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Dude, we live in space!

Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

And space is dangerous:

That’s the sound of a meteorite coming down from outer space and blowing up in the atmosphere just over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia. Yeah.

I’m not entirely sure what’s happened, as I just heard about this when I came into work, but it appears that 500 people are injured and there has been a lot of damage.

The Soviet Russian fanblog “Russian Machine Never Breaks” has a roundup of videos and tweets on the meteorite. Obviously I am not going to compete with them, so I’ll just link to more roundups.

Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society has a good roundup of videos.

And Phill Plait, who is probably the best astronomer out there today, of course is watching it and has been blogging on it for Slate. (No, this is not part of the asteroid near-miss that’s expected to come later today.)

The moral of the story is…we live in space. We’re affected by it. And while events like these are astonishingly rare, we should still sorta prepare for them. And by the way, though I’m a libertarian, I absolutely believe in a publicly-funded global SPACEGUARD program. It’s a simple public good, which is actually within the realm of government (as Adam Smith, who is practically the godfather of capitalism and free markets, actually said.)

But…crikey. 500 1000 people injured in Russia from a meterorite. Good thing this didn’t happen 30 years ago during the height of the Cold War. There might not be any humans left.

UPDATE: The Guardian’s video is a good compilation, including what happened to folks inside buildings:

They also have a live update blog going on. It looks like injuries may have risen to 1000.

Finally, they also have a column up about the “meaning” of meteor strikes, including this gem:

Like all random events and misfortunes, we want these things to mean something. The Russian fringe politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, rushed to the microphones to claim that the shower of stones that broke windows with their sonic boom, injuring 400 people, was a dastardly test of a new American weapon. Advocates of a renewed space programme have instantly told us that the asteroid pass proves that we need to be in space so that anything that comes closer can be, somehow, shoved out of Earth’s way. More generally, all over Twitter, people are calling on passing rocks to land on, for example, the Sun offices (over publication of photographs of the late Reeva Steenkamp) as once they would have called for the thunderbolts of Zeus, the wrath of Jehovah or Betjeman’s friendly bombs.

The trouble with wanting random events to acquire significance by afflicting unpleasant, otherwise untouchable powerful figures is that everyone does it. The religious right, Christian and Islamic, are fond of regarding tsunamis and hurricanes as instruments of wrath – Pat Robertson came up with a particularly unpleasant version of this when he attributed Haiti’s problems to divine punishment for an alleged satanic pact made by that country’s successful slave revolution. Nor is this confined to the religious right; rightwing sci-fi writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, in their 1977 novel of a comet’s impending collision with Earth, have a character who survives the impact say that the good thing about the calamity was that women’s lib was over. Heavenly vengeance is really an idea that has no place on the left.

Naturally the Guardian is more left-wing, but you can’t help but nod your head and agree with the author. The only thing this meant was that a rock fell out of the sky.