It’s like dodgeball! Really, really big dodgeball.
One of the classic science fiction fears is that a celestial object (asteroid, comet, SpaceGodzilla, etc.) would crash into our planet and doom us all. Now, if a sufficiently large object were to crash into the Earth, yeah, it’d probably doom us all, but hey, our marble’s been here for a few trillion years already and that’s only happened a couple of times so far.
A more realistic concern would be a smaller asteroid crashing into a populated area. Asteroids do come toward Earth now and then, but most of them are relatively small and just burn up and explode in the atmosphere. If a larger asteroid were to withstand the atmosphere, we might have a bit of a problem, but luckily, scientists have a system for pinpointing where an asteroid may strike.
Last June, an asteroid exploded in the sky above the ocean near Puerto Rico. Scientists University of Hawaii scientists actually managed to get a lock on the asteroid a good seven hours before it hit, spotting it at least four times on its flight. By observing the image of the asteroid from different telescopes located in different countries, the scientists were able to assemble a projected trajectory for the asteroid, successfully determining where it would hit well beforehand. They didn’t announce this until after the fact so as not to freak people out, but it has been confirmed that if an asteroid were to target a populated area, they would be able to send out an evacuation warning.
GOES-16 captured a small asteroid entering the atmosphere south of Puerto Rico. Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty sensors in Bermuda measured the resulting mid-air blast between 3 and 5 kilotons of TNT. pic.twitter.com/tQJxx71p3K
— Tony Rice (@rtphokie) June 25, 2019
Of course, the asteroid that exploded over Puerto Rico was only about the size of a house, so even if it had impacted a landmass, the damage done wouldn’t have been anything to write home about. It’s definitely nice to know, however, that there are warning measures in place. You can never be too careful when it comes to falling space rocks.