What is the Likelihood of an Asteroid Impact?
Peter Ward: We will get hit again. It is only a matter of time until we get hit by an asteroid the same size of what killed off the dinosaurs, should humanity last long enough, that is.
Peter Ward has been active in Paleontology, Biology, and more recently, Astrobiology for more than 40 years. Since his Ph.D. in 1976, Ward has published more than 140 scientific papers dealing with paleontological, zoological, and astronomical topics.
He is an acknowledged world expert on mass extinctions and the role of extraterrestrial impacts on Earth. Ward was the Principal Investigator of the University of Washington node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 2001-2006, and in that capacity led a team of over 40 scientists and students. His career was profiled by the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter William Dietrich in The Seattle Times article "Prophet, Populist, Poet of Science."
Peter has written a memoir of his research on the Nautilus for Nautilus magazine's "Ingenious" feature entitled "Nautilus and me. My wonderful, dangerous life with the amazing Nautilus."
His books include the best-selling "Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe" (co-author Donald Brownlee, 2000), "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future" (2007), and "The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?" (2009).
We certainly know that we were hit 65 million years ago by a very large rock from space. Hollywood made two blockbusters, “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact,” so it must be true.
It was really interesting, in ’95, Spielberg sent his minions to a conference to where a number of us were attending about this particular hit and indeed, there is a great danger out there. We are surrounded by asteroids, some become Earth-crossing. Jupiter has a way of perturbing comets and sending them from stable orbits to Earth-crossing orbits. We will get hit again. How big the hit will be is only a matter of time until we get something the same size that killed off the dinosaurs, should humanity last long enough, that is.
But that size hit looks like only once every 100 million years, or more. We haven’t had a hit that size for the last 500 million years. So, it does look like it is a rare event to have something that big - a 10 kilometer asteroid hit us.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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