Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We'll All Drink Blood After the Impact.

Why survivors of asteroid impacts may end up looking and living more like Edward Cullen.

Posted By Ari Morgenthau

Our latest contributor, Mr. Ari Morgenthau asks us if we've ever thought about adopting the lifestyle of a vampire, and why it could one day happen anyway.

Along with the large number of Halloween specials that have been on TV this week there was a fair number of Halloween parties with lovely people dressing up in a sorts of lovely costumes. So how many people dressed up as a vampire? I know of at least five. As we all know from the ever present Twilight series, or for those of us who are too old for that book and would prefer our vampires don’t sparkle, Dracula; vampires can’t live in direct sun light, they’re nocturnal so to speak. This leaves me with a puzzling scientific question: Are we likely to ever adapt the vampiric life style and become nocturnal?

As many of you already know the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world will come in 2012, as we wait for the inevitable to arrive, just what kind of event might cause a global apocalypse? To shed some light on these questions we look to research preformed by Elizabeth Pierazzo and her research team from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Pierazzo used computer modeling to characterize the effect of our most likely demise; an asteroid hitting the earth. That would most likely put an end to life on earth as we know it.

So here’s the bad news:

Currently the earth is surrounded by in excess of 1000 asteroids or Near Earth Objects (NEO) the large majority of which have a diameter of 1 kilometer or greater. Now with the earth being 70% water you may feel safe that the asteroid wouldn’t hit your home town, and you would be absolutely right, it’s likely to hit the open ocean. This is in actuality even worse news, aside from the tsunami (let’s all go surfing since it will be our last day in the sun) caused by the asteroid impact on the ocean, the research suggests that it’s going to trigger the release of a variety of chemicals that will slowly eat away our ozone faster than Al Gore could have ever predicted. Some of you may recall learning about the ozone hole over Antarctica during the 1990s. Imagine for a second a much larger hole localized to the northern hemisphere. Pierazzo’s model shows that for an asteroid with a 0.5 kilometer minimum diameter, and as the diameter gets closer to 1Km, the ozone hole will grow to encompass the entire planet’s atmosphere.

As you may recall the ozone layer protects us from harmful UV rays. SO what’s the deal with these rays aside from giving you a great tan? UV Rays in high concentrations, as would occur with a minimal ozone protective layer, may not cause everything to burst into flames but it could certainly cause an increase in observed genetic mutations, burnt skin, and the killing of plants and livestock in certain area. Not to mention increased incidences of cancer. Of course, without a functioning ozone layer the temperature may also fluctuate drastically.

To adapt to the constant UV radiation and painfully different lifestyle caused by a missing ozone layer, human society could take one of two approaches. One, Live in the select few areas not affected as severely, such as Canada (in the future, everyone will be a Canadian…or an Antarctican). Or alternatively, come out only when the sun is down, so as to not get the brunt of the sun’s rays; not unlike, a vampire.

Pierazzo E, et al. (2010). Ozone perturbation from medium-sized asteroid impact in the ocean. Earth and Planetary Science Letters; 229: 263-272.

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