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Doomsday, Whenever: Massive Asteroid Impacts Happen Randomly

9 Mar 2017, 00:15 UTC
Doomsday, Whenever: Massive Asteroid Impacts Happen Randomly
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We always seem to be “overdue” a devastating asteroid strike, but how can we be overdue if asteroids don’t have an impact schedule?
Don Davis/NASA
Humans are naturally tuned to seek out patterns in seemingly random events. It’s an evolutionary trait that has helped us become the smart Homo sapiens we are today.
This ability to spot patterns and predict cyclical events continues to dominate our everyday lives. Geologists chart seismic activity in hopes of seeing a tell-tail earthquake signal before the “big one” happens. Farmers track seasonal cycles in an attempt to predict periods of drought. Wall Street traders use complex numerical models to warn of the next financial crisis (or, indeed, profit from the downturn). And astronomers try to find patterns in cosmic occurrences that could pose an existential threat to our way of life.
We are, of course, talking asteroid impacts — cataclysmic events that have shaped all of the planets in our solar system. Although Earth’s atmosphere is very good at eroding away ancient impact craters, evidence for asteroid impacts in the geological history of our planet is very common. Frankly, it’s perfectly natural to be hit by large asteroids and comets; that’s how planets accrete ...

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