Prophets and soothsayers have been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years, with possible extinction-level events cited as super-volcanoes or earthquakes, giant solar flares, pollution, plague and pestilence, and the favourite of the 20th century, nuclear war. There is no doubt that planet Earth is currently under-going what Confucius would describe as ‘interesting times’, with all of these proposed threats simmering away ominously in the background as we continue our ordinary lives. One of the other threats which could end Life as we know it, and one which has been credited with extinguishing the dinosaurs millions of years ago, is if the Earth was to be struck by a sizeable asteroid, and it is this scenario which could occur in the not-too-distant future.
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We are currently living under very volatile skies. Less than one year after a 10,000 ton meteorite exploded above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in the Urals injuring 950 people, Russian scientists reveal that a nearby area of the country narrowly missed an impact from a 15 meter asteroid which skimmed past Earth last weekend. The asteroid, which was moving at 16km per second, passed within 11,300km of the Earth’s surface, an altitude which is below the orbit of geostationary satellites. It was discovered during its near miss by the Master Tunka station near Lake Baikal. The asteroid was not previously known.
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Besides ending life on planets through impacts, asteroidsmay also spread life throughout the universe. Although thislife is in the form of tiny bacteria which are only thebeginning of a long evolution to intelligent life, it doesmean that most life will be carbon-based, so if we ever domeet aliens we may recognize them. The planet(s) where lifeoriginated may have died long ago, but thanks to spacerocks, life still exists.

Maggie McKee writes in New Scientist that the nearby starsystem Tau Ceti, which astronomers think could have life onit, has 10 times more asteroids and comets than are in ourSolar System. They could have seeded life on these planetsbut they probably killed it off as well.
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It’s been discovered that the force of sunlight on an asteroid can change its orbit, which is one reason why asteroids change direction and head for Earth. What we don’t know is this: Will the increased solar activity on the sun right now have an increased effect on asteroids?

Eugenie Samuel Reich writes in New Scientist that astronomers have detected the influence of sunlight on asteroids for the first time, since it’s very subtle. However, it’s enough to coax them out of the Solar System’s asteroid belt and into an orbit that can impact Earth.
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