On Tuesday, January 18, 2022, a massive asteroid named asteroid 1994 PC1 flew by the Earth. It was one million miles away from us, and a similar distance as where the James Webb Space Telescope that NASA sent to space on Christmas Day is flying. This is the closest that asteroid 1994 PC1 has flown by Earth. It is also the closest that an asteroid had come near Earth since one came less than 700,000 miles from our planet on January 17, 1933. Asteroid 1994 PC1 is about 3,280 feet across or the size of the Eiffel Tower or twice the height of the New York Empire State Building. An asteroid like that is called a near-Earth object because it came 120.9 million miles from Earth. It is also large enough to have a devastating effect if it collides with the Earth. Thank goodness, Asteroid 1994 PC1 will not come this close to Earth again for another 200 years.
More than 822,000 known asteroids are flying all over our solar system. These leftover rocks and debris that broke off during the formation of our solar system some 4.6 billion years ago pose collision threats to our planet. In recent years, NASA and other scientific bodies have been studying and tracking large asteroids capable of destroying the Earth. They are also mapping out strategies to knock off an asteroid on Earth’s direct path. Nothing is off the table, including the possible use of a nuclear missile to smash such an approaching asteroid. Deploying a nuclear missile may appear like an overkill, but past asteroid collision with the Earth led to the dinosaur’s extinction.
We often forget that the Earth rotates around its axis at 1000 miles per hour or 1670 kilometers per hour. It orbits the sun at 61,000 miles per hour or 107,000 kilometers per hour. We don’t feel the Earth move at these speeds because these speeds are constant. It is the same way we do not feel a plane cruising at high altitude, even though it is moving at about 460 miles per hour. But should a large object like an asteroid, comet, or meteoroid hit the Earth moving at that speed, it could cause impactful events with the potential to transform life on Earth.
Sixty-six million years ago, a large 10-kilometer Chicxulub asteroid hit the Earth at the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The impact was so enormous that it caused megatsunami of over 100 meters tall, earthquakes of more than magnitude 12 across the globe, volcanic eruptions across the Earth and released energy estimated to be up to 921 billion times more powerful than the Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. It created wind of over 1000 miles per hour and numerous climate disruptions, including a decade of acid rain, the release of greenhouse gases, large temperature drops, dust that blocked sunrays for over ten years resulting in 75% of plants dying due to an inability to perform photosynthesis. Animal species on Earth also became extinct in greater numbers. Some estimates suggest over 75% went extinct. That was the era when non-avian dinosaurs became extinct.
The writers of the Bible were unaware that there once lived the dinosaurs. When in 1667, Robert Plot discovered the first fossil of a dinosaur, there was no name for it then. He called it a giant human. In 1824, William Buckland, the first professor of geology at Oxford University, came across the same fossil that Robert Plot had seen in 1667 and called it a Megalosaurus. More findings of such fossils continued. In 1842, Sir Richard Owen coined the name “Dinosauria” for the family of such fossils. “Dinosauria” means “terrible lizard.” It was from that that the name, dinosaur, was derived.
For the writers of the Bible, both the old and the new testaments, none of the dinosaur’s fossils had been discovered when they put their pen to paper and as such, they had no idea that such giant animals ever lived. The spirit that inspired them to write did not reveal that hidden truth either. And despite the claim in the Bible that God created man and all the animals on land on the sixth day, the dinosaurs were extinct about 65 million years before the evolution of the modern man, which happened some 160,000 years ago. So, even though Steven Spielberg in his movie, Jurassic Park, placed man in the same park with dinosaurs, man and the dinosaurs never inhabited the Earth at the same time.
The scientific fact is that dinosaurs dominated the world for 140 million years and became extinct some 65 million years ago. So even before Noah built his 510 feet long Ark, some 4,300 years ago, according to Biblical chronology, the dinosaurs had become extinct. As we know, some argue otherwise. They want to see the dinosaur in Noah’s Ark. There were 55 different kinds of dinosaurs, some of which, like the Dreadnoughtus, were as long as 85 feet and weighed about 65 tons. Imagine them in Noah’s 510 feet Ark with other animals, including those native to faraway lands like Australia or South Africa, miraculously transported and packed inside that small Ark that Noah built somewhere in present day’s Turkey. Because the believers of this fairy tale do not believe in evolution, it closes an opportunity for them to argue that Noah only gathered a male and female dinosaur, which then evolved into other kinds.
What scientists know to be true, through vigorous research based on empirical proof, is that an asteroid that smashed on Earth caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. These kinds of asteroids are still visiting the Earth. Chances are that another one will hit the Earth on a future date. And that may be when humans will become extinct – just like the dinosaur.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef”, “Children of a Retired God” among others.