Alive to danger

While the world is used to the beauty and magnificence of many celestial events, some rare and others not so uncommon, the explosion of a meteor over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Saturday was of a different and scary  kind.

The object from outer space was not even the speck of a speck by cosmic standards and was small by earthly measurements, just 17 metres wide. But when it fell apart over the Ural mountains it had many times the destructive power that razed Hiroshima and Nagazaki. By a strange coincidence there was a close shave with a visiting asteroid also on the same day, with the heavenly visitor flying past the earth beyond harm’s way. Both were strangers to each other. But a slight change in the travel plans of either would have been catastrophic for the earth.

The meteor blast left many injured in Chelyabinsk and caused damage to houses, schools and hospitals.  The damage was limited because the explosion occurred at a safe height above the earth. But the largest celestial body to hit the earth’s atmosphere in 100 years should alert us to the unexpected dangers that lurk above the air. It was a meteor, again less than a cosmic dust, that extinguished the biggest forms of life on earth millions of years ago and changed its history. Humans have now packed their home with so much nuclear and chemical trappings that a meteor with no particularly bad intentions would only have to brush the earth to mark the end of the history of life here.  The impact left by a meteor that hit the Tenguska region in 1908 in Siberia is still visible there. Again, Siberia seems to be a favourite visiting spot for the guests from out there.

It is necessary to develop better tracking, monitoring  and warning systems on the movements of meteors, asteroids and other bodies that can pose danger to earth. It has also been suggested that capacities should be developed to deflect or destroy them. This can be done only with scientific and technical co-operation at an international level. There is no indication of that at the moment. Science fiction, ufology and other areas of imagination are thick with tales of objects that come calling. Some have even seriously attributed the origin of life to contact with them. We may realistically have to think of ways to avert the chance of the doomsday coming with them.

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