This week, NASA scientists and other space experts from around the world are running an exercise in which they’ll work out our options for defending Earth from a fictitious asteroid that has a 1 percent chance of impact. Even with eight years of warning, as this drill has it, deflection would be challenging — and you certainly won’t take any confidence from the Planetary Defense Conference’s janky-ass website. But maybe that’s a good thing? It feels like most of us would welcome this form of annihilation.
See, when we imagine an asteroid killing the dinosaurs, we think of them as being alarmed: Oh no, we’re about to go extinct! By contrast, when we hear of the infinitesimal odds that some distant hunk of space rock may strike the planet while we’re the dominant species on it, we think, About damn time. The current state of America is reason enough to seek oblivion, but bemoaning the lack of a killer astronomical object has been a pastime on Twitter since well before the 2016 election — prefiguring the comparatively soft desire for a hot celeb to “run me over with a truck.” We want it bad.
The number of movies and books projecting the fantasy of an Earth-bound asteroid or similar threat — I mean, we had a Russian author writing about an apocalyptic comet in the 1830s — is ample proof of this civilizational death wish. Yeah, humanity survives Deep Impact and Armageddon, but you watched them to see a few million people (and Bruce Willis) get wiped out regardless. I suspect there’s comfort in what we regard, rightly or wrongly, as the immediacy of our demise in these situations. Being vaporized in a split second sure beats years of climate change and fighting in the water wars!
Thank god Japan is taking some initiative, attempting to piss off the asteroids by blasting craters in them. We need all the help we can get — apparently an interstellar meteor hit us in 2014 and nobody even noticed. Bigger, nastier, more accurate pieces of stony debris from elsewhere in the galaxy are required. Step it up, Milky Way! I do not want to survive the 2020 primaries. Unfortunately, one of the NASA lab directors involved in this week’s asteroid drill says that while the scenario is plausible, it’s also “extremely unlikely.” Which I would take to mean that we’re all stuck waiting here for sweet mercy from the hammer of the heavens like those chumps waiting for Godot.
Maybe we need to go where the action is? Push Earth out of orbit and toward the asteroid belt somehow? Construct a giant moon magnet so our closest neighbor crash-lands in the Pacific? I do not care what it takes — the solar system deserves a fresh start before Elon Musk starts his billionaire colony on Mars. Let’s make it happen.