Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

‘I was gazing at a shooting star, wondering why it was getting bigger and bigger…then it hit me.’

This week contained the peak viewing for the Lyrid meteor showers. Meteor showers occur when the earth’s orbit takes us through the remnants of a comet tail. Comets are covered in ice or other frozen substances that flow off the comet as it orbits the sun. The dust from the tail makes up our meteor showers. The particles are usually smaller than a grain of sand and burn up completely in the atmosphere. The meteor is that flash of light as the dust vaporizes. If a particle makes it through the atmosphere then it’s called a meteorite (or maybe a meteoroid until it hits the earth).

While looking up some information on meteor showers for this year, I found a very unusual video of a skydiver’s near miss (really a near-hit…) with a meteorite. Well, if it was really a meteorite, that is absolutely amazing. There is still some doubt, but that would be scary. Could we get hit from above?

The answer of course is no… I mean the chance is so small that one astronomer stated “You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time.”

Yet there have been people hit right? Well, just one documented case. An Alabama woman in 1954 was sleeping on her couch when a meteorite crashed through her roof and hit her in the hip (see account of incident here).

peekskill meteorite car

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But there was a dog killed in Egypt in 1911 by a meteorite. And one hit a woman in the UK in 2004, that boy in Florida in 2007…wait there have been more than 30 people and homes hit in the last 200+ years along with 6 animals and 7 cars…

That sounds like a lot of tornado/lightning/hurricanes happening…I’m getting scared.

These are reports from around the world, and that means several billion people involved…so maybe it’s not something to worry about.

Then last week a group took data fromĀ  the nuclear test ban monitoring station network that shows 26 asteroids impacting the earth for the past 13 years. The impacts ranged from 1 to 600 kilotons in power (Hiroshima was 15 kilotons) and were primarily in the upper atmosphere so no real damage occurred at ground level, but like little earthquakes precede the big one, that killer asteroid maybe out there.

A low atmosphere explosion over Chelyabinsk in 2013 was 500 Kilotons and caused building damage that injured over 1000 people. In 1908 a low atmosphere explosion estimated at 1.5 Megatons destroyed 850 square miles of forest and 1000 reindeer in Siberia. Another near miss…

The asteroid that finished off the dinosaurs was 10 Megatons and it impacted the surface of the earth. Life is changed when a killer asteroid hits. There is evidence of many killer asteroids hitting the earth in the past. And life goes on…

Killer asteroid

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What should I do about the killer asteroids?

There is nothing that can be done. Worrying or losing sleep over it is just wasting energy. The biggest ones can be tracked, but not diverted. The smaller ones are not able to be detected before impact. The earth is 70% oceans, so that is where most impacts occur. Again, worrying about nothing.

boy looking at stars

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I suggest instead, that we focus on those beautiful meteor showers. Take time to enjoy the magnificence of space. Focus on some quality time with your family and friends. In fact,the next major meteor event will happen next week, around May 5. This shower is associated with the tail of the famous Halley’s comet. Take time to teach your kids about the meteors and comets. And maybe explain about the asteroids also, but don’t make them too paranoid to enjoy the night sky.

dsb