Scientists aren’t just worrying about the asteroid that’s scheduled to impact the Earth in February of 2060?they’re also worried about asteroids starting a third World War. Even small asteroids that never hit Earth can be mistaken for nuclear blasts by nations that don’t have the kind of sophisticated equipment that can tell the difference. This almost happened on June 6th, when U.S. early warning satellites detected a flash over the Mediterranean that indicated an energy release comparable to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Simon Worden says the flash occurred when an asteroid approximately 10 yards in diameter slammed into Earth’s atmosphere, producing a shock wave. Little notice was taken of the event at the time, but if it taken place over India and Pakistan, the outcome might have been deadly. “To our knowledge, neither of those nations have the sophisticated sensors that can determine the difference between a natural NEO (Near Earth Object, such as an asteroid) and a nuclear detonation,” Worden says. “The resulting panic in the nuclear-armed and hair-triggered opposing forces could have been the spark that ignited a nuclear horror we have avoided for over half a century.”

NASA has been working since 1998 to identify 90% of all large near-Earth objects with a diameter of .6 miles or more. NASA?s Ed Weiler says they?ve identified 619 of the suspected big, dangerous asteroids, about half the number they think are out there.This kind of large asteroid hits Earth a few times every million years, and can cause regional damage. A doomsday asteroid more than 3 miles across, like the one believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs, hits only once every 10 million years or so.

The one that caused the flash over the Mediterranean in June was about the size of a car, and didn?t actually impact the Earth. Asteroids like this explode in the atmosphere twice a month. If they?re between 100 feet and hundreds of yards in diameter, they can cause serious damage, such as a powerful shock wave on land or a tsunami if it hits an ocean. It can cause even more damage if somebody thinks it?s a bomb.

Worden says the U.S. is the only country that can determine whether an incoming object is an asteroid or a bomb in less than a minute.

Strange things go on in wartime. Cheryl Hersha tells the fascinating story of how she and her sister were used as human weapons by our government in ?Secret Weapons,?click here.

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