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Global Catastrophic Risks$
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Nick Bostrom, Milan M. Cirkovic, and Martin J. Rees

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780198570509

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198570509.001.0001

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Hazards from comets and asteroids

Hazards from comets and asteroids

(p.222) 11 Hazards from comets and asteroids
Global Catastrophic Risks

William Napier

Oxford University Press

The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea . . . The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers . . . a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark . . . and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss . . .. The Revelation of St John was probably written around 100 ad, but is part of a very much older ‘Star Wars’ literature, going back to the very earliest writings and probably based on pre-literate oral traditions. Common threads in these tales are often hot blast, hurricane winds, flattened forests, tsunami and cataclysmic floods, associated with blazing thunderbolts from the sky, a darkened sun, a great, red-tailed comet and what appears to be a meteor storm. Even without benefit of the twentieth century Tunguska impact, which destroyed 2000 square kilometres of Siberian forest in 1908, classical scholars have long regarded the stories as descriptions of a cosmic impact. Myth was a vehicle for transmitting astronomical and cosmological information through the generations, and it is surely a seductive proposition to see these tales of celestial catastrophe – which are found worldwide – as prehistoric descriptions of cosmic cataclysm, one-off or recurrent, local or global. Inevitably, this is a contentious area – only qualitative statements can be made, and one individual’s unifying hypothesis is another’s Velikovskian fantasy.

Keywords:   comets, impact craters, meteor showers, near-Earth object searches, zodiacal cloud

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