Many a time we sit and talk and transact whatever business that is before us, totally unaware of what could be lurking out there in deep space. Space is a terribly busy place with all sorts of objects doing all manner of maneuvers that would knock us down. There are many tiny and large objects which move at high speeds all the time.
The space between the planets Mars and Jupiter is called the asteroid belt, and it is replete with millions of ‘pebbles’ of various sizes and shapes. In fact, it is a scientific miracle that several spacecraft have traversed this region and have gone on to the outer planets unscathed.
Often these space objects fly close to huge bodies like planets. Thanks to our atmosphere, most of the pebbles that come our way get burnt up by friction as they enter the atmosphere. We only see them as glowing light which we normally call “a shooting star”.
Heavenly bodies that do not have enough cover by way of an atmosphere get bombarded more often than we do. Our Moon is an example of such heavenly bodies. Another is the planet Mercury. The surfaces of the Moon and of Mercury are heavily catered as a result of the impact of these bombardments.
Occasionally, bigger than average stones reach us. They do not entirely burn up in the atmosphere and fall all the way to the surface of the earth. Such object could be asteroids, comets or meteoroids in origin but when they reach earth they are called meteorites.
A meteorite fell in a Dowa village in or around 1978. I was then a student at Robert Blake Secondary School, located in close proximity to the meteorite site. Not knowing what it was, villagers scampered for their lives. Some of them got as far as area 25 in the city of Lilongwe, covering the 40 or so kilometre distance on foot and in one night. It was generally believed that the fallen object was the result of military activity by some unknown aggressor.
On January 22 1981 a meteorite fell in Machinga at 10 o’clock in the morning. It fell 7.5 kilometres south-west of Machinga district headquarters. A total of 93.2 kg of clustered mass was recovered from the site and has been kept at the Malawi Museum at Chichiri in Blantyre.
Other meteorites have fallen at different sites and times over the centuries in Malawi. It is estimated that thousands of extra terrestrial objects enter our sky every year.
At the beginning of this month, on October 2, we had a close shave as an asteroid the size of a bus flew past Earth well within the orbit of the Moon. The 8 metre wide came to within 87 000 kilometres of earth. To provide a proper perspective, the Moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 284,600 kilometres. It is anybody’s guess what sort of impact this asteroid would have had if it had hit us.
This planet of ours was once teemed with dinosaurs in a wide range of sizes. Some of them could fly like birds. It is believed that an impact with a large heavenly object wiped them out. We had better be on the lookout for these rocks from space which could easily wipe out the human race.
As I was writing this article, another rock estimated to be between 12 metres and 27 metres wide was approaching earth. It was expected to come within 27 000 kilometres of earth on October 12. Astronomers have been following the movement of this asteroid since 2012 when it was first spotted.
There is always danger lurking from without and one of these days we could be hit hard by a large enough object to cause real and widespread damage. We need to be on the lookout for such an eventuality. We have enough power on earth to ward off an otherwise devastating invasion by an object from outer space.
We need to search within our systems to find a solution to these cosmic threats. Kim Jong-un of North Korea should not target America but should target these extra terrestrial objects. Anybody developing nuclear or other high energy weapons should set meteorites not fellow human beings as targets. It’s only a matter of probability before we are hit by a large object from outer space.