By now you’ve no doubt heard about the spooky asteroid about to make a near-earth pass.
But if we actually pause, and dare, to consider the implications for more than a brief moment as the asteroid flies by, they’re pretty scary.
Not that the asteroid, TB145 or the Great Pumpkin to its friends, will hit Earth or even threaten to, nor that it does from certain angles have a pair of depressions that mimic eye holes in a skull. Nor that it happens to pass us on Halloween. What’s scary is when it was discovered, which was October 10. Of this year. Three weeks ago. And this one’s twenty times larger than the one near Chelyabinsk in 2013 whose impact was estimated at 20-30 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb. And that one hit at a shallow angle so most of the impact was on the atmosphere; had it struck more head-on, or more directly above a heavily populated area, there would undoubtedly have been more than the actual 1,500 injuries and 7,200 buildings damaged.
Chelyabinsk was undetected until it hit. TB145 we detected three weeks before it passes nearby. Chelyabinsk was 20 Hiroshimas; TB145 would therefore be looking at something like 400 Hiroshimas.
And while the toll of death and destruction created by the asteroid’s impact would be horrific, nearly unimaginable, let us speculate briefly about what life would be like on Earth should something the size of TB145 be discovered heading directly for us, impact in three weeks. Given the vagaries of impact and our lack of knowledge of the asteroid it would probably be impossible to predict the effects of impact; would it break up on contact with our atmosphere or become a bullet headed for the planetary core or what? And while we could see this immense destruction heading our way we’d likely have no idea which part of the planet would be most affected; an explosion 18 miles up like Chelyabinsk would scatter its effects differently than one that impacted more directly. Would it hit in the middle of the Pacific, the Amazon, Manhatten, Prague, Lagos, Siberia, Beijing? We wouldn’t be able to predict precisely where one should go for shelter, other than underground, which has its own fears and dangers. Where would the super-rich go? Could they put themselves in orbit long enough to ride out the physical and social upheaval? It quickly goes all science-fiction-y on us. Panic would be widespread, but no one would be certain where to run. Now that would be a scary Halloween.