Science Voice: Bringer of chaos
In ancient Egypt, Apophis was a mythological deity and the enemy of the sun god, Ra. The deity was sometimes referred to as the Great Serpent. The sun was thought to be like a flaming ship or barge that Ra rode across the sky every day. Ra represented life and light; Apophis represented darkness and chaos. Every night when Ra descended into the underworld he would have to battle with Apophis and win in order to rise again in the next day. Apophis and Ra died with the abandonment of those beliefs and the fall of the ancient Egyptian empire and culture. But Apophis has risen again in the form of an asteroid named by astronomers who are prone to search ancient mythologies for naming objects in the solar system.
The modern and very real Apophis is a peanut shaped asteroid about twelve hundred feet long and five hundred feet wide. It is made of silicates (ordinary rock), iron, and nickel and may be a fragment of a much larger body that was shattered in the early stages of the development of the solar system four and a half billion years ago. Since that time it has drifted harmlessly through space following its own stable orbit around the sun. But a few years ago scientists studying its orbit began to think there was a chance Apophis might impact the earth in the year 2029. What would happen if it did?
If Apophis struck the Earth, the resulting damage would not compare to the event that killed off the dinosaurs and seventy percent of all species on Earth sixty five million years ago, because that object was much bigger at five to ten miles in diameter. But the resulting impact of Apophis would be the equivalent of hundreds of atomic bombs going off at the same time in the same place. Who or whatever happened to be at ground zero would be instantly vaporized for a radius of a hundred miles or so. If it struck in the ocean which is most likely, the resulting tsunami could exceed a thousand feet in height destroying coastal cities. The dust and aerosols blasted up into the atmosphere would block sunlight and create years of continuous winter-like conditions rendering crop production impossible over much of the planet. More people would die because of starvation than any other factor. Something similar happened in about the year 536 AD when two massive volcanic eruptions occurred. These violent eruptions ejected so much debris into the atmosphere the sun shown through a continuous red haze, crops failed for years as temperatures plummeted, and, most notably, entire civilizations collapsed never to recover. In the modern world, a full exchange of atomic bombs could produce a similar result.
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