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Not If But When
by Jan Sand
2007-03-06 10:34:47
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Just recently a prediction by astronomers that an asteroid has a reasonable chance of coming close to Earth in 2029 indicates how precise orbital calculations have become. It will hit (if it does), so I have heard, significantly on a Friday the 13th in 2036, in April on its second flyby.


This malevolent orbiter will first make a close initial pass to Earth where its current orbit pattern will be altered and at that point the prediction becomes somewhat less precise as there are too many variables to be absolutely sure about the strike when it returns. There is a very good chance that the asteroid will miss Earth completely and perhaps vanish into beneficent anonymity, thus upsetting my plans for total panic.

The message was that it would be wise to make concrete plans to nudge the thing about ten years before it plans to annihilate us so that a small physical suggestion by mankind that it is unwelcome will have a magnified effect on its ultimate path. If it does prove unmalignant it might be worthwhile to take advantage of its close approach and send it a robotic astronomic laboratory to hitch a free ride to the outer reaches of the solar system where a clearer view of whatever it approaches can be radioed back.

But whether this one hits, or not, it is a pretty sure thing something will eventually be on target. The Earth itself has little obvious evidence from cosmic catastrophes aside from the crater in Arizona and perhaps the Gulf of Mexico and the very strong suspicion that someone up there didn't approve of dinosaurs. A brief glance at human history makes very it likely that a kind-hearted deity might have a large rock or two handy to make life on Earth a bit more compassionate. Any view of Mars or the more convenient Moon amply demonstrates the capability and frequency of astronomic artillery whereas the wind and water on Earth has wiped away local evidence.

But horrendous and inevitable problems come in a variety flavors.

Not satisfied that the universe may sneer in our direction human ingenuity has wrapped up destructive gifts for nasty characters that may make stellar interference totally superfluous. What originally took the intensive efforts of humanity's most brilliant minds during WWII has, as usual, started to become the common property of anybody with a computer and a good deal of technological background. Atomic weapons capability is spreading like fleas in a dog pound and US policy of bullying anybody unequipped in this area has prompted all sorts of various efforts by countries to counter this unsocial behavior. North Korea's obvious success in quelling US aggressive attitudes can only spur other candidates in the race to speed up their efforts.

There is a term in physics to describe the transition of substances from one stage to another. It depicts the change of a solid to a liquid and a liquid to a gas and is called a phase change. It requires the accumulation of energy within each phase with no apparent change and then, when a threshold has been passed, the transition takes place suddenly. Ice collapses into fluid and liquid water explodes into steam. When a required number of idiots possess what they consider ultimate power, we may see a rather interesting and violent phase change in human culture.

All forms of life exist by garnering energy and nourishment from a source. The basic source for most (but not all) life is the energy of the Sun which may be direct or stored in the form of oil or coal but most usually the alternate source is another form of life. Which is why we eat.

When one form of life becomes plentiful the form of life that feeds off it increases and thereby controls the quantity of the source and limits the number of final feeders. Humanity, which is omnivorous, has the delightful capability of not only eating almost anything that lives but also the smarts to catch or cultivate its food source far better than any other hungry species. And the result is there are a hell of a lot of us.

Humanity also furiously arranges to kill off many of its members as it can. It knocks them off through wars, lousy health systems, neglect, and just plain casual murder. It manages to starve 18,000 kids every day, but this is plainly an ineffective effort. The penis is mightier than the sword. Humanity just keeps on burgeoning.

Nature, of course, sees this as an opportunity. Woody Allen noticed that we live in a restaurant and we are all on the menu. The universe is also a laboratory and every living thing is an experiment. Despite that creationists have not the imagination to recognize that these trillions upon trillions of continuous experiments will, eventually, solve all problems, nature ignores this ignorance and keeps coming up with fantastic solutions. Some of us pride ourselves that we are the ultimate solution but nature is guffawing in the background. Don't kid yourself. The eaters are coming.

And then, of course, there's global warming. But I'll leave the do-jiggering of the atmosphere to Al Gore.

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Sand2007-03-07 19:50:35
As a subscript to this article this is the latest news:
"NASA officials say the space agency is capable of finding nearly all the asteroids that might pose a devastating hit to Earth, but there isn't enough money to pay for the task so it won't get done. 'We know what to do, we just don't have the money,' said Simon 'Pete' Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center."

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