A problem that is bigger than global warming

The impact of a meteorite or comet is today wi...

The impact of a meteorite or comet is today widely accepted as the main reason for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In light of what happened yesterday, this story is even more relevant now. It was written before the meteor event in Russia.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 makes its closest approach at 2:24 p.m. EST/1924 GMT today. One wonders if yesterday’s meteor in Russia wasn’t some parts of the asteroid fragmented in a deep space collision eons ago and in a similar trajectory hours ahead. It may also be simply coincidence. [UPDATE: NASA has issued a statement on this, see below.]

While politicians, their activist friends, and pundits caterwaul over a few tenths of a degree change in the global temperature over the last 100 years, with some Ehrlich-like nutballs even claiming it will cause extinction of humanity, today might be a good day to recognize a real extinction level challenge humanity faces.

A Warning From the Asteroid Hunters

The likelihood in this century of an asteroid impact with 700 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima A-bomb: 30%.

In the game of cosmic roulette that is our solar system, we just got lucky. Earth will get a very close shave on Friday, Feb. 15, when Asteroid DA14 passes just 17,000 miles from our planet. That is less than the distance from New York to Sydney and back, or the distance the Earth travels around the sun in 14 minutes. We are dodging a very large bullet.

The people of Earth also are getting a reminder that even in our modern society, our future is affected by the motion of astronomical bodies. The ancients were correct in their belief that the heavens affect life on Earth—just not in the way they imagined. Sometimes those heavenly bodies actually run into Earth. That is why we must make it our mission to find asteroids before they find us.

The last major asteroid impact on Earth was on June 30, 1908, when one about the size of an office building (140 feet across) slammed into Siberia with a destructive energy 700 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. That asteroid devastated a region roughly the size of the San Francisco Bay area. Asteroid 2012 DA14, which will be passing over our heads on Friday, is about the same size as the asteroid that devastated Siberia’s Tunguska region. . . .

The chance of another Tunguska-size impact somewhere on Earth this century is about 30%. That isn’t the likelihood that you will be killed by an asteroid, but rather the odds that you will read a news headline about an asteroid impact of this size somewhere on Earth. Unfortunately, that headline could be about the destruction of a city, as opposed to an unpopulated region of Siberia. . . .

The chance in your lifetime of an even bigger asteroid impact on Earth—with explosive energy of 100 megatons of TNT—is about 1%. Such an impact would deliver many times the explosive energy of all the munitions used in World War II, including the atomic bombs.

Full story here at the WSJ.

Meanwhile, Barbara Boxer and friends want to create a tax to put billions into climate research while the asteroid program gets by on a shoestring. It only takes one asteroid to ruin your whole day, global warming, not so much.


NASA’s Spaceweather.com website writes:

At 9:30 am on Friday, Feb. 15th, asteroid 2012 DA14 will fly past Earth only 17,200 miles above our planet’s surface. This will put it well inside the orbit of geosynchronous satellites, closer than any asteroid of the same size has come since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s. Researchers speculate that Earth’s gravity might even cause seismic activity on the 50m-wide space rock. Click to view a computer simulation of the flyby, courtesy of NASA:

During the hours around closest approach, the asteroid will brighten until it resembles a star of 8th magnitude. Theoretically, that’s an easy target for backyard telescopes. The problem is speed. The asteroid will be racing across the sky, moving almost a full degree (or twice the width of a full Moon) every minute. That’s going to be hard to track. Only the most experienced amateur astronomers are likely to succeed. For the rest of us, NASA will broadcast the asteroid’s flyby on NASA TV.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is about the same size as previous asteroids responsible for the Meteor Crater in Arizona and the Tunguska Event in Siberia. Unlike those objects, however, 2012 DA14 will not hit Earth. Even if seismic activity breaks the asteroid apart, there is no danger; the fragments would continue along the same non-intersecting path as the original asteroid.


UPDATE: (via NASA’s spaceweather.com)

It is natural to wonder if this event has any connection to today’s record-setting flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14. NASA has issued the following statement:

“The trajectory of the Russian meteorite was significantly different than the trajectory of the asteroid 2012 DA14, making it a completely unrelated object. Information is still being collected about the Russian meteorite and analysis is preliminary at this point. In videos of the meteor, it is seen to pass from left to right in front of the rising sun, which means it was traveling from north to south. Asteroid DA14’s trajectory is in the opposite direction, from south to north.”


newest oldest most voted
Notify of

We are completely defenceless against an asteroid that would come to us in the glare of the Sun. We would only be able to see it at the very last moment.
Repeat. And despair.

I’m surprised the asteroid isn’t shattered by such a close approach to the Earth. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roche_limit

Another point…instead of miles it’s better to think asteroidal misses in terms of minutes. How many minutes between the asteroid getting nearer to Earth, and Earth being there where the asteroid will pass by? I reckon, around 20 minutes.
So the asteroid is missing us by just 20 minutes.


If it was from a long time ago, then the Yarkovsky effect kicks in. Given the fragments are highly unlikely to be the same size, they would have diverged in orbit over time by considerable distances.

Very cool!


I’m not so impressed. 700 x Hiroshima is about 20 megatons. The Russians DID detonate a 50 megaton bomb which killed nobody, which of course was detonated where they expected no one to be killed. The point is that these really big bombs/metorites will only kill people in the immediate vicinity of the impact. Kind of equivalent to being hit by a big earthquake which happens quite often.


Great point concerning the relative danger. Also, the risk of nuclear war which it seems to me is becoming ever more grave as unstable nations ruled by unstable people inevitably acquire the technology.
Door number 1, a nuclear winter. Door number 2,a degree or two C if warming. Which would a sane person choose?


“One wonders if yesterday’s meteor in Russia wasn’t some parts of the asteroid fragmented in a deep space collision eons ago and in a similar trajectory hours ahead.”
Antony, There’s something faintly hysterical about your position on this.
From what I’ve heard the above is the worst of it.
This has nothing to do with whether we fund climate research or not.


Too bad this thing didn’t fly by in December so the end of the Earth doomsayers could have had a go with it. But then again it gave them a couple of weeks worth of something to worry about to help ease their letdown that the Earth wasn’t destroyed then.
But then there is always the standard fallback of carbon dioxide to bring doom. Worrywarts.
When it’s finally accepted that carbon dioxide is beneficial to our atmosphere they will need to find something else to worry about. What’s next?

Richard LH

This appears to be a very steep angle to the ecliptic. For most of the approach the South Pole is clearly visible.


From memory I think the 1908 Tunguska event was also preceeded by a comet passing by, so perhaps smaller events are common after these near earth fly-bys.


According to SpaceWatch, your chances of being killed by an asteroid/comet impact are higher than your chances of dying in an airliner crash.
Although such an impact only occurs perhaps once in 100,000 years, it would kill a third of earth’s population. Airliner crashes while much more frequent only cause the death of a few hundred a year.

Bloke down the pub

While we’re in catastrophe mode, consider the possible consequences if an event like yesterdays Urals impact had coincided with the North Koreans testing a missile. Someone jumps to the wrong conclusion and then oops.


This is where NASA should focus more on than the phantom of catastrophic warming. They would really be doing the people of Earth a great favour. Of all the people in NASA Dr James Hansen, the astronomer should be more aware than most about the dangers from space.


There is an even bigger asteroid: Itys – the black headed meteor, which has buzzed the planet at least four times since 1985. On each pass it spent some time passing through Earth’s atmosphere, once it may briefly have been in the troposphere -2003. The last sightings of which I am aware was in Queensland Australia, July 17th, 2011. You can track this down on lunar meteorite hunter. While it is not described as an asteroid the head is described as being black which means that the image on the retina is not size enhanced by scattered light. From my first sighting in 1985 I was able to estimate its diameter as being >1.75 miles. At the time it was directly overhead and silent and subtending about 4 degrees at the eye (the size of my fist at arms length or perhaps slightly smaller). As even the space shuttle creates a sonic boom at ground level from a height of 25 miles and as it was completely silent (and awesome beyond description) we can estimate the minimum size.
So when will NASA let us know about this? Never. It is NASA/US government policy to keep quiet about “the big one” so you will never get to know until the white flash comes.
How long have we got? I think the next pass will be 2014 going 15. It is getting close to staying and if we survive this pass look to 2018.
I have rather nice artwork on Itys, and if WUWT would like to post a copy I will send one in just so you know what an asteroid passing through Earth’s atmosphere looks like.
Stay Cool!


Have any of the climate scientists and their warmist acolytes in the MSM and elsewhere, claimed the meteorite shower in Russia and the approach of this asteroid are due to climate change?

Bruce Cobb

An asteroid striking the earth would be the ultimate irony; mankind busy “studying” a mythical manmade problem and the universe giving it that problem for real, in spades. I swear, instead of evolving, it sometimes seems the human race is devolving.


Bird or Swine Flu, Solar EMP, or Asteroid Strike all of these are of more concern than AGM or it’s variants.

“The chance of another Tunguska-size impact somewhere on Earth this century is about 30%”
But there’s a 75% chance it’ll happen over the ocean somewhere and thus do no damage, other than providing a light show for remote sensors. And then there’s the Sahara or any other number of desolate places where even a Tunguska event could pass virtually unnoticed.
As far as the odds of world ending impacts occurring, I prefer to go with the observed frequency rather than the calculated ones. And right now that’s once every 66 million years, and counting.


What impact would this particular meteorite have if it had landed in the Ocean??? I never really hear what the thought is of Meteorite’s Tsunami threat. Any ideas??? Perhaps we are lucky it landed on land.
Also, the passage in you know where regarding ‘Chernobyl’ or ‘Worm-wood’, the mountain that fell from the sky speaks of a ‘third of the ships’ and seems to describe the same event twice, or, chronicle a double meteorite hit. A puzzle I didn’t understand but then I saw the Levy-Shoemaker event and thought hmmmm… i’ve read about this jkind of event before.

John S

“One wonders if yesterday’s meteor in Russia wasn’t some parts of the asteroid fragmented in a deep space collision eons ago and in a similar trajectory hours ahead.”
As I understand it, the two trajectories were not similar.
From The Mail:
“But astronomers say that it is probably just a coincidence – Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society told MailOnline: ‘As I understand it, the Russian meteorite(s) were travelling from east to west whereas 2012 DA14 will be travelling from north to south.'”

Steve R W

Here is fascinating interview detailing what we have to consider and plan for NOW, when dealing with future threats. Events of today just reinforce the need to get our act together. And fast.
Simply launching a few nukes into space to combat the threat of asteroids is not so simple.
SDE: Hypervelocity Asteroid Deflection
Brent Barbee ( Iowa State University ) and Professor Bong Wie ( NAsa Goddard Space Flight Center )

The Ghost Of Big Jim Cooley

I thought the last decent hit was actually 1947, not 1908.

“But there’s a 75% chance it’ll happen over the ocean somewhere and thus do no damage, other than providing a light show for remote sensors. ”
An impact to the ocean would trigger several mamas of a tsunami from the resulting ripples. “No damage” is understating things considerably.
“The oceans cover about 75% of the Earth’s surface, so it is likely the asteroid will hit an ocean. The amount of water in the ocean is nowhere near large enough to “cushion” the asteroid. The asteroid will push the water aside and hit the ocean floor to create a large crater. The water pushed aside will form a huge tidal wave, a tsunami. The tidal wave height in meters = (distance from impact)-0.717 × (energy of impact)0.495/ (1010.17). What this means is that a 10-km asteroid hitting any deep point in the Pacific (the largest ocean) produces a megatsunami along the entire Pacific Rim.

The steam blasts from the water at the crater site rushing back over the hot crater floor will also produce tsunamis following the initial impact tsunami and crustal shifting as a result of the initial impact would produce other tsunamis—a complex train of tsunamis would be created from the initial impact (something not usually shown in disaster movies).”

David L

Is it time to move the doomsday clock closer to midnight?


Great. Do you really want to give collectivists another potential excuse to take over the world.
We’d be much better off taking the occasional hit for now. In a hundred years, the world will likely be much better able to deal with this sort of thing.

There has been considerable confidence for a year that 2012 DA-14 will not strike Earth. Had there been confidence that it would strike, would the news have been released sooner or later? The coincidence of the Siberian meteorite strike drives the point home.


There is a link between belief in (and fear of) catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and complacency surrounding risk of an asteroid strike, perhaps stemming from a kind of cultural narcissism (hey, there’s one for Lewendowski..): Many people find it hard to grasp of a time scale greater than their own lifetime, or events outside their sphere of experience. Therefore, weather patterns / temperature swings not commonly seen in decade become alarming and unprecedented, and asteroid strikes occurring over a hundred years ago become abstract events.
@wws: The world is a great deal more populated than it was 100 years ago, and an asteroid strike does not have to be on a Jurassic scale to cause a disaster, human or environmental. I understand the Siberian event did not leave much of an impact crater. Before the rise of the mass media, how many strikes in now populated / coastal areas would have gone unnoticed? Serious asteroid strikes may be a lot more common than we like to believe.

Steve R W

A similar event was captured from Perth on the 12th March 2005. No air burst was reported as it was ( from memory ) to have crossed the coast between Albany and Esperance in southern Western Australia.
Fascinating video. Night becomes day for a few moments.
Video. Links provided within.

N. N. Taleb addresses the statistics of unique events in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
Coincidentally, Andreas Albrecht and Daniel Phillips of UC Davis have just published, ‘Origin of probabilities and their application to the multiverse’ (arXiv:1212.0953v1 [gr-qc] 5 Dec 2012) “We argue using simple models that all successful practical uses of probabilities originate in quantum fluctuations in the microscopic physical world around us, often propagated to macroscopic scales.”
This after Taleb and collaborator Benoit Mandelbrot called reality “fractally comples” while arguing against ignorant use of induction – connecting the epistemological dots in chart junk.

“Comples[sic]” should be COMPLEX.


Well, sooner or later there will need to be a cull of the world population?


HR says:
February 15, 2013 at 3:29 am
This has nothing to do with whether we fund climate research or not.

We could of course divert the huge funds spend on climate research into space systems that can protect us from incoming? No?

Hari Seldon

As Corporal Jones was wont to say ‘Don’t Panic!, Don’t Panic!’
ah they don’t like it up ’em


The possible fragment that hit in Russia had a lot of energy.
If it were a fragment there may be other fragments.
Is the ISS safe?


bretwallach says:

We’d be much better off taking the occasional hit for now. In a hundred years, the world will likely be much better able to deal with this sort of thing.

As much as I’d like to believe this, I really don’t see any evidence to support such a belief. Take away the sense of immediate threat, and people will simply ignore and/or avoid any potential problem. This is the principle the AGW alarmists are using to hype their cause: continue the drumbeat of “immediate threat”.
Currently people are not too thrilled with any sort of large weapons projects, so I don’t foresee the development of, say, gigaton class warheads coupled with delivery systems capable of intercepting a hypervelocity incoming threat. Even if the technology exists, enough people have cried “wolf” enough times that it’s very difficult to even convince people of a real threat, even if it’s identified in time.
Heck, it wasn’t even possible to evacuate New Orleans when a monster hurricane was headed straight toward it with days of warning, and don’t get me started on the unnecessary damage caused by Sandy.
People are complacent. It’s easy to just assume someone else has a handle on major issues. We think our technology and destructive potential is so great, but the fact is humans are pitifully unprotected and ineffective and will probably remain that way. Admitting that we don’t, in fact, have the capability to in any way protect ourselves from a real and tangible threat would demonstrate the reality of our inability to change climate or damage the planet, EVEN IF we were deliberately trying to do it.


eworall1, The Roche limit only applies to objects held together by gravity. A pile of gravel coming this close to Earth would fall apart, but a solid rock, or even ice ball is held together much stronger than that. Otherwise you’d break apart. You are after all much closer to Earth 🙂
Collisions with asteroids large enough to cause global damage are extremely rare, and the current effort to chart them all so we can see if any has an orbit that intersects Earth is at a reasonable level. Also missions to study asteroids up close are useful so we know what they are made of helping coming up with a good way of deflecting one.
A nastier scenario is a meteor hitting one of the more unstable areas on Earth. Israel, North Korea, Pakistan or India might be nervous enough to assume it was a nuclear attack and “strike back”.


Tunguska was something for sure. I had not thought about that event for a while. Carl embellished it quite nicely 🙂

Paul Westhaver

Bill Nye, the Science Abusing Guy… Wrong Again
What dd he say just a few days ago?
“Get nervous, but not about this one”,
What a jerk…..950 people injured….He knows nothing.


One wonders if yesterday’s meteor in Russia wasn’t some parts of the asteroid fragmented in a deep space collision eons ago and in a similar trajectory hours ahead.
No. It came from a different direction.


There is another potential close encouter coming up 2029/2036 with Apophis


I thought we had decided that the Tunguska event was caused by a comet, not an asteroid. No residue found at the impact site was supposedly evidence against its being an asteroid.


Asking that we should forget about CAGW because of the meteorite problem is faulty logic. Should you stop washing your hands after using toilet because there’s also danger that an aircraft may crash into your house? Putting such two things as if one somehow disqualifies the other is just wrong. There sure are good reasons why we should stop destroying our economy but meteorites are not one.
As far as I know, the danger of something hitting the Earth from space is recognized for quite some time and there are teams of astronomers and automated equipment dedicated to that problem and on constant lookout for anything that can appear in Earth’s close proximity and is big enough to cause problems. Real problems, not just few thousand broken window panes such as in Russia now. Thousands of such objects were found and their trajectories are known with sufficient precision and that’s also the reason why this time it’s very well known what object is passing us, how far and especially that it poses no danger not just now but also in 20-some years when it will appear again. There’s not much more that can be done about it – this is exactly the ‘diminishing returns’ case, by putting twice the money into it, you get just a somewhat better result.
Yes, we may get hit by an asteroid. We are already doing our best to make sure it doesn’t happen without us knowing in advance and being able to at least try to do something about it.


The fireball came from north east. http://pics.rbc.ru/img/top/2013/02/15/29s.jpg
The asteroid 2012 DA 14 flies from south

michael hart



I competely agree, Anthony. Imagine even if we had 1% of the money wasted on global warming for a proper asteroid tracking program.

for kcrucible: When referring to an ocean strike, I was referring to a Tunguska event, which is also what the the 30% odds are referring to. That was estimated to be an object (asteroid? ice comet?) about 100 meters across, and as you recall, it exploded in the air with no ground strike ever discovered.
An event like that over the ocean will NOT cause any huge tsunamis anywhere – just a big bang for any boats nearby. Note that the atomic bomb tests on the south pacific atolls did not produce any significant tsunamis outside of an extremely local area, and those were approximately similar in yield to the Tunguska blast.
Now a 10 km asteroid, as you reference, is something completely different, but that’s a Chixtlub type event, and as previously noted, our experience is that these things don’t appear to happen more than once every 66 million years or so. (and probably less frequently than that)
I read through the Journal article. While the science is interesting, it struck me mainly as yet another group of hungry scientists attempting to use statistics to secure a long term career revenue source.


Here is what the experts say about the upcoming close encounter of Apophis with Earth
The future for Apophis on Friday, April 13 of 2029 includes an approach to Earth no closer than 29,470 km (18,300 miles, or 5.6 Earth radii from the center, or 4.6 Earth-radii from the surface) over the mid-Atlantic, appearing to the naked eye as a moderately bright point of light moving rapidly across the sky. Depending on its mechanical nature, it could experience shape or spin-state alteration due to tidal forces caused by Earth’s gravity field.

correction, “Chicxulub” – I’ve seen it spelled differently elsewhere.


There are several things that can happen again that are far worse than 2 degrees of warming.
1. Yellowstone/other super volcano going off.
2. Megatsunamis caused by volcano sides sliding into the ocean.
3. Going into another glacial period.
And none of them are or can be effected by man.