Breaking News: Terror from the skies, mysterious object strikes Peru, emits toxic gas that sickens hundreds!
You can’t make stuff like this up. Yes, the media reports that a meteor struck Peru, creating the crater pictured above. Hundreds have been sickened by toxic gas emitted by the crater, including policemen who investigated the site. Anyone who has ever seen “The Blob,” 1988 version, knows what to do now…under no circumstances try to clear a clogged drain by hand.
What are we to make of this story? Well, for one thing, note the gawkers in the picture above. Whatever the toxic fumes may be, they obviously aren’t striking down everyone that gets anywhere near the crater. The picture alone pretty much shows that this isn’t the beginning of some cosmic invasion. Some reports are coming in now confirming it was a Carbonaceous Chondrite, a rare type of friable meteor that basically is leftover raw material from the creation of the solar system. The fumes were likely just a result of chemistry from the pressure and heat of the explosion. Will be a curious story to follow, meteors big enough to make a crater like this are rare, good thing it didn’t hit someone’s house.
In other crater news, the Mars Opportunity Rover is now heading into Victoria Crater. The amazing Mars rovers survived a planetary dust storm that almost killed them by blocking the sunlight, but the dust has cleared and the rovers are on the move again. This will be the largest crater yet investigated by the rovers, and it is hoped that examination of the crater walls will reveal a lot about the history of Mars, millions of years of geology may very well be exposed in the crater’s walls. There’s even a possibility that Opportunity won’t be able to get out of the crater after it has done its investigations, but that is a risk scientists are prepared to take consider how much they might learn.
As an aside, the rovers have discovered several meteors just laying on the surface of Mars already. While Mars does get hit more often than Earth, it doesn’t get hit that much more often. The fact that they have found so many on Mars is that they tend to really stand out from the surrounding rock, and more importantly, they remain on the surface for thousands or millions of years, since geologically Mars isn’t doing a whole lot these days. On Earth meteorites quickly get buried, rust away, etc. If travel to and from Mars ever does become cheap and easy, the price of meteorites is going to plummet.
Human space travel isn’t cheap though. In fact it’s hideously expensive. The Space Shuttle and the International Space Station suck up the lion’s share of NASA’s budget. And someone is finally speaking publicly about it, because frankly, it’s absurd. Steven Weinburg, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, has issued a scathing criticism of manned space flight. In point of fact, he’s right. It costs a fortune to send people into space, and they don’t accomplish much of anything while there. I mean cool pictures like this are nice, but there’s almost nothing a human can do in space that a robot can’t do cheaper and better.
Granted maybe he’s POed because NASA has cancelled a series of probes designed to test Einstein’s theory, physics being his bailiwick, but he is correct. The money spent on flying humans around in space has produced little of scientific value, and it’s a terrible shame that good hard science missions are being cancelled so that astronauts can play Star Trek. Robot exploration is the wave of the future, the Mars rovers alone have pretty much made that point clear.
Moving right along, yet one more crater is in the news today. A Tourism Corporation in India wants to develop Lonar Crater as a tourist destination. It’s definitely a pretty crater, and the world’s largest known impact crater in basaltic rock. It’s nearly two kilometres wide, not quite as big as the better known Meteor Crater in Arizona, but according to this site Lonar Crater has the advantage… “unlike its American counterpart, the Lonar crater doesn’t have a bellicose foreign policy and enjoys good relations with high impact geological formations in both France and Germany.”
For more scientific info on Lonar Crater check out the Wikipedia article and links. For more on America’s “bellicose foreign policy,” keep reading Doug’s Darkworld. Tomorrow, is Bush a King Peter?
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and it is central to illustrating the post. Credit: ESA)