Because of the meteorite that recently crashed into the Ural Mountains, last week's column looked at the history of similar events and the probability of a recurrence. This week, I'll shift the discussion to asteroids, which are space rocks that explode in the atmosphere and can be destructive without actually crashing into Earth. By coincidence, on Feb. 13, two days before the Chelyabinsk Region meteorite, an asteroid exploded about 10 km above Chelyabinsk City, causing significant human casualty and property damage. There is no known reason for this portion of the Russian Federation to be particularly vulnerable, but about 100 years ago, a much larger asteroid exploded over Siberia, destroying 2000 km. of vegetation.
The European Space Agency (ESS) , with its Space Situational Awareness Programme (SAS), in cooperation with surveillance efforts worldwide, focuses on discovering space rock large enough and close enough to pose potential harm to this planet so that advance warning will be possible. Taking this a step further, aerospace engineers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, have been developing asteroid deflection technology which would involve a flotilla of laser-equipped spacecraft breaking down the threatening asteroid.
Another potential threat is the amount of orbiting space debris which can collide, then cause a chain of collisions, somewhat like car pileups on slippery highways. It is possible that the laser technology could eventually be applied to this space problem as well.
Predicting hazardous asteroids isn't an exact science because there is a divergence in the path taken by orbiting objects that isn't mathematically consistent. However, Spanish researchers suggested in 2010 that there is a one in 1000 chance that Asteroid 101955 1999 RQ36 could approach Earth in 2182, perhaps with catastrophic devastation similar to the strike that impacted Australia 300 million years ago.
Physicists in Illinois, studying a sub-atomic particle discovered in Geneva Switzerland in 2012, and suspected to be the theoretical Higgs-boson, have made an apocalyptic prediction. Apparently, a boson-related sudden and fast-moving event, many billions of years from now, will bring the universe to a catastrophic end.
Jacqueline Warlow, a retired educator, lives in Dartmouth. Mother of three and grandmother of six, she is a freelance writer and a "People With Tales" storyteller.