Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Sky is Falling!

Well it looks like Chicken Little is not the only one who thinks the sky is falling.

I just read the report of the meteor that fell on Peru, causing more than 600 people to become ill. Strange that this should occur just as I was finishing up the book "Hammer of God" by Arthur C Clarke about the possibility of an asteroid falling to earth.

There is a pretty amazing (although not very scientific) YouTube video of a meteor fall HERE

Movies like Night of the Comet (1984) and Deep Impact ( 1998) have sensationalized what might happen to the earth if some big hunk of rock from the sky came calling. The special effects guys were more interested in movie ratings than scientific accuracy, but it's not beyond the reach of imagination to think of some celestial body crashing through our atmosphere and wreaking havoc. Having grown up in Arizona, one of my most memorable school field trips was to visit Meteor Crater near Flagstaff when I was in the 8th grade. Of course, that one came down before people had populated nearly every region of the planet.

A few weeks ago my beloved and I layed out on the lawn late one night curled up in blankets into the wee hours of the morning watching an amazing meteor shower. They are pretty when up in the sky and something romantics hang a wish on.

But it would be a whole different matter if they came down here.

The science of "Hammer of God" was interesting enough, but I was more intrigued by the sociology that Clarke proposed. How would people on earth react if they knew scientists had discovered a huge object on a collision course with our planet that was due to hit us in 1 year or 10 years or 100 years?

Clarke wrote of mass panics and suicides. He wrote of governments having to implement marshall law. He wrote of the scientists scrambling to avert the catastrophe. At one point in the novel, it becomes apparent that there is no way that the scientific teams aboard the vessel that are setting out to change the meteor's course will be able to escape. It's interesting to watch how the various characters respond to that news.

I compare that to what we know of the actions of the folks aboard the Titanic.

I can't help but wonder how I would react if I had word of my eminent doom. None of us are getting out of this world alive, we all know that. But there is something about the great uncertainty of our length of days that keeps us scrambling forward.

What would I do if I KNEW my life, or the whole world was about to end? What if I had a date that was a week away or a year away? How would I spend that time?

Perhaps more importantly, what AM I doing NOW so that I'll be ready to meet my maker whenever it does come?

I can only imagine what those Peruvian people must have thought when they saw a ball of fire approaching out of the sky. It would be interesting to carry on a long range cultural study to see what sorts of legends, folklore and other cultural responses there may be over the next 50 years in response to this.


Fraochán said...

I may have to read that book. Wow. Correct me if I'm wrong - but wasn't there a close-call with a meteor a few years back? Scientists were afraid it was going to hit but it ended up missing us?

Tristi Pinkston said...

Wow. I don't watch the news that often -- everytime I do, my kids hear something about murder or kidnapping that gives them nightmares. I didn't hear about this, but that sure is creepy.

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