Sunday, July 19, 2015

We are doomed to be hit by asteroids, repeatedly

This is how reality stands right now: even if the danger of an asteroid hit is great, the risk of one hitting is small. That means that they hit (very) far apart and cause a lot of damage. Now, all governments in the world are run by politicians, who are by their very nature bureaucrats. They are reactive, not proactive, and they have insulated themselves from responsibility by manipulating laws and creating committees and departments that they can behead at any time, as they keep their fat asses on their chairs of power. This is not a rant, it's just the ugly truth, evolving, but never really changing since we were barely smarter than monkeys.

The logical conclusion of these facts is that politicians will not do anything about asteroids until we are hit by one. Even worse, since the probability that a really big one will hit without us knowing in advance has been reduced by space advances, the asteroid that will hit us will probably be small. The Tunguska and the Chelyabinsk events, real things that happened, changed nothing. The one that is going to change anything will be when something similar happens on top of a city.

This is not a doomsday prophecy, either. The probability that this will happen is extremely small. First of all the asteroid has to be small enough and/or fast enough so that we don't detect it in time. Then it has to hit at a certain angle to not be deflected by the atmosphere. Then it has to reach a populated area, which one would think is simple, since we can't seem to be able to fart without someone smelling it, but in truth, with the oceans and the human propensity of congregating for no good reason, it is less probable. However, with enough time, even a small probability becomes certainty.

So, the scenario goes like this: we all pretend to care, but we don't. We want less taxes, not asteroid protection. Politicians use our shortsightedness and our greed to enhance their own and do nothing. Then an asteroid hits, causing massive damage, death and loss of property. This is the moment when something happens. They implement new laws, launch asteroid defense programs, create new departments and committees. But, since the probability that an asteroid hits is small, the hype will fade, the budgets with it, politicians will rotate, people will forget. By the time the next asteroid hits, no one will be prepared for it any more than for the previous one.

In the end, the only things that ever made a dent in the probability that something will hurt us as a species or even as a larger group were technological. Not technology per se, just its price. Just more scientists with cheaper tech getting more done. When space launches become cheaper, satellites smaller, we can do more with them at the same relative price. That is why now we are discovering millions of asteroids in the Solar System, not because of some sort of scientific awakening. It's cheaper, probably as cheap as it was for amateur astronomers to buy telescopes in 1801, when Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the first asteroid, Ceres. I just hope this all gets cheap enough fast enough so we can do something by the time the big asteroid is coming. Well, if we don't destroy ourselves in some other way by then.

I know I'm a month late, but Happy Asteroid Day!