the surface. A 150-foot asteroid, for example, has only a one percent chance of reaching the ground. It is the much larger bodies that pose the real danger, for they are capable of not only penetrating the air and impacting the Earth, but of imparting all their energy potential into an explosion of tremendous magnitude.
Recent computer simulations reveal that if a comet or asteroid hit the Earth on one side, the seismic waves it would generate would be transmitted through the planetary interior. By being focused on account of the Earth's curvature, the waves would meet together at the location directly on the opposite side where the impact took place, and the high stress energy released could disrupt the surface area, causing a tremendous outpouring of volcanic activity.
Calculating the amount of dust, water vapor and smoke that would result from a half-mile object hitting the Earth, we find that the consequences would be a drop of world temperatures by about 15 degrees F lasting for about 15 days.
The air blast that would result from an impact would lead to large-scale and worldwide pressure shock waves oscillating the entire atmosphere and ionosphere, and resulting in winds greater than the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded.
Beside the primary destructive results of the impact itself air blast, heat, mega-cyclones generated in the atmosphere, seismic shock waves and tsunami waves setting into motion both earthquakes and volcanic activity along the planetary faults and tectonic plate boundaries, plus dust clouds cutting off solar light would be the secondary catastrophes the various unleashed forces might touch off.
By far, the worst-case scenario would be if an asteroid or comet struck one of the world's deep oceans full force. Some researchers worry that the sudden displacement of such large volumes of water across thousands of miles of open ocean could effect the axis spin and polar stability of the Earth, like adding an off-balancing weight to a spinning gyroscope. Even more disastrous would be if a celestial object furrowed into the ocean at a more oblique angle. Then the energy of the mass would be dissipated by pushing a titanic amount of water ahead it over a large surface area, creating a wave so high and so large in size as to defy imagination.
As a tsunami wave reaches nearer to a coast with a shallower continental shelf, its speed slows down, but its height is increased by a factor of 10 to 40. Thus a deep oceanic wave of 100 feet might break ashore with a height of 1,000 to 4,000 feet.
A major earthquake triggered off the coast of Chile in May, 1960 generated waves in the deep water of the Pacific that traveled a full 150 degrees around the globe, or more than 10,000 miles distance, landing ashore in Japan at a height of up to 15 feet, and killing over 200 people. Earlier, in 1946, a similar event took place when a tsunami originating in the Aleutians killed a handful of people along the nearby Alaskan shores, yet also went on to take the lives of 150 people in Hawaii 5,000 miles distant. Computer projections indicate that a 30-foot asteroid impacting the ocean between Australia and New Zealand would produce tsunamis that would break on the southern Japanese coastline at 125 to 175 feet high.
That large impactors have hit the Pacific before is evident from geological remains on the islands within its perimeter. Deposits of unconsolidated corals have been found almost a thousand feet above the present coasts on Lanai, Hawaii, Oahu, Molokai and Maui, indicating they had to have been washed up to that height by a tremendous wave of water in the distant past. Ordinary tsunamis generated by earthquakes along the Ring of Fire would not have produced waves of that magnitude only a major displacement of ocean waters from an impact event would fit the findings.
Not only is the Pacific in potential danger, but the Atlantic has much to think about as well. Estimates are that an impact anywhere in the Atlantic Ocean by an asteroid 1,200 feet wide would devastate all coasts on either side with tsunami waves 200 feet high. Major cities either on the coast or with river, bay or harbor accesses such as New York, Boston, Washington, London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen could be completely obliterated.
One researcher, who has done the most detailed investigation concerning a meteor impact in the Atlantic region and its consequences, was German engineer Otto Muck. He concluded from a synthesis of scientific data from various disciplines that approximately 12,000 years ago an asteroid brushed by the Earth, was caught by the Earth's gravitational field, and broke into pieces, plunging into what is today called the Bermuda Triangle region. Smaller fragments gouged out what are now known as the hundreds of parallel bays found along the coastlines of the Carolinas. The two largest pieces of the asteroid created two great holes near the Puerto Rico Plateau, each today measured at approximately 2,300 feet in depth.
This collision, Muck calculated, had the effect of 30,000 hydrogen bombs going off at once. More than 4,800,000 cubic miles of water were suddenly displaced and/or vaporized by the explosion, creating tidal waves over a thousand feet high and steam clouds encircling the planet. The force of the impact punctured the Earth's rocky mantle, allowing the release of what Muck estimated must have been 5 x 10 to the 15th power tons of volcanic outpouring and between 2.5 and 3.7 x 10 to the 16th power cubic yards of subterranean gases. The escape of such huge quantities of material from beneath the Atlantic sea floor caused the entire ocean basin to subside and with it, the continental shelves of America, Europe and Africa sank under water. For the next 3,000 years, Muck determined, 3.5 billion tons of volcanic ash and 250 million tons of meteoric dust remained in the Earth's atmosphere, effecting weather and changing global climates drastically. During the same period, pumice stone and ash perhaps 40 feet deep covered large stretches of the Atlantic.
Muck was of the opinion that this asteroid strike is what destroyed Plato's fabled Atlantis, the lost civilization that once ruled the Atlantic region before any of the known ancient cultures came into existence.
Lurking in the back of our minds is the inevitable question: Could it happen again? Could our own civilization today meet with a similar fate as the lost Atlantic isle of old? And if such a catastrophe took place, what relics or legends would be left to tell our distant descendants the story of our accomplishments? As Ignatius Donnelly expressed it: After the next cataclysm, we will be merely a memory for the next civilization. We will be their Atlantis.
Hindu tradition, dating back thousands of years, prophesied that the end of this present world age will be marked by an event called Vadava, in which there will be a tremendous explosion in the great southern ocean.
We find a somewhat similar description of a meteoric skyfall inflicting various forms of catastrophic damage on large areas of the globe given in the apostle John's Book of Revelation, written two millennia ago. Among the first Four of the Seven Last Trumpets, we read:
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and a third part of the trees was burnt up and all the green grass was burnt up. And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and a third part of the sea became blood; and a third part of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third part of the ships was destroyed. And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and a third part of the water became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the Sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
In his prophetic poems written in the sixteenth century, famed French seer Nostradamus foresaw the approach and consequences of a heavenly intruder plunging into our planet.
Among his prophecies is the following: The year that Saturn and Mars are together in a fire sign (next to happen in April-May, 1996; September-October, 1996; September-November, 1997; and March-April, 1998; then not again until 2005 and 2007), The air will be very dry because of a long-tailed meteor, Through unforeseen heat great places burning with fire, Little rain, hot wind, wars, invasions. Century IV, Quatrain 67.
Does humanity have any part in deciding its fate? Celebrated American psychic Edgar Cayce offered these words which suggest that, ultimately, it is the choice of both collective humanity and each individual as to whether or not we choose to be affected by the movements within the heavens. We are the ones who attract to ourselves through our attitudes and consciousness the instruments of our own planetary fate: The cause of these events, of course, are the movements about the earth; that is, internally and the cosmic activity or influences of other planetary forces and stars and their relationships produce or bring about the activities of the elements of the earth. However, it is when the tendencies in the hearts and souls of men are such, that these upheavals may be brought about. For, as often indicated through these channels, man is not ruled by the world, the earth, the environs about it, nor the planetary influences with their associations and activities. Rather, it is true that man brings order out of chaos by his compliance with Divine Law. Or by his disregard of the laws of Divine influence, man brings chaos and destructive forces into his experience. There are those conditions that in the activity of individuals, in line of thought and endeavor, or keep many a city and many a land intact, through their application of the spiritual laws. Readings 270-35, 416-7, 311-10.