27 thoughts on “An Extinction Event

  1. Ed

    Probably not.

    Using the purported speeds of 15-75km/sec, and a 24 hour period, then the train of comet fragments would be 1.3 to 6.8 million kilometers long, impossible to miss visually at night or evenings at other latitudes and longitudes.

  2. Thomas Matula

    And even if it was a comet its unlikely it would have been an extinction level event. More likely a series of Tunguska scale events, scatter across the globe.

  3. sss

    Probably not extinction. But, with the lingering climate effects, it certainly would have been a massive die-off and likely an end to what passes for civilization.

  4. Larry J

    Based on the tree damage, the blast at Tunguska was estimated to be on the order of 10 megatons, give or take a couple megatons. Having a bunch of those blasts go off at the same time would make for a very bad day.

  5. Mike Lorrey

    Reminds me of the setup to the plot of SM Stirling’s “The Peshawar Lancers” that portrays an alternate timeline where the victorian era is interrupted by several impacts of large comet fragments, causing a little ice age to go even colder, and forcing western civilization to migrate south, so in the early 21st century, the british Raj is headquartered in India and rules the subcontinent, southern africa and australia, and is recolonizing the US.

  6. Mitch H.

    Mike: that’s exactly what I thought of when I saw this on Instapundit. Shame the book was a trainwreck. It’s like Draka keep infiltrating all of Stirling’s non-Draka books and series, often breaking the narrative in the process.

  7. Thomas Matula

    But keep in mind, based on probably, most of the impacts would have been over oceans, remote jungles, deserts and polar regions. Human activities, especially agriculture, covered an even smaller percentage of the world in the 1800′s then it does today.

    More interesting would be the social effect of recognizing the danger of impact events a hundred years early. Would the threat of impacters had spurred interest and funding for spaceflight sooner? Would humans have landed on the Moon in the 1930′s? Interesting possibilities…

    1. rickl

      More interesting would be the social effect of recognizing the danger of impact events a hundred years early. Would the threat of impacters had spurred interest and funding for spaceflight sooner? Would humans have landed on the Moon in the 1930′s? Interesting possibilities…

      In the actual 1930s, all-metal piston engined monoplanes were new and exciting cutting edge technology. But, earlier, Tsiolkovsky and Goddard had speculated that we could fly into space using rockets.

      So the question is, would this have spurred rocket development faster? Could we have launched a man into earth orbit on a rocket before Lindbergh flew the Atlantic in an airplane? In that environment, maybe Lindbergh himself would have been more interested in flying into space than flying the Atlantic.

  8. ken anthony

    A sobering thought only if you are paying attention. It’s not about this event being close to an extinction event. It’s that an extinction event could happen, with or without warning, and we are completely unprepared for it. The sky is falling folks. The rate isn’t a good excuse for ignoring it.

    AFAIK, the only person to publicly acknowledge the need for a humanity backup and is currently working on it is Elon. That’s one in several billion. Is that better or worse than the actual probability of getting hit… and would it matter if this year was it?

    1. Thomas Matula

      Unfortunately efforts to build a space program around planetary protection tend to fall on deaf ears in the Space Advocate community.

  9. mpthompson

    This theory is highly speculative and seems to fail the Occam’s Razor test. Given no other observations anywhere else were made other non-celestial explanations local to the telescope look to be more likely. I find it hard to believe that a train of comet debris a million kilometer long passed by Earth within a few thousand kilometers and no unusual meteor showers were observed at that time. Wind blowing dandelions between the Sun and telescope is just one of hundreds of things that could cause such observations.

    1. Thomas Matula

      Or a swarm of high flying butterflies, something that occurs often in the tropics that time of year.

      1. Ed Hahn

        It’s always good to go back to the original sources. After reading the 2011 paper I noted that there is a link to the NASA ADS portal, which has a scanned-to-pdf copy of the original article, here:

        http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1885LAstr…4..347B&data_type=PDF_HIGH&whole_paper=YES&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf

        I think this is probably an observer error, but looking at the of hand drawn images, but I can’t really state that they look like butterfly’s or dandelions. More like paramecium.

        1. Thomas Matula

          You know, Krakatoa was erupting during the entire summer of 1883, before the huge explosion in 1883. During some of those periods, as in May, it was sending clouds of gas into the upper atmosphere. Could there have been a relationship? Perhaps some high clouds of gas circling the Equatorial regions?

          1. Thomas Matula

            Yes, I have been following it. It will be interesting if it blows again. Hopefully they will have some type of tsunami warning this time if it goes.

          2. ken anthony

            Makes one wonder if the scriptural prophecy concerning earthquakes in the last days has a more emphatic future? Didn’t know that Bolivia has a competitor to Yellowstone. Are there more?

          3. Thomas Matula

            BTW two good links on major volcanoes and history

            The first on major eruptions since 1500.

            http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/LivingWith/VolcanicFacts/deadly_eruptions.html

            The second is on a book that speculates the 535 eruption of Krakatoa may have responsible for the climate even of 535 – 536 that set the stage for the rise of Islam.

            http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-345-40876-1

            You might also google “genetic bottleneck” to find info on a event that nearly wiped out the species about 70,000 years ago. Source is unknown but the Lake Toba Volcano in Indonesia is the prime suspect.

      2. ken anthony

        California’s Long Valley

        Yes, I even lived in Sonora CA for a while. I looked it up I’m surrounded here in AZ, not just by Yellowstone, but Mono lake in CA, Mexico City and New Mexico have their own super volcano areas. Since any could have world wide implications, there just isn’t any way to get around them. Plus, when I leave Phx next week I’ll be going to a higher elevation which would feel a lowering of temperature a bit more acutely.

  10. ken anthony

    Again, it absolutely doesn’t matter if this was or was not a close one. What matters is we have been hit and will be hit. Since we are talking about extermination of humanity even a very low probability (and it’s not just a probability, it’s a certainty that we will be hit in the future) we have total justification for backing up humanity… not just to another planet but to another star since the galaxy regularly sterilizes star systems (but one step at a time.)

    Saying we can wait is pure ignorance. We do not know if we can wait or not. If you’re just betting money, take the bet; but if you’re betting humanity, that’s a different story.

    So we know about 90% of the dangerous objects. Doesn’t do much good if just one of the remaining 10% is about to swing around the sun and head our way. At some moment before impact we should know about it. Wouldn’t we feel silly then? But no worries, the cockroaches will evolve, right?

    1. mpthompson

      Assume the hypothesis is correct, with today’s technology what could possibly be done against hundreds of such objects aimed for the Earth over an a 24 hour time span? Other than bracing for impact we would be as helpless as the Neanderthals. If we can’t do anything about it, we might as well not worry about it. Good luck trying to convince TPTB to invest in such technology, particularly while we are broke. Best to get or house in order down here so that some day we may have the luxury to worry about such scenarios and invest in the tech required to mitigate the threats.

      1. ken anthony

        If we can’t do anything about it, we might as well not worry about it.

        Correct. Since we CAN do something about it we should. What can we do? Include space in our economic sphere. Begin settlement now. Especially with the knowledge that it is completely paid for, at todays cost and prices, by individual real estate claims.

        The statement, “the dinosaurs would be alive today if they had a space program” is not exactly correct. They would need a space program that includes settlement at a fast enough rate to allow industry on the second planet to allow return to the first planet. It takes time and we are wasting it.

        We can put ships with enough internal volume and delta V in orbit today. Dragons will be able to propulsively land on mars in just a few years. We can indefinitely fully supply life support indefinitely at a reasonable cost for dozens while they research ISRU (water, power and farming.) In as little as ten years after those researchers get started and with banks on board, anyone willing to accept a claims charter could go and become instant millionaires at the stroke of a pen giving them a lifetime of activity benefiting humanity and themselves.

        In twenty years we could have the beginning of an industrial society established on mars. In a hundred years they would be able to reestablish life on earth or help that life which did survive an impact.

        With a growing settlement on mars we suddenly have reason and means to settle the rest of the solar system. How soon we move will determine when we go even farther. Something that is also required if mankind is to survive.

        Humanity will feel pretty silly if they die out.

        Best to get or house in order down here

        Don’t hold your breath. The trend isn’t good.

  11. M Puckett

    “the dinosaurs would be alive today if they had a space program”

    I think more directly it means they could have deflected it.

    1. ken anthony

      To deflect it strongly suggests first detecting it. Since we only detect about 90% that shouldn’t be much comfort. 10% includes a lot of extinction level rocks out there that are sure to hit us. We are completely ignorant as to when. Saying something probably won’t happen for x many years doesn’t mean much if it happens today.

      So it’s much safer to move our eggs out of one basket than to assume we can protect that basket.

      1. ken anthony

        I didn’t say as much, but assume it to be understood that the technology that moves us to another world is also makes deflection more likely as well.

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