NASA's announcement yesterday that it would suspend its AsteroidWatch program's asteroid strike Twitter alerts due to the government shutdown could not have come at a worse time. Last month saw an alarming increase in meteor fireball reports and asteroid near misses. According to predictions by astronomers these events will only increase over the coming years as we enter a dense field of debris, the remnants of an ancient comet that broke apart thousands of years ago.
As reported yesterday in the article "Asteroid near miss an ominous sign for the future?" September saw the highest number of eyewitness reports of meteor fireballs (exceptionally bright and long lasting shooting stars) since the American Meteor Society began keeping records. While most shooting stars are the result of a meteor no larger than a grain of sand, fireballs are produced by meteors the size of a baseball or larger. The most dangerous are even larger capable of producing airbursts like the meteor fireball that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk earlier this year or the one that exploded over Tunguska, Siberia in 1908 that flattened over 80 million trees.
Last weekend was an unusually busy one with multiple meteor fireballs being reported across the U.S. Russian scientists even reported a near miss by an asteroid on Friday night. This asteroid flew below the geostationary satellites in orbit around the earth. Worse still, scientists have now lost track of the asteroid.
As noted in yesterday's report, such an increase in these type events for our time period was actually predicted back in 1984 by British astrophysicist Victor Clube and astronomer Bill Napier. They discovered evidence that a huge comet broke apart thousands of years ago and Earth repeatedly passes through this debris every few thousand years. Physicist Richard Firestone summarized their conclusions in his book The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes:
"Clube and Napier...calculated that, because of subtle changes in the orbits of Earth and the remaining cosmic debris, Earth crosses through the densest part of the giant comet clouds about every 2,000 to 4,000 years. When we look at climate and ice-core records, we can see that pattern....Clube and Napier predicted that, in the year 2000 and continuing for 400 years, Earth would enter another dangerous time in which the planet’s changing orbit would bring us into a potential collision course with the densest parts of the clouds containing some very large debris."
Stranger still, Mayan astronomers appeared to have been aware of this cycle as well. According to the book Mayan Calendar Prophecies: Predictions for 2012-2052 the Maya, despite all the sensationalist news accounts otherwise, did not believe anything catastrophic would occur on their calendar's supposed end date. Instead, this calendar was engineered to track these meteor impact cycles and alert them to when the next cycle would begin: December 21, 2012. Considering the Chelyabinsk meteor airburst that occurred less than two months after this "end date" and the incredible increase of meteor fireballs and asteroid near misses over the past year, it appears the Mayan astronomers pinpointed the time period for this increased threat from the skies even more accurately than Clube and Napier.
Whatever the truth may be it is certainly not helpful for NASA to be suspending its AsteroidWatch alerts at this time.