5 years ago
Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, and host of "StarTalk Radio." His newest book, "Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization," is available now. www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/
Speaking of debris, there was this asteroid that collided with Earth over Cheyabinsk in the Soviet Union, in Russia, sorry, just near the Siberia, in the Ural Mountains, just on the coast of Siberia, on the border of Siberia. That was visible to everybody in broad daylight, and you had to, like, avert your eyes when it happened. And they felt a shock wave, and the shock wave broke windows and sent nearly a thousand people to the hospital. What happened? Well, because they saw the light and they got up from their table and went to the window to see what had happened, there's a time delay between the shock wave and the light, because light travels fast and sound travels slow. So it'll go to the windows, and the shock wave hits, and it blasts, broken glass, into their face. So it was a big band-aid collision that we had. The injured people all needed basically band-aids. Okay, no one died, but nearly a thousand people were injured. So at an auction, by the way, that actually exploded and pieces of it were recovered. At an auction, I purchased a piece of that meteorite, but you know what else I purchased? Some of the shards of glass that the shock wave had broken. What do you do with this shit? I've got it. It's just a habit. I'm a part of – it is a shot across our bow. That's what that – no one died. But it's a warning. There's no better way to be warned than to have a band-aid cover your injuries that could have vaporized you or rendered your species extinct. What's crazy is the ones that don't even make impact and still do devastating damage like Tunguska? Yes. That one didn't even touch Earth. Right. It incinerated 10,000 square kilometers of forest. Look at that, Honk. Holy shit. Yeah, so February 15, 2013, and there was a – Weighs over half a ton. That little rock weighs a thousand pounds. Oh, yeah. That's just a piece that made it through. Is it iron? Oh, the actual piece would have been about the size of this room, so a small home. Wow. But that's amazing that that small rock – go back up to that again, please. Look at the size of that. That's not that big. No, that's what's left over. Most of it vaporized on the explosion as it came through the atmosphere. Right, but they're saying that that piece of it weighs a thousand pounds. Do they give the weight of it? Yeah. It says it weighs over a half ton. Yeah. Oh, a half ton, yeah, a thousand pounds. There you go. That's crazy that that rock is that fucking heavy. Yeah, so – Is it made out of iron? Yes. Well, I have to read that to know for sure, but I think it was an iron meteorite. I'll tell you something. What? I have a knife that was made out of a piece of meteorite. Oh, as do I. They're beautiful. Oh, yeah. It's a kitchen knife that I use. Oh, see, mine is like a crocodile Dundee knife. Ooh. Yeah. That's not a knife. That's a knife. That's a knife. But it's waiting. I want to make a – or get someone to make a handle for it. It's just the metal that would be – Oh, forged. It's a forged metal with the blade, but then you get a pearl handle attached to the base of – Oh. Pearl. Yeah. It's a handleless – it's an unadorned piece of metal that would become a – Right. A knife that would carry with you. But it's sharpened and – Oh, yeah. Completely sharpened. Oh, yeah. Where's the fucking handle? There is the metal – have you ever seen kitchen knives? Oh, they're all metal. The metal goes all the way down the center of the handle, and you screw wooden handles on the side. So you just need the wooden part. I just need the wood or the – if I'm patent, it would be pearl, you know. Yeah. Like a pearl-handed revolver? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Pearl pistol. Yeah. So, yeah, it's a part of history, and it's a reminder that if you want to think about the future of civilization, you have to include a defense plan against asteroids. Yeah. The dinosaurs – dinosaurs, I bet if they could, they would have had a space program to not go extinct. I wouldn't know shit. They didn't know anything. Now, is there anything that we're doing now other than occasionally looking up? Yeah, we're looking – we're monitoring and cataloging them. Yeah, but we don't really know what to do if something happens. Yeah, so the day would come – well, we know what to do. There's nothing funded. Their engineering conference is how would you deflect an asteroid? How would you destroy an asteroid? If we see one, it's a new way. If we see one – And it's coming 100 percent. It's going to hit. Yeah, just kiss your ass goodbye. That's it. We would have the power to tell you when you would die and what part of Earth it would hit. Yeah, so there's people that have very delusional ideas about what we can and can't do with asteroids, and that drives me crazy. Well, no, it's not – we know how to – But there's nothing in place. I've seen the engineering plans. They look very good, but there's nothing in place. Right. Project Sentinel, you can look it up, that has tasked themselves with organizing world governments to protect Earth from species-killing asteroids. And you need the world because you don't know in advance until it's discovered what part of Earth it's going to hit, and if it's going to hit in the Indian Ocean, and if the surrounding regions don't have a space program, are the countries that do have a space program going to sit idle? No. What you want to do is you want to have a fund, and every country pipes in a little bit of their GDP, and then – or whatever. You know, you measure it however you want it, whatever you think is fair. Do it the way the UN does it, okay? So there's a tax of the world relative to your wealth, and then that money pays to save the world when we find such an asteroid. Project Sentinel has thought this through. So if there was something that had ample time, there's a possibility that they could actually implement some of these plans. It's all about how much time you have, because what you want to do is go out and nudge it. Right. A little bit. A little bit. You just have to give it a sideways velocity relative to its path towards Earth. And if you do that early enough, the sideways velocity sort of accumulates. Right. Like a ship turning slightly over the ocean. Over the course of time, it'll deviate quite a bit. Correct. So that angle grows. I mean, it's the same angle, but it spreads out, and the ocean example is perfect. There's a perfect analogy. So if you do that early enough, you do it enough so that it misses Earth, and it's still out there to harm you in another day, but it won't render you extinct on that passage. How much time do we need today? If I would say we could probably get something built in 10 years. Oh, Jesus. Nailed a grass ticid. What did you just do? Ten years? I'm looking for a month. And that's... Oh, no. Oh, my gosh. So it's a year. If we have a year, we're fucked. The good thing about species killing asteroids is that they're large and visible. What about city killing ones? Them suckers slip through. Yeah, they'll slip through. Oh, yeah. Yeah, but most of Earth's surface is not city, so it'll probably hit the ocean or land. But, yeah, if it does, it would take out a city. Yeah, a whole city. Gone. Yeah. Yeah. There's a branch of government part of... I don't know if it survived the Trump changeover, but it's part of Homeland Security where it worries about devastation to a region where the grid is taken out as well. So you can't bring emergency services that bring either food, water, medicines, any other form of transportation or communication. How much thought is there to putting in a more robust grid? Yeah, what you would need is... That's a good point. So you need a grid that can sort of rewire itself rapidly to then bring power to a region. That's what you would need. And they're sort of doing that now, making a grid sort of lightning-proof, power surge-proof. I grew up in New York City where there were a couple of very famous blackouts, one in 1966, another in... when was it? 1978, I think. And it was like, whoa, how is this even allowed? You don't have a backup plan? You don't have a way to rewire this, to redirect the electricity? So, yeah, you'd need that and you'd want that. And I thought the new grid is supposed to have those kinds of protections built into it, but I don't know enough about it to comment. Yeah, what I'll take is one. One impact. Oh, yeah. One big one. Yeah. Takes out the grid. Takes out the grid. And then what? Do you have solar power at your place? We just put in solar panels. Yeah. You live in a city? We have a place in the country that we escaped to. Oh, yeah, that's a good move to have the escape spot. Yeah. Do you have a place in upstate New York? No, no, it's on Long Island. Yeah, I used to think of it as an escape because we thought of getting it after September 11th. Yeah. Got it in 03, 02, something like that. But now it's just a good place for me to refuel and do a lot of good writing there and this sort of thing. Look out for ticks. I know. Oh, my gosh. Long Island's overwhelmed with Lyme disease. They got a new tick apparently that prevents you from eating meat? I wonder if the vegetarians bred that. Well, I think it's called the Lone Star Tick. It prevents you from eating the meat of mammals. Yes. It makes you allergic to alpha galactose. Is that what it is? It's Alpha Gal, another great Radiolab podcast. Yeah, I think the vegans and the vegetarians. I think they did it. Yeah, I think they did it. Did you still eat fish? Yeah. Not eat a mammal. Just can't eat red meat. It's something in red meat. Yeah, so that's one of the challenges. Yeah. Those goddamn ticks. Yeah. They are everywhere. And we looked at it the other day because I have quite a few friends that have Lyme disease and it's something you do keep for life. And quite a few friends, like seven or eight, I think at this point, that have devastating Lyme disease. And it's all East Coast people. Yeah, they're making love in the brush. Like what are they doing? Just walking around, going for a hike, you know? Yeah, I'm a city person, so even though I moved to the country, I go for a hike on my deck. You don't go anywhere? No, no. Just sit back. Just look out. Yeah, I'm cool on the deck. But you're out there in this gorgeous country. Don't you want to go wander around a little bit? No, no. That's honestly not a thought. My wife is from Alaska. It has those thoughts all the time. But the power of ticks overwhelms her power of curiosity. Those are powerful people in Alaska. That's a different type of humor. They're bred differently up there. Oh, they're strong. Those people can survive. And they have a sense of unity up there. It's really interesting. That unity, I think, comes from the fact that they're all in the same risk factors together. And if you and I have the same things that can kill us, that makes us friends.