A NASA scientist made a bit of a stir yesterday by saying something other scientists and chronic anxiety sufferers have thought to be true for a while: We could be destroyed by a comet any day now.
“You could say, of course, we’re due, but it’s a random course at that point,” Dr. Joseph Nuth said during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Dr. Nuth’s talk concerned the dangers facing the planet from an “extinction-level event” caused by a comet or other large spatial object colliding with the Earth. He is absolutely right that we are woefully unprepared to detect such a threat in time and to stop it.
But the internet was less interested in turning this into a rallying cry for more space travel research, and more into the idea that, of course, an asteroid’s gonna end us all soon. Multiple comments across social media platforms seemed convinced that the way this year is going, fiery death from the sky would just be the cherry on the sundae. Most people were joking, but in that way where you’re really not joking (even though you’re joking [but not really]).
Look, I get it, 2016 has been absolutely the worst. I’ve caught myself saying so in so many articles recently that I’ve put a personal moratorium on 2016 bashing for now. But when you look at the situation in a more cosmic sense, we’ve had this giant apocalypse rock coming for us for a very long time now.
Dr. Nuth pointed out that extinction-level collisions tend to happen 50 to 60 million years apart. We’re “overdue” because the last one is believed to have happened 65 million years ago. That number can be tough to process, so let’s put it in context.
The best year of my life was 1994, when I won second place in the St. Rose of Lima Parish School speech and debate competition. That was a good year for a lot of people: Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Other people, like say Kurt Cobain and Nicole Brown Simpson, did not have such a good year.
1994 seems like a while ago. But the risk of an extinction-level event was still 65 million years overdue.
Let’s go back even further:
- 1945 C.E. and the end of World War II: still 65 million years overdue.
- 1776 C.E. and Alexander Hamilton invents hip-hop: still 65 million years overdue.
- 4 B.C.E. and Jesus is born four years early: still 65 million years overdue.
- 3500 B.C. when the earliest recorded human history in Mesopotamia is dated back to: still—you guessed it—65 million years overdue.
Dr. Nuth’s message is important and one the world should get behind in order to prevent a future disaster. But we, as a species, have always been doomed. We are doomed right now. We will continue to be doomed in the future. There is nothing special about 2016.