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

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

The real numbers behind abortions in the United States

How many abortions are actually performed? Numbers reveal the complexity in the raging debate.

Getty Images.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The American society is close to split on the legality of abortions.
  • 45,789,558 abortions were carried out in the U.S. between 1970 and 2015.
  • The abortion numbers are at an all-time low now, trending almost half of what they were.
Keep reading Show less

10 new things we’ve learned about death

If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

Culture & Religion
  • For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
  • Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
  • Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Keep reading Show less

Cheers! How the physics of fizz contributes to human happiness

The phenomenon that makes our favourite drinks bubbly is, alarmingly, the same one that causes decompression sickness in divers. Why do we still love it?

Surprising Science

Think of the last time you had something to celebrate. If you toasted the happy occasion, your drink was probably alcoholic – and bubbly.

Keep reading Show less