Google Images has several awesome pictures of this impressive place, undoubtedly caused by a meteorite impact in the distant past. Scores of such craters have been found all over our planet. One can only imagine the devastation that occurred when they were formed.
Well, it appears that the world apparently avoided a similar catastrophe this past week. I’m referring to Asteroid Number 2012 DA14. The internet is abuzz with all the startling facts surrounding this large chunk of space rock. It is apparently what is called a “near-Earth” asteroid, with an estimated diameter of 160 feet, and an estimated mass of 190,000 metric tons.
It wasn’t even known about until it was discovered by an observatory in Granada, Spain on February 23, 2012. And even then, it was only discovered seven days after it had already flown by about 1,620,000 miles away from Earth.
However, during its February 15, 2013 passage, the asteroid passed by at a mere 17,200 miles from the surface of Earth: a record close approach for a known object of this size. Now, this last passage may not sound all that close, until you consider that the moon is only 225,622 miles away at the nearest point of its elliptical orbit (and at its most distant point, 252,088 miles away).
In fact, most of our communication satellites orbit the earth at around 22,236 miles above the equator. In light of this, it appears that Asteroid 2012 DA14, passing by well within that range, did in fact come pretty close to earth. It might even be termed a “close shave”.
Of course, the great irony is that while most all of the world’s astronomers seemed to be focused on the passing of this potentially devastating asteroid, yet another one, completely undetected, was fast approaching from the other side of the planet. And this on the very same day! NASA scientists now say that this second asteroid, which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, was most likely about 55 feet wide with a mass of 10,000 tons before it entered Earth’s atmosphere. That put it in a troublesome category for asteroids: one big enough to cause damage, but still small enough to evade detection.
And how much damage did it cause? Current estimates are that it had the energy equivalent of nearly 500 kilotons of TNT, or about 30 times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in WW2. When it exploded at a height of around 12-15 miles above the ground, more than 1100 people were still injured, even as windows were blown out of buildings for miles in every direction. One can only guestimate what would have happened if such an explosion had occurred over a major population center like New York or Los Angeles.
Or even worse: one shutters to think what would have happened if Asteroid DA14 had traveled a similar path. Would the effect have been much worse? Most probably. Imagine an explosion at least three times (and as much as sixteen times) more intense! such things do happen. Ever heard of Tunguska? On June 30, 1908, over the Tunguska River region of Siberia in Russia, an asteroid estimated to have been about 330 feet across apparently exploded about five miles above the ground.
In doing so, it knocked down an estimated 80 million trees over an area covering 830 square miles. Pictures on the internet from a 1927 expedition are astounding to behold. It is probable that the shock wave from the blast would have measured at least 5.0 on the Richter scale. An explosion of this magnitude is capable of virtually destroying a large metropolitan area.
Little wonder then that several programs on the horizon holding the promise of finding unknown asteroids that could threaten Earth are now being fast tracked. Among them are: the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, or ATLAS, which aims to establish two telescopes in Hawaii dedicated to scanning the skies for potential threats, as well as the new Sentinel Space Telescope, which would scan Earth's surroundings from an outward-looking position in a Venus-like orbit, interior to Earth's orbit, hopefully providing advance warning for asteroids like the one that blew up on Friday.
So, what do we, as believers, make of all this? Certainly, if the technology exists to provide warning and/or security against such strikes, it ought to be investigated and applied. To willingly ignore the potential benefits of such technology would not be prudent. It would be like living in a high crime area and refusing to put in a burglar alarm.
At the same time, we are reminded in the Bible that God Himself has numbered all of our days in advance (Psalm 139:16). We are also told that He has commanded His angels concerning us to guard us in all our ways (Psalm 91:11). And Jesus, Himself, on several occasions in John’s gospel, emphasized that His own “hour” had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). By this, He meant that God alone had appointed the time for His death.
From these Biblical passages (and many more), we rightfully conclude that God alone controls life and death. Because of this, we choose not to live in fear. We boldly face each and every day, trusting that our Heavenly Father, who cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, also cares for us.
In fact, only Heaven will reveal just how many close calls we all actually faced and survived. And my suspicion is that we will all one day be quite surprised to discover just what all had threatened us along the way, most all of which we remained blissfully ignorant of at the time.
Besides, as Mark Twain once said, "I have spent most of my time worrying about things that have never happened." And who really wants to live their life that way?!