Sunday, February 17, 2013


I made a tour of some of the now incredible number of videos of the Russian Meteor Thing yesterday, and I was struck by how phlegmatic the Ruskies were when the apparition appeared in their skies. Mostly, it looked like they were uninterested as they continued to go about their business as if there were nothing unusual happening at all. "We see this shit all the time." (When I looked in some of the video archives, indeed, it seems that it's not all that uncommon to see something streaking across the skies in daylight in parts of Mother Russia.) The brilliant flash of the meteor exploding high in the atmosphere -- far outshining the sun for a brief moment -- seemed not to phase the people on the streets at all. That, all by itself, would be enough to make Americans shit their pants.

The sound of the explosion(s) seemed to get the attention of the multitudes however. How many of the after-noises -- noises that sounded like bombardment/gunfire -- were due to echoes and how many were due to smaller pieces of the object exploding, I don't know, but the noise as recorded in the video above and in many others was terrifying and very destructive. They said something like 30,000 buildings were damaged, a million windows were broken, and more than a thousand people were injured  -- mostly from flying glass. The physical injury, damage and destruction from the Thing seems to be greater than the larger Tunguska Comet-or-Asteroid of so long ago, wherein there seemed to be very little damage/destruction to anything but the forest.

I saw some postings suggesting or implying that Chelyabinsk is some sort of remote village in the taiga. Yes, well. Turns out the city has a population of well over 1 million, and I thought it was kind of special that the main boulevard is still named Lenina Prospekt, the main square is called Revolution Square, and the statue of Lenin therein still looms tall and proud. This video is from Revolution Square in Chelyabinsk:

That is the statue of Lenin at the center. And it is obvious the flash is much brighter than the sun.

The videos of the contrail all show a double trail of condensation which suggests to me that there were two objects side by side crashing into the atmosphere, perhaps due to one object splitting apart as it encountered the upper atmosphere or perhaps from gravitational effects. After the big explosion, there is still a double contrail, though it is much smaller. Finally, it looks like it becomes a very small single contrail before there is a little puff and it's gone. I've read that there are many, many pieces of the Thing scattered on the ground, and one pretty good sized one seems to have punched a large hole in the ice.

Ice Hole after Meteor Event in Russia

Many of us have carried an image in our minds of what a giant meteor or asteroid strike on the earth might do, no due to the many illustrations and animations of the asteroid strike that is proposed as the cause of the dinosaur extinction.

This image by Don Davis is one of the many he's done of what an asteroid impact on the earth might look like from space:

And supposedly the dinosaurs saw something like this just before the impact itself:

But for the multiplicity of impactors, the illustration above tracks the sight in Russia the other day pretty closely.

Of course for generations, it was widely assumed in space and earth sciences that nothing like this could -- or rather would -- take place in "modern times," that is, within the last many millions, even billions of years. Certainly not within the space of human history. Perhaps there were incidents of meteor and asteroid impact long, long ago at the very beginning of the Earth's existence, and maybe once or twice since then there have been significant impacts, but the general belief was that there were none "recently."

All the reports that things like this may have happened in human history were discounted as figments of primitive imaginations run wild. Everyone knew the earth and sky were stable, the continents didn't move, and that all change was gradual, imperceptible, incremental over vast periods of time. Uniformitarianism was the standard understanding of just about everything.

Then there was the atomic bomb, and the very foundations of the Uniformitarian paradigm began to shatter. Nothing quite as apocalyptic had ever existed in human history. Or had it?

Many students began to reconsider the old stories and legends and myths of catastrophic events in times gone by, events that were said to have destroyed entire cities and wiped out whole peoples back in the day. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb himself, began to think about what may have happened in the past.

Soon enough, many of the discredited theories of Catastrophism were being given a rehearing, spurred on by the popularity of Immanuel Velikovsky's "Worlds in Collison" published in 1950. Velikovsky was a Russian Jewish psychiatrist who used Biblical and other ancient scholarship and insight into the human psyche to establish in his own mind that something awful and wonderful had happened not so very long ago, and that the people who experienced it had recorded it in myth and story that is still preserved today.

He saw in those Biblical records and others that not so very long ago the Earth had experienced near collisions with the planets Mars and Venus; that Venus itself had been ejected or erupted from Jupiter as a comet shortly before these encounters, and that the Earth and Moon had been bombarded with debris from both planets causing untold destruction and misery... All of which was in the Bible. The implication was that as bad as atomic weapons might be, it had been bad -- no, worse -- in ancient times.

The physics, cosmology, geology and astronomy communities had a collective nervous breakdown, because what Velikovsky was proposing had the potential to undermine the foundations of all of them. For his part, Velikovsky seemed to relish the possibilities.

He followed up with a number of other popular books that explained and expanded on his position, and he eagerly engaged in debate and argument with "establishment" scientists for the rest of his life. Debunking Velikovsky became a cottage industry among "estsablishment" scientists, but at the same time, a great deal of work was undertaken to modify or dispense with the Uniformitarian paradigm in order to accommodate an abundance of evidence of past catastrophes on immense scales, some of them fairly recent in a geological sense.

Velikovsky was not to be admitted into the laboratories and halls of science, but the fundamental idea he proposed: that catastrophe and Catastrophism were more common and intrinsic to the history of the Earth, the Solar System, and the Universe than standard Uniformitarianism allowed was accepted and developed widely.

For a time, cosmic collisions and catastrophe were said to be behind just about everything. It was silly.

It's still a matter of debate whether the dinosaurs were wiped out by a cosmic collision 65 million years go. But there is no doubt now that such collisions can happen and have happened with some regularity over the course of Earth's history, and the consequences for living things on Earth can be dire.

Later in the day of the Russian Meteor Thing, a small asteroid zipped by the Earth at very close range, less than 20,000 miles, and people's thoughts turned to "what if?"

We know these explosive things can happen; they can come out of the blue, unanticipated, at any time. There is no real protection against them. There was no warning that something like the Chelyabinsk Meteor would appear on the morning of February 15, but thankfully, Science was quick to reassure us that it only happens once ever 100 years or so (and only in Siberia? :->)  Not to worry!

Of course nobody ever thought they would ever see a train of comets impact Jupiter or any other planet, either.

Ya never know.

But as the late, great Jack Horkheimer would say, "Keep looking up!"


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