Friday, 5 November 2010

We're doomed

A few years ago I read Bill Bryson's book 'A Short History of Nearly Everything', which I thoroughly recommend. It's a broad oversight of the planet's history, which obviously covers a lot of geological ground. Bryson comes to the subject as an enthusiastic layman and his explanations are entertaining and easy to follow. However - a large proportion of the book is about the numerous very bad things which are likely to happen to us at any given time. He points out that we face painful and terrifying deaths in the microscopic form of a supervirus, in the ginormous, rocky shape of an incoming asteroid, in the hot, nasty lava of a supervolcano and so on. Great stuff, though it might have you looking over your shoulder a little.

Anyway. I mention the book because a group of scientists at Imperial College London and Purdue University in Indiana have, since 2004, been producing a Impact Events Calculator, designed to force meteorophobes into their custom-built underground bunkers for the rest of their lives. Cans of tuna, beans and sweetcorn in dimly lit concrete vaults and a wobbly iron-spring military bed. For ever. I'm not speaking from experience. I'm resigned to my fate; if the meteorite comes, I'm ready to embrace it. I'm getting away from the point a little. What it does is work out what would happen when a meteorite of specific size hits Earth. You type in the dimensions, where you want it to land and at what angle, etc. Then click the button and check the results. I've just wiped out a large part of the Eastern Seaboard of North America. It was an accident.

They have recently updated it to tweak the user interface, but also to include additional effects such as wave height from ocean impact, and a couple of others. The next upgrade will allow you to pick your impact site. Virtual revenge at the click of a button. It's fun to play around with, but then you realise that... You know. It might happen. Look out!

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