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Virus or the Meteor from Planet X!

The world has been shuttered. Travel has been curtailed. People are told to remain in their homes as much as possible. We are told this is due to a killer virus making the rounds, but could it all be a cover for a massive meteor impact? Relieve yourself of your boredom briefly and join me in a romp through a B movie conspiracy theory and fun facts about near Earth asteroids and past meteor impacts!

It would make an excellent B movie plot: to prepare the world for a likely asteroid strike, the world’s governments concoct a plan to blame some other phenomenon to convince people to stay home without driving them to the kind of panicking that would be catastrophic in and of itself. In The Meteor from Planet X or Extinction! Escape from Planet Earth, or whatever B movie title you like, the plot thickens.

In late March, two small Asteroids 2020 FF and 2020 FW2 zipped harmlessly past the Earth at 3.8 million miles and 1.2 million miles respectively. 2020 FF is about 85 feet across and if it entered Earth’s atmosphere it might have caused an air burst (upper atmosphere explosion) with a magnitude many times that of the Atomic Bomb. 2020 FW2 is over 300 feet across and it might have been worth talking about: it could have struck the Earth’s surface causing an impact event. The asteroid that caused the mile wide Meteor Crater in Arizona was about 160 feet across when it impacted what is now the Arizona desert about 50,000 years ago. Either of these rocks could have provided some excitement during our quarantine isolation, but boredom nevertheless continues to overtake us.

Meteor Crater near Meteor, Arizona

Then there is 1998 OR2, an asteroid with an unassuming name that presents a greater threat: coming in between 1.2 and 2.5 miles across this rock will streak by the Earth on the early morning of April 29th. This one is worth the hype. It should pass harmlessly by the Earth at about 3.9 million miles distance. Should it change course, it would certainly result in an impact event that would cause massive destruction. It would not be entirely (ahem) Earth shattering, however. The Chicxulub Crater (spend an hour trying to pronounce that to help pass the time – no? well it is approximately Cheek-shuh-loob) sits on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico with half of the crater submerged in the Gulf of Mexico. By the way, wouldn’t that make a great vacation getaway spot if we weren’t on lock down? The asteroid that struck there was betwixt 7 and 50 miles across when it impacted the Earth about 66 million year ago. This asteroid caused the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event and is among the candidates for causing the end of the dinosaurs although there is some considerable dispute of that. Nevertheless, it left behind a crater 150 miles in diameter.

Chicxulub Crater sonar mapping

So, is the world truly imperiled by the 1998 OR2 asteroid? Are we facing our impending doom? Should we watch a disaster movie to figure out whether we should hoard potato crisps and diapers instead of toilet paper and hand sanitizer? An impact is extremely unlikely according to the scientific community. Even if an impact were projected, humanity is not without its defenses. We could send a probe to intercept and land a warhead on the surface to redirect the celestial rock, or closer to the Earth, blast it out of the sky with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). It makes for a fantastic sci-fi diversion. Yet, it is outlandish and nigh impossible. Curiously, though, one must wonder if feigning a virus might be just the thing to get people in their homes and isolated before the impact of (cue larger than life sci-fi voice add echo) The Asteroid from Planet X, X, X…! It is an interesting proposal. Perhaps in the future if the Earth ever is threatened by a giant space rock we should use the cover of a global pandemic to ease the preparations.

The 1998 OR2 asteroid will pass on the early morning of April 29th so I am sure it is mere coincidence that the President just extended the social distancing/quarantine through April 30th? Hmmm, may be onto something here! Perhaps this is really about an asteroid! Alas, no. We must be drawn back to our bored existence in this lonely isolation for a few more arduous weeks to ensure the safety of our society from the killer Wuhan Virus. The Andromeda Strain need not haunt our dreams. It is this author’s hope that everyone who is ill recovers quickly, that there is very little impact on our lives, and that normalcy will slowly and safely set in once again. I will close with a word from the mythical Puck at the conclusion of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumber’d here While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend:

And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck

Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue, We will make amends ere long;

Else the Puck a liar call; So, good night unto you all.

Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.”

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