Asteroid Explosion Almost Caused a Nuclear War in 2002?

Today I thought “I know, instead of staying home to do work today, I’ll go into the lab, thereby forcing myself to be productive.” Well that didn’t work. But, during the height of my procrastination, while reading about Pluto and learning about the Kuiper belt, I decided to look up the asteroid belt and then learned about near Earth objects and some historical collisions.

Here’s wikipedia’s list:

The general acceptance of the Alvarez hypothesis, explaining the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event as the result of a large object impact event, raised the awareness of the possibility of future Earth impacts with other objects that cross the Earth’s orbit.

1908 Tunguska Event

It is now commonly believed that on 30 June 1908 a stony asteroidexploded over Tunguska with the energy of the explosion of 10 megatons of TNT. The explosion occurred at a height of 8.5 kilometers. The object that caused the explosion has been estimated to have had a diameter of 45–70 meters.

2002 Eastern Mediterranean event

On June 6, 2002 an object with an estimated diameter of 10 meters collided with Earth. The collision occurred over the Mediterranean Sea, between Greece and Libya, at approximately 34°N 21°E and the object exploded in mid-air. The energy released was estimated (from infrasound measurements) to be equivalent to 26 kilotons of TNT, comparable to a small nuclear weapon.

2008 Sudan event

On 6 October 2008, scientists calculated that a small Near-Earth asteroid 2008 TC3 just sighted that night should impact the Earth on 7 October over Sudan, at 0246 UTC, 5:46 local time. The asteroid arrived as predicted. This is the first time that an asteroid impact on Earth has been accurately predicted. However, no reports of the actual impact have so far been published since it occurred in a very sparsely populated area. A systematic search for fragments found a total of 600 fragments, with a mass of 10.5 kilograms. The object is confirmed to have entered Earth’s atmosphere as a meteor above northern Sudan at a velocity of 12.8 kilometres per second (29,000 mph).

That 2002 impact interested me, since it says the asteroid fucking exploded over the sea with the equivalent of a 26 kilotons of TNT, or, a small nuclear bomb. For reference, “Little Boy”, the nuke used on Hiroshima, was 13-18 kilotons, while “Fat Man”, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, was 21 kiltons (TNT).

On the wiki article for the Eastern Mediterranean, there’s this fun little factoid:

The event occurred during the 2001–2002 India–Pakistan standoff, and there were concerns by General Simon Worden that a similar explosion could have sparked a nuclear war between the two countries, had the timing been different, which would have devastated both regions, causing deaths numbering over 10 million.

Being an ignorant fool, I didn’t know about this 2001-2002 India-Pakistan standoff. The standoff came about due to an attack on the Indian Parliament. Turns out this event was significant due to fears that there was the potential for nuclear strike from either end (both countries having successfully detonated nuclear bombs in 1998).

That same article has a source, that links to, of an article by Staff Sgt. A.J. Boskerfor (Air Force Print News Washington – Sep 17, 2002). He wrote:

Coincidentally, U.S. early warning satellites detected an explosion in the Earth’s atmosphere June 6, at the height of the tension, with an energy release estimated to be 12 kilotons.

Fortunately the detonation, equivalent to the blast that destroyed Hiroshima, occurred over the Mediterranean Sea.

However, if it had occurred at the same latitude a few hours earlier, the result on human affairs might have been much worse, said Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden, U.S. Space Command’s deputy director for operations at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

Had the bright flash, accompanied by a damaging shock wave, occurred over India or Pakistan, the resulting panic could have sparked a nuclear war, Worden recently told members of the congressionally mandated Commission on the Future of the U. S. Aerospace Industry in testimony here.

(for those who are autistic about numbers, you’ll notice that that article says the explosion was 12 kilotons, while the wiki article, which sources some Nature article I’m too lazy to find, gives the number I listed before (26))

Although this General may be using hyperbole, I still find the idea fascinating. And, as some of you unlucky readers may know, I tried to write a novel that involved two nuclear explosions, and I guess I could have tied in asteroids to that story. Maybe one day I’ll return to that poor, poor failed novel.


About dontdontoperate

28 year old originally from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. H.B.Sc. from UofT with a major in chemistry and a double minor in philosophy and math. M.Sc. from UofT in physiology and neuroscience. Finished my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at McMaster in the fall of 2013.
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4 Responses to Asteroid Explosion Almost Caused a Nuclear War in 2002?

  1. mikes says:

    “Maybe one day I’ll return to that poor, poor failed novel.”
    uh oh…

  2. ...tom... says:

    At least the blog is still alive and . . .’well’.

    Found this post while ‘googling’ stuff from a History Channel show.

    By the way . . .how goes the novel..?? …:minism:…


    • dontdontoperate says:

      Yeah, it’s Alive-ish. I wish I spent more time on it. I should definitely put up something big for that big ride I did…
      Man, I haven’t looked at that novel since I wrote it…which is two years back now? I should possibly write again sometime, but maybe start fresh. Thanks for the comment. Nice to know people are reading some of the things I write.

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