Tunguska 2.0

The explosion of a meteor above Chelyabinsk on Friday immediately took me back to Tunguska five-score and five years ago. The Siberian Explosion, as we called it as kids, had captured my early imagination. An explosion that big, so long before nuclear weapons had been developed, and so long after the dinosaurs felt the wrath of an asteroid, fired my sense of wonder. The pictures of all those felled trees. Of course, the mystery helped as well. Some decades later, The X-Files revisited Tunguska, and the mania of my youth was back. There’s nothing like something incredibly massive to ignite the chariots of fire. The Chelyabinsk meteor is the largest object to strike the earth since the Tunguska event, and although at 500 kilotons of explosive power, it was about 60 times less potent than the earlier event, it does have many pondering the fragility of life on our little planet.


For those less familiar with astronomy, the event was confused with the much hyped passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 which buzzed close enough to have had some fingers hovering above the retaliation button. The two unrelated events stand to underscore just how small we are in our tiny ripple of the Milky Way. Watching the many videos of the Chelyabinsk meteor, I ponder what might have happened had this been during the Reagan years and the delirious high point of Cold War paranoia—would any of us have been left here to read about it at all? Although ants, we think ourselves giants. Some speculate that if the dinosaurs hadn’t been wiped out by an asteroid or comet they may have evolved to intelligent beings. Perhaps they would have had a reptilian god. Based on body-mass ratios, that’d have been one huge deity!

So we’ve had a couple of near misses this week past. Chances are some day we’ll get hit. There will be those who call it an apocalypse, and others who will suggest it is some kind of cosmic justice. In reality, it is just what happens in a universe where we are but minuscule demigods in our own imaginations. Tunguska was a huge event, but it didn’t kill on the scale of the Haiti Earthquake or the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Such natural disasters make the insurance industry cry foul as they describe them as “Acts of God.” “Act of God” is legalese for anything outside human control. Giant rocks falling from the sky clearly fit into that category. Goliath, the biblical giant, was slain by a single smooth stone from a brook, according to the book of Samuel. We think we’re pretty big with our towers and our weapons and our internet. If God unleashes a big stone our way, as Friday’s events demonstrate, Goliath might have the last laugh.

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