Earlier this month, on Friday, November 6, a 23 foot in diameter asteroid came within 8,700 miles of earth.1 That is only about one earth diameter away, so it came extremely close to causing a huge disaster. Thanks to the gravity of the giant planet Jupiter and the remoteness of many parts of the earth, extremely few asteroids or comets collide with the earth and cause casualties. This is the third article in the It Was a Miracle series. (Here is the first article and the second.)
The final Book of Mormon prophet Moroni asks a pointed question when he proclaimed “I will show unto you a God of miracles. and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. . Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth?” (Mormon 9:11, 17)
We live in that day where the miracle of creation and the amazing adaptability, design and progression of living beings and man himself is attributed by many to arise exclusively from a source of pseudo-random mutations: without purpose, without a plan, without intelligence and definitely without miracles.
Joseph Smith testifies of a God of miracles, where “the light which is in all things, gives life to all things“(D&C 88:13) “upholding all things by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3) 2
Our Moon: An Asteroid and Comet Battleground
Anyone who has looked at the moon through a telescope sees the magnificent craters that resulted from impacts of large and small asteroids and comets with the moon. In the earth’s past history, there is evidence of many collisions as well with these pieces of metal, rock or ice, traveling at speeds of up to 70,000 miles per hour relative to the earth.3
Our moon is covered with impact craters from asteroids and comets.4
In order to maintain life on earth, it is important to not have many collisions with these heavenly bodies, especially the larger ones. Because of the tremendous kinetic energy that an asteroid can possess, even a small one like this near miss on November 6th or a small asteroid exploding on October 8th over Indonesia can release energy equal to three times as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.5
Picture of a small asteroid estimated to be 30 feet in diameter that exploded over remote Indonesia on October 8, 2009 at 11:00 a.m. local time with the energy of 50 kilotons of TNT.6
Small asteroids closely approach earth about twice a year and every few years explode in the atmosphere with debris usually falling over a remote land mass or ocean. Larger ones approach the earth only once every few years or decades and collide with the earth every few centuries. On March 2, 2009, a 100 foot in diameter asteroid came within 45,000 miles of earth. 7 In 1908, a stony asteroid of about that size is believed to have exploded in the atmosphere over Tunguska, in Russian Siberia with the energy of 10 million tons of TNT. This impact created a blast that leveled 1,200 square miles of forest.
It is believed that a 100 foot in diameter asteroid or comet exploded above this remote region in Siberia, leveling 1,200 square miles of forest. Although this impact caused it to be light enough during the night to read a newspaper, because of its remote location, there was only one reported death, a reindeer herder.8
The discovery that the Meteor Crater in Arizona was formed in a collision with a very metal rich asteroid an estimated 50,000 years ago about 150 feet in diameter motivated more interest in this 1908 event in Russia as well. Even though engineer Daniel Barringer was disappointed in his belief that the meteor was much bigger and that it could be a significant mining opportunity, the crater is often called the Barringer Meteor Crater.9
Perhaps the most famous impact crater of an asteroid with the earth is the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona.
Jupiter to the Rescue
Once the basic solar system had been formed, the asteroid and comet debris left over was still very dangerous for a planet with mortal life. One important solution is to have a gas giant planet like Jupiter to deflect almost all of these orbiting intruders away from the inner solar system. Jupiter’s gravity throws them into the Sun, the outer solar system, or simply pulls them directly into the giant planet itself. On July 24, 1994, the 21 remnants of comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 that Jupiter had broken into pieces during its previous orbit went right into the thick atmosphere of the giant planet, never to be seen again.10
After being ripped apart into 21 fragments, this Hubble Space Telescope picture shows the comet’s remnants on their way toward the “jaws” of the giant planet itself on May 17, 1994, two months before the collision.11
Remnants of Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 were “assimilated” into Jupiter on July 24, 1994, releasing tremendous energy. These discolored earth sized impact spots on Jupiter from the small 1-2 kilometer sized fragments well illustrate the kinetic energy of the pieces of this comet.12
Nevertheless, No Room for Pride
Even with the protection that Jupiter and the earth’s vast oceans, deserts and nearly uninhabited terrain provide for our planet and for life on the earth, the Lord seems to take credit for some of these asteroid/earth collisions in the past and the future related to His judgments upon inhabitants of the earth. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by “brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” (Genesis 19:24) Many deposits of balls of pure sulfur have been discovered in the Dead Sea region where these cities were believed to be located.
Deposits of pure sulfur from the region where Sodom and Gomorrah are believed to have been located.13
The prophet Jonah expected to see a similar display of celestial fireworks after he had delivered his message of repentance to the people of the city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:3-6, 4:10-11). Unfortunately, or so Jonah thought, the people of the city sincerely repented and the fire and brimstone never came. After studying how explosive jets erupt from comets and change their orbits enough to disconcert astronomers trying to monitor their orbit and position, we see how easy a thing it would be for the Lord to make a slight correction to the orbit of a small “fire and brimstone” asteroid to have it fly harmlessly past or impact into some mostly uninhabited desert.14 That is, if indeed an asteroid was the physical mechanism the Lord had in mind for this judgment on the city of Nineveh if they did not repent.
Asteroid Collisions in our Future?
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John seems to describe a possible collision with a celestial object.
“And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.” (Revelation 8:8-9)
The impact of a large asteroid plunging into the sea, with the resulting great tsunami that would be created was described in the 1998 movie “Deep Impact.” Scientists gave the movie a good grade on a realistic depiction of the collision event unlike the poor grade they gave the other celestial disaster movie of that era, “Armageddon.” 15
The 1998 Movie “Deep Impact” included an impact of a piece of a comet into the ocean which created a very large tsunami. 16
Hope for the Righteous
Even though all people are affected by many of these last days events, the Lord does promise protection for the righteous from the full effect of many of these latter-day “storms.”
“Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted. Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the storm at the last day; yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by the whirlwinds; but when the storm cometh they shall be gathered together in their place, that the storm cannot penetrate to them; yea, neither shall they be driven with fierce winds whithersoever the enemy listeth to carry them. But behold, they are in the hands of the Lord of the harvest, and they are his; and he will raise them up at the last day. Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever.” (Alma 26:5-8)
May this be our situation even as it was with these repentant Lamanites and the missionary sons of the righteous king Mosiah. May we be grateful that the Lord has created our world so that it has a very low chance of collision with asteroids and comets with significant human casualties.
2 http://meridianmagazine.com/ideas/090526origin.html . May 26, 2009.
Ronald P. Millett, “Joseph Smith’s Views on the Origin of Life,” Meridian Magazine, https://ldsmag.com/ideas/090818origin.html. August 18, 2009.
See also: James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City, 1915. Pp. 148-149.
“Miracles cannot be contravention of natural law, but are wrought through the operation of laws not universally or commonly recognized. Gravitation is everywhere operative, but the local and special application of other agencies may appear to nullify it . Achievements made possible by modern invention . –these are not longer miracles in man’s estimation, because they are controlled by human agency. . We arbitrarily classify as miracles only such phenomena as are unusual, special, transitory and wrought by an agency beyond the power of man’s control.
“In a broader sense, all nature is a miracle. .
“In the contemplation of the miracles wrought by Christ, we must of necessity recognize the operation of a power transcending our present human understanding. . To deny the actuality of miracles on the ground that, because we cannot comprehend the means, the reported results are fictitious, is to arrogate to the human mind the attribute of omniscience, by implying that what man cannot comprehend cannot be, and that therefore he is able to comprehend all that is.”
3 “Large Asteroid Passes Close to Earth,” Science – Associated Press, January 8, 2001, http://neat.jpl.nasa.gov/2001YB5.htm.
“An asteroid large enough to wipe out France hurtled past the Earth at a distance of a half-million miles just days after scientists spotted it. The asteroid, dubbed 2001 YB5, came within 520,000 miles of Earth on Monday, approximately twice the distance of the moon. Dozens of asteroids pass close by the Earth each year, though 2001 YB5 was closer than most. On Friday, for instance, an asteroid known as 2001 UU92 will pass with 11 million miles of Earth. Asteroid 2001 YB5, estimated to be 1,000 feet across, was traveling about 68,000 mph relative to the Earth when it zipped past.” [emphasis by author]
4 Picture from Wikipedia commons area: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Moon-craters.jpg
“The largest crater in the picture is Daedalus. Located near the center of the far side of the Moon, its diameter is about 93 kilometers (58 miles). This image was taken by Apollo 11.”
5″Asteroid explosion was a whopper for Earth,” MSNBC Technology and Science / Space, October 29, 2009. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33540411/ns/technology_and_science-space .
“Experts say space rock blast may have been largest in more than a decade”
“A space rock explosion earlier this month over an island region of Indonesia is now being viewed as perhaps the biggest object to tangle with the Earth in more than a decade. On Oct. 8, reports from Indonesia told of a loud air blast around 11 a.m. local time. One report indicated a bright fireball, accompanied by an explosion and lingering dust cloud, as the origin of the air blast. According to experts at the NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office in Pasadena, Calif. – Don Yeomans, Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley – the blast is thought to be due to the atmospheric entry of an asteroid more than 30 feet in diameter. Due to atmospheric pressure, the object is thought to have detonated in the atmosphere, yielding an energy release of about 50 kilotons (the equivalent of 110,000,000 pounds of TNT explosives).
“It was the third-closest known (non-impacting) Earth approach on record for a cataloged asteroid [November 6, 2009 asteroid near miss]. The NASA NEO programme aims to detect and track at least 90 per cent of the 1,000 asteroids and comets that approach Earth and are larger than 0.6miles in diameter, by 2020. They monitored a 100ft asteroid that whizzed 45,000 miles above the Earth’s surface on March 2 this year. A similar sized object slammed into Tunguska, Siberia in 1908. The impact created a blast so powerful it leveled 1,200 square miles of forest.”
8″How many people were killed in the 1908 Tunguska Event in Siberia?” Answers.yahoo.com, 2007. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071031052553AArMRJd.
“One man, about sixty miles from the site, was knocked from his porch to the ground, and is said to have died the next day of his injuries. Other than this, the place was so remote that apparently no one else was hurt. Had it hit 4 hours and 56 minutes later, it would have taken out St Petersburg, Russia, which then had a population of slightly over one million.”
See also: “Comet and Asteroid Risk: An Analysis of the 1908 Tunguska Event,” Risk Management Solutions Special Report, 2009, <a href="http://www.
<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />rms.com/Publications/1908_Tunguska_Event.pdf” target=”_blank”>http://www.rms.com/Publications/1908_Tunguska_Event.pdf.
“Early in the morning on June 30, 1908, a giant airburst occurred over the basin of the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Central Siberia, Russia, leveling trees over an area of 2,000 km2 . Eyewitnesses described a ?fire ball, bright as the Sun. The event produced seismic and pressure waves that were recorded all over the world and led to atmospheric phenomena (e.g., bright nights, noctilucent clouds) observed over much of Eurasia. The released energy was later estimated to be equivalent to a 10 megaton (Mton) TNT explosion, about 1,000 times as powerful as the nuclear bomb dropped over Hiroshima in 1945. Although the origin of this phenomenon has been widely debated for the past century, it is now generally accepted that the blast was due to the explosion of a comet or an asteroid in the lower atmosphere, occurring at a height of 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 mi) over the remote Siberian forest, and measuring approximately 50 m (164 ft) in diameter.”
See also: “Russian Apocolypse,” History Channel Documentary, 2008, http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=69952&v=All
“A century ago a mysterious explosion one thousand times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb rocked the Siberian wilderness. What happened? Will it happen again? Such a catastrophe over a major city would be unimaginably deadly… and unstoppable. The first expedition to analyze the Tunguska Event was over a decade after the explosion. Scientists agree another event of this magnitude is inevitable.
“On June 30, 1908, the Russian wilderness shook with a colossal mid-air explosion like nothing before in human history. With as much as 20 megatons of force it leveled 1000 square miles of forest. The Tunguska Event was nothing less than a preview of the end of the world. So remote was the Tunguska ground zero that thirteen years passed before the first recorded expedition arrived on the scene. Even then, findings were less than conclusive, and the intervening decades have given rise to over one hundred theories — from the probable to the absurd — about the blast. Despite the controversy, it is undeniable that the Tunguska Event was devastating and that it could happen again.”
Picture: Claire Bates, “Asteroid passes just 8,700miles from Earth – with only 15 hours warning,”
November 11, 2009, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1226672/Asteroid-scrapes-past-Earth-just-8-700miles-away–15-hours-warning.html#ixzz0X5VxXI37
9 “The Science: What is the Barringer Meteor Crater?” http://www.barringercrater.com/science/, 1998.
“The Barringer Meteorite Crater (also known as “Meteor Crater”) is a gigantic hole in the middle of the arid sandstone of the Arizona desert. A rim of smashed and jumbled boulders, some of them the size of small houses, rises 150 feet above the level of the surrounding plain. The crater itself is nearly a mile wide, and 570 feet deep. When Europeans first discovered the crater, the plain around it was covered with chunks of meteoritic iron – over 30 tons of it, scattered over an area 8 to 10 miles in diameter.”
“Scientists now believe that the crater was created approximately 50,000 years ago. The meteorite which made it was composed almost entirely of nickel-iron, suggesting that it may have originated in the interior of a small planet. It was 150 feet across, weighed roughly 300,000 tons, and was traveling at a speed of 28,600 miles per hour (12 kilometers per second) according to the most recent research. The explosion created by its impact was equal to 2.5 megatons of TNT, or about 150 times the force of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.”
Picture: http://www.barringercrater.com/img/indexcrater.jpg by David Roddy, USGS.
10 Ronald P. Millett and John P. Pratt, “Astronomical Event of the Century,” Meridian Magazine, January 14, 2000.
“Most astronomers consider the fiery, dramatic collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with the planet Jupiter in July, 1994 to be the Astronomical Event of the Century… The impact from the collision of just one of the score of cometary fragments with the giant planet had energy estimated at six hundred times that of the combined nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States.”
11 Wikipedia Commons Area, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shoemaker-Levy_9_on_1994-05-17.png.
“NASA image of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on May 17 1994. When the comet was observed, its train of 21 icy fragments stretched across 710 thousand miles (1.1 million km) of space, or 3 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. This required 6 WFPC exposures spaced along the comet train to include all the nuclei. The image was taken in red light. The comet was approximately 410 million miles (660 million km) from Earth when the picture was taken, on a mid-July collision course with the gas giant planet Jupiter.”
12 “Jupiter Showing SL9 Impact Sites,” Wikipedia commons area picture from NASA. July 1994. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jupiter_showing_SL9_impact_sites.jpg.
“Brown spots mark the places where fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 tore through Jupiter’s atmosphere in July 1994.”
See also: “Frequently Asked Questions about the Collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter: Pre-Impact Questions and Answers,” July 12, 1994, http://www.isc.tamu.edu/~astro/sl9/cometfaq.html#Q1.4
“Q1.4: What will be the effect of the collision?
Jupiter will be about 770 million kilometers (480,000,000 miles) from Earth, so it will be difficult to see the effects from Earth. Also, the comet fragments will not affect Jupiter as a whole very much. It will be like sticking 21 needles into an apple: “Locally, each needle does significant damage but the whole apple isn’t really modified very much.” . The energy deposited by the comet fragments fall well short of the energy required to set off sustained thermonuclear fusion. Jupiter would have to be more than 10 times more massive to sustain a fusion reaction. .. The following predictions by Mordecai-Mark Mac Low (University of Chicago) are based on simulations for 1 km fragments: Each comet fragment will enter the Jupiter’s atmosphere at a speed of 130,000 mph (60 km/s). At an altitude of 100 km above the visible cloud decks, aerodynamic forces will overwhelm the material strength of the fragment and tear it apart. Five seconds after entry, the comet fragment would deposit its kinetic energy of around 10^28 ergs (equivalent to around 200,000 megatons of TNT) at 100-150 km below the cloud layer . Bigger fragments will have more energy and go deeper.”
See also: “Frequently Asked Questions about the Collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter: Post-Impact Questions and Answers,” February 2, 1996, http://www.isc.tamu.edu/~astro/sl9/cometfaq2.html#Q3.8.
“Q3.8: How can the structure of the impact sites be explained?
One of the most well know images is the HST image of the G impact site just after its appearance on the limb of Jupiter. There are a few features that stand out on this image: a dark thin ring,
a dark streak inside this ring, a broad horseshoe-shaped feature to the south, and a small black spot toward the following limb. The small black spot is actually the impact site of fragment D that stuck Jupiter the day before fragment G hit. The thin ring is possibly a shock wave in the atmosphere moving outward from where the fragment exploded below the cloudtops. At the time the image was taken the ring measured about one half of an Earth-diameter. Andy Ingersoll says that the thin black ring was moving subsonically at 500 m/s. The dark streak inside this ring is probably the path of the fragment with the entry point being on the south end. Note that the streak ends near the center of the thin ring. The broad horseshoe-shaped feature appears to represent the resettling debris from the fireball.
In some wavelengths the bands of Jupiter can be seen through this broad feature. When compared to impact simulations, this pattern fits quite well with a 45 degree angle of entry.”
14 “The Comet Primer,” http://cometography.com/educate/comintro.html.
“The black crust of the nucleus helps the comet absorb heat, which in turn causes some of the ices under the crust to turn to a gas. With pressure now building beneath the crust, the serene, but frozen landscape begins to bulge in places. Eventually the weakest areas of the crust shatter from the pressure beneath, and the gas shoots outward like a geyser and is referred to by astronomers as a jet. Any dust that had been mixed in with the gas is thrown out as well. As more and more jets appear, a tenuous gas and dust shell forms around the nucleus and this is called the coma.”
Picture caption: “The nucleus of Halley’s Comet as photographed by Giotto in 1986. Note the active areas that are spewing dust and gas into space. This material will form the coma and tails of the comet.”
15 “Holywood does the Universe Wrong,” space.com, Feb 17, 2000. http://www.space.com/opinionscolumns/opinions/plait_000217.html.
“Armageddon had so many mistakes that there is literally no way to make the movie more accurate and have anything like the original plot left. Yet it is possible to make such a movie and still be dramatic, if you have scientists as consultants early on.
Deep Impact is one such movie. The producers hired real live astronomers to help them with the script, and the amazing thing is they took the advice. A comet, for example, has almost no gravity, so the scientists suggested the rocket moor itself to the surface. That was used in the movie, along with many other suggestions.”
See also: “Impact (TV Mini-Series)”, ABC TV, June 2009. http://www.apocalypticmovies.com/movie-index/impact-tv-mini-series.html.
“The world watches the spectacular display as Earth is witness to the biggest meteor shower in 10.000 years. However awe soon turns to fear when a stray asteroid collides with the moon. The impact is so great that it propels fragments from the explosion towards Earth. However after the impact the world suffers only minor damage and things seem to return to normal. The moon however is now severely damaged which is plainly visible from the Earth. Before long strange phenomena begins to occur such as, electrical interference which wipes out communications, tidal disturbances and eventually gravity itself begins to go haywire, resulting in cars and people suddenly becoming weightless and floating off before crashing to their deaths when the event subsides. By this time leading scientists are already on the case and have discovered that the Moons orbit has shifted, resulting in the moon moving closer and closer to Earth at every pass. With now only 39 days left before it will crash into the Earth the scientists formulate an ambitious plan that they hope will avert the impending disaster.”
“This Mini-Series has come up against some serious flak, the science is very flaky and what they achieve in such a short space of time is very unrealistic. However all that aside if you can suspend your disbelief it’s actually quite entertaining. It’s not going to win any TV awards that’s for sure, but if you want to watch a disaster flick that’s halfway decent you could do far worse. I did watch it all in one go so I didn’t get enough time to reflect on the first part, as it seems a lot of viewers didn’t bother to tune in for the second.”
RPM note: In all of these shows, and especially in this mini-series, man’s current ability to deflect these killer asteroids in time is greatly exaggerated. The smaller ones, like the November 6, 2009 incident we are discussing, we could deflect if we could rendezvous with them long before they approach earth. We could nudge them with explosions to a different orbit which could avoid a collision. But we don’t even detect these small asteroids until they are very close to hitting us and moving at 70,000 mph doesn’t help at all to try to catch these “roadrunner” -like speed demon [remember that cartoon roadrunner that wiley coyote was always trying to catch]. at that amazing speed, the distance between the moon and earth is traversed in just a little over three hours. The Apollo rockets took days, not hours to traverse that same distance and the Saturn V rocket was a giant expensive rocket.
For the larger “extinction event” asteroids, they would be much more difficult to deflect with our meager technology. In this mini-series, Russian and US ICBMs are used to break up “planet killer” sized asteroids. Our ICBMs are only designed for suborbital flight. You would want to intercept such an asteroid way beyond the Moon or even near Mars if possible. We currently have no such technology and unless we had several years of warning could not develop anything in time. An asteroid on a collision course that we detect years ahead would not be a tiny house sized asteroid. The manned missions described in these movies and TV shows that intercept these asteroids are equally unrealistic. Our space shuttle or the Russian Soyuz rocket can barely get to low orbital flight and do not approach escape velocity or have near enough fuel needed for the scenarios that are described. We currently must slingshot around the Moon and several planets to send probes toward the asteroid belt.
“Space Probe Slingshots Around Earth On Way to Comet,” Associated Press, January 2, 2008,
“The Deep Impact probe made the first of three flybys designed to use the planet’s gravity to hurtle the spacecraft toward comet Hartley 2 for a 2010 meeting. At its closest, the spacecraft was 10,000 miles above Australia. “We’re taking laps around the sun until the comet comes,” said William Blume of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.”
“In 2005, Deep Impact became the first spacecraft to crack open a comet by releasing a copper impactor that smashed into Tempel 1, giving scientists their first glimpse of the interior. The mothership survived and was placed in safe mode before it was tapped for an encore. The new mission, known as Epoxi, calls for Deep Impact to meet Hartley 2 about 12 million miles from Earth at the time of the encounter. Deep Impact will hover 550 miles from the half mile-wide surface and use its two telescopes and infrared spectrometer to map features and record gas outbursts.”
16 Wikipedia commons area. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deep_Impact_poster.jpg.
Article: “Deep Impact,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Impact_%28film%29.
“Deep Impact is a 1998 sci-fi-drama disaster film released by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks in the United States on May 8, 1998. The film was directed by Mimi Leder, and stars Elijah Wood, Ta Leoni, Morgan Freeman, and Robert Duvall. The plot describes the attempts to prepare for and destroy a comet, which is expected to collide with the Earth and cause a mass extinction.
Another “space impact” film, Armageddon, was released about two months after Deep Impact in the United States. Deep Impact was lauded by astronomers as being more scientifically accurate, and was better received by critics, but Armageddon fared better at the box office.”
See also: Box Office Mojo, http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=deepimpact.htm