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We Live in a Cosmic Shooting Gallery
We are not the safe small blue dot we like to think we are, but rather, we are more like a target in a "cosmic shooting gallery."
Early in the morning on February 15 a 55-foot meteor entered Earth's atmosphere undetected. The resulting explosion -- estimated to have the strength of 25 Hiroshimas -- woke a lot of people up.
That is to say, the meteor created a shock wave that injured 1,200 people in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia, but the psychological shock was felt globally. How could this meteor, the biggest to strike Earth since 1908, have gone undetected? Who was asleep at the switch?
We all were, says astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. After all, scientists have been warning the public for decades that we are not the safe small blue dot we like to think we are, but rather, we are more like a target in a "cosmic shooting gallery."
Did you know, for instance, that four small asteroids (although one was the size of a city block) just passed by us in the last week alone? Some of these asteroids were only discovered a few days before they buzzed by. That's not a lot of lead time to build an arc or stock your apocalypse-proof shelter with Twinkies and ammo.
In all seriousness, if we don't want to go the way of the dinosaurs, we need to wake up to the reality of this threat. As Neil deGrasse Tyson points out in the video below, even if you are living on the other side of the planet from the site of impact, a big enough collision could "send a wave of extinction across the tree of life."
Watch the video here:
How different are humans from the dinosaurs that perished from the asteroid that hit the Yucatán peninsula?
"I’m a little embarrassed for us," Tyson tells Big Think. Unlike the dinosaurs, we have a space program. And yet, Tyson says we are still "so blind to everything experts have been telling us." Tyson points to The New Yorker cartoon by Frank Cotham in which one dinosaur says to another, "All I’m saying is now is the time to develop the technology to deflect an asteroid."
As Tyson points out, unlike the dinosaurs, "we can do something about it if people have the foresight to understand what the risks are, the dangers, and actually act upon it."
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
A study looks at the ingredients of a good scare.
Catching fear in a bottle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDYyNzg1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTQwMTcyMn0.WtpJ1E_dhK2o09fBpKARynj4_p5NXeklgsXsbd7xr9w/img.jpg?width=980" id="8ff51" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f10dd9188b173f4a36e85e9325507c6b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Photo Boards/Unsplash<p>Previous studies have tracked physiological signs of fear arousal, but none have established a one-to-one correlation between that arousal and specific, actual fear events.</p><p>Andersen says that much of the research has been conducted in lab settings with weak fear stimuli, observing subjects as they experience things like scary videos. Scares in these situations tend to be weak and difficult to measure. Even harder to track in these situations is the link between enjoyment and fear. </p>
Eyes everywhere<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/109695164" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="267ba87cfb8591ed5830499574d2272a"></iframe><p>Andersen and his colleagues conducted their experiments at <a href="https://dystopia.dk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dystopia</a> Haunted House, a commercial attraction in Vejle, Denmark constructed in an old, run-down factory. The Recreational Fear Lab has a long-standing partnership with the spook shack.</p><p>They outfitted 100 volunteers with heart monitors and sent them on their terrifying way through the 50-room horror mansion. The facility incorporates a number of fright mechanisms including frequent jump scares in which a sudden threat takes a visitor by surprise.</p><p>Researchers surreptitiously observed their participants on closed-circuit video as they made their way through the attraction. They tracked each individual's scares, scoring them for intensity according to their visible reactions. After exiting the attraction, individuals self-reported their experiences in the haunted house.</p><p>Combining these self-reports with observer notes and each participant's heart-rate data gave the researchers subjective, behavioral, and physiological insights into the ways in which fear is experienced, and when it's a good thing or not.</p>
A pair of inverted U-shapes<p>In analyzing their data, the researchers saw two separate inverted u-shape curves. One depicted participants' enjoyment based on their self-reports and observed behavior. A similar u-curve was detected in their heart rates showing that just the right amount of heartbeat acceleration is associated with fun, but too much is too much. It's the terror Goldilocks zone.</p><p>Says Andersen, "If people are not very scared, they do not enjoy the attraction as much, and the same happens if they are too scared. Instead, it seems to be the case that a 'just-right' amount of fear is central for maximizing enjoyment."</p><p>The research suggests that being scared is enjoyable when it represents just a quick minor physiological deviation from one's normal state. When it goes on too long, however, or triggers too severe a physiological change, it becomes disturbing. Game over.</p><p>Andersen notes that this is not dissimilar to the factors known to make interpersonal play enjoyable: just the right amount of uncertainty and surprise. These are, maybe not coincidentally, also the ingredients of a successful joke.</p>
A meteorite that smashed into a frozen lake in Michigan may explain the origins of life on Earth, finds study.
- A new paper reveals a meteorite that crashed in Michigan in 2018 contained organic matter.
- The findings support the panspermia theory and could explain the origins of life on Earth.
- The organic compounds on the meteorite were well-preserved.
Meteor streaks through Michigan sky<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="80b7f30820153b35fc515592d7475f53"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EPu2qnqMYBo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The meteorite that smashed into Strawberry Lake carried pristine extraterrestrial organic compounds.
Credit: Field Museum