Making the chilling prediction in a new video, Stephen Hawking warned of an asteroid causing another mass extinction event on Earth, posing a “major threat” to life as we know it, albeit most likely in the very distant future.
A report from the Daily Express cited a video made by Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May’s Asteroid Day awareness campaign and featuring Hawking making yet another apocalyptic warning. This comes on the heels of a recent statement from Hawking, where he said that humanity may face extinction a few thousands of years from now while adding that people will have to leave Earth in order to avoid such a calamitous event. Excerpts from that statement were posted by several publications, including the Christian Science Monitor.
“Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years. By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.”
In the new video, Stephen Hawking talked about how asteroids could potentially collide with life-bearing planets at some point in the future, thereby highlighting Asteroid Day’s mission to find ways to prevent these bodies from colliding into Earth, and spot them before they could impact life on our planet.
“One of the major threats to intelligent life in our universe is the high probability of an asteroid colliding with inhabited planets.”
Although NASA and the world’s other space agencies regularly track near-earth asteroids, of which there are thousands floating around in space, only a small percentage of them are known. The Daily Express also noted that there are over 600,000 known asteroids in our solar system, with most of them found in the Asteroid Belt located between Mars and Jupiter’s orbits.
“We only know about 15 or 20 percent of the objects which are larger than a few hundred meters in size,” said astronomer Patrick Michel.
“If these bodies impact Earth, they can cause regional damage across a whole country or even a continent.”
Keeping Stephen Hawking’s asteroid warning in mind, there isn’t any existing way to deal with asteroids so that they do not crash into Earth. Some had suggested veering them off course by having a spaceship use its gravity against them, while the thought of blasting them in space was also brought up in the past. The latter idea, however, may not be practical, as it could send several smaller fragments colliding into Earth and covering a much wider range than one singular asteroid.
If one asteroid alone hits planet Earth, this could result in some catastrophic consequences that could happen in just a few minutes’ time following the impact. The event that killed off the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago is a prime example, as NPR documented in a report earlier this week. That asteroid collision didn’t just cause the extinction of all non-bird dinosaurs; it also made Earth’s surface “momentarily act like a liquid,” as rock was catapulted upward to about 60,000 feet before it formed a “ring of mountains” when it fell back down. This, according to University of Texas, Austin geophysicist Sean Gulick, took place in just five to 10 minutes.
According to NASA, no asteroid is expected to hit Earth “for at least the next 100 years,” which means Stephen Hawking’s latest statement on asteroids may not represent an event that would take place in our lifetimes. But astronomer Carolyn Shoemaker did underscore the importance of his words in a brief statement cited in the Daily Express report.
“The more we learn about all of these objects, the more we can be prepared for preventing an impact that would be dangerous to us.”
[Featured Image by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images]