Friday, May 29, 2009

Where is Everybody?

"Where is everybody?" asked Enrico Fermi in the summer of 1950 while lunching with some fellow physicists and pondering the apparent absence of aliens.

This question seems to have three answers:

1. Heaven (we're special). Intelligent life is rare and only exists on Earth right now (in our galaxy). This answer is statistically improbable, so we'll ignore it from here on out (sorry foax, but you're not in heaven yet).

2. Hell (we're doomed). Intelligent life is common, but obstacles prevent interstellar travel (e.g., life forms that develop technology sufficient to travel into space end up killing themselves with nuclear bombs or global warming; or, perhaps it is simply not feasible, with any combination of technology, courage, fortitude, and life-span/in-breeding, to cross the vast distances of space).

3. Purgatory (we're duped). There actually is a galactic, interplanetary society of aliens, right here, right now--but they have chosen, for whatever reason, to leave us in the dark. Or, perhaps our government is covering it all up.

Well, this is all an elaborate introduction to a fellow who falls firmly into purgatory (camp three):

Dr. Yuri Labvin, president of the Tunguska Spatial Phenomenon Foundation, insists that an alien spacecraft sacrificed itself to prevent a gigantic meteor from slamming into the planet above Siberia on June 30, 1908.

For those who don't know, Labvin is referring to the Tunguska Event -- which was a massive explosion in a remote and sparsely populated area of Siberia.

Here's NASA's description of the event:

June 30, 2008: The year is 1908, and it's just after seven in the morning. A man is sitting on the front porch of a trading post at Vanavara in Siberia. Little does he know, in a few moments, he will be hurled from his chair and the heat will be so intense he will feel as though his shirt is on fire.

That's how the Tunguska event felt 40 miles from ground zero.

Numerous explanations have been put forth. Locals blamed the god Ogdy, who smashed the area in anger. Most scientists, however, blame an asteroid and explain the lack of an impact crater by describing an explosion in the atmosphere just prior to collision.

Now here's where we move over to the hell (camp two) side of the argument. Eugene Shoemaker (a renowned physicist) estimated that asteroids cause Hiroshima-sized explosions approximately once a year on Earth.

Let's repeat that, with slight exaggeration: every year, an asteroid blows up like an atomic bomb on Earth. Every year.

Actually, that's not as bad as it sounds. Mostly, these things blow up in the sky over the ocean and nobody notices. But if we did notice, because, for example, it took out Seattle--would we nuke North Korea in retaliation? Wikipedia (ever correct) states that "between 1975 and 1992, American missile early warning satellites picked up 136 major explosions in the upper atmosphere." This article goes on to suggest that the good-ol' U.S. of A. can tell the difference between nukes and asteroids, but no one else can -- so perhaps the end will start when North Korea takes out Seattle after an asteroid nails Kaeson, or when Pakistan nukes Jerusalem after an asteroid destroys Faisalabad.

But let's bring this discussion back to Earth. The Tunguska Event was actually 15 times bigger than Hiroshima, which, most scientists suggest, is a 300-year event, and to be fair, even if something this size hit New York City, it wouldn't be the end of civilization.

NASA estimates, however (and unfortunately), that civilization-ending sized asteroids hit us about once every 100,000 years.

So ... when is the next one due? Will aliens, once again, commit hari-kari to save us? Or will the Next One clip us just in time to prevent us from establishing a foothold on another planet?

Are we, in other words, in purgatory--or already in hell?

And where the hell is Godzilla when we need him?

Previously on the Laws of Silence:

* Sorta Famous People and UFOs
* Mysterious Booms
* How to Destroy the World #2: Asteroids

1 comment:

  1. This is actually a very disturbing post, Gid. One of those we can't do a fuckin' thing to avert extinction by asteroid so let's just not think too much about it.

    "But if we did notice, because, for example, it took out Seattle--would we nuke North Korea in retaliation?"

    There are at least two "oh fuck" aspects to this post, Gid, you motherfucker. I already sleep poorly as it is!


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