Biblical destruction from above

 Maybe it's a bit of a curious fascination, but I find it interesting all the different ways we could face disaster. When I gave a general preparedness class one of my opening bits was a list of some of the human and natural disasters that can create an emergency situation.

Then I jumped from the local and regional disasters to civilization-ending.

This article popped up in my news feed A giant space rock demolished an ancient Middle Eastern city and everyone in it – possibly inspiring the Biblical story of Sodom and it's republished from The Conversation.

Here's the theorized description of how that Middle Eastern city met its end:

"As the inhabitants of an ancient Middle Eastern city now called Tall el-Hammam went about their daily business one day about 3,600 years ago, they had no idea an unseen icy space rock was speeding toward them at about 38,000 mph (61,000 kph).

"Flashing through the atmosphere, the rock exploded in a massive fireball about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) above the ground. The blast was around 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The shocked city dwellers who stared at it were blinded instantly. Air temperatures rapidly rose above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius). Clothing and wood immediately burst into flames. Swords, spears, mudbricks and pottery began to melt. Almost immediately, the entire city was on fire.

"Some seconds later, a massive shockwave smashed into the city. Moving at about 740 mph (1,200 kph), it was more powerful than the worst tornado ever recorded. The deadly winds ripped through the city, demolishing every building. They sheared off the top 40 feet (12 m) of the 4-story palace and blew the jumbled debris into the next valley. None of the 8,000 people or any animals within the city survived – their bodies were torn apart and their bones blasted into small fragments."

For some context, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had an energy equivalent of about a 6.2 magnitude earthquake. The world's largest nuclear test, by the USSR, was about the same energy release as a magnitude 8 quake. If you read about the Moment Magnitude Scale then you might remember that jumping two full magnitudes, such as from a 6 to 8, is about 1000 times more energy. 

Based on that, the meteor that exploded above this ancient city was on par with the destructive power of the largest nuclear test.

And for those who remember the Mount St Helens eruption in 1980...that volcanic eruption released the equivalent energy as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which had a magnitude of about 7.9 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of XI. In other words, it was less energy than the largest nuclear test (which would've been about 32 times greater than the volcanic eruption).

When the ancient city was discovered, archeologists "could see a dark, roughly 5-foot-thick (1.5 m) jumbled layer of charcoal, ash, melted mudbricks and melted pottery." For years they couldn't really identify what may have caused that destruction layer. With volcanoes, earthquakes, and warfare ruled out the blame shifted to small meteor.

In 1908 a small asteroid exploded above Tunguska, Russia, flattening 80 million trees.

The article is interesting as it gives credence to the destruction of Sodom and Gomora. It also mentions another interesting point:

 "One remaining puzzle is why the city and over 100 other area settlements were abandoned for several centuries after this devastation. It may be that high levels of salt deposited during the impact event made it impossible to grow crops. We’re not certain yet, but we think the explosion may have vaporized or splashed toxic levels of Dead Sea salt water across the valley. Without crops, no one could live in the valley for up to 600 years, until the minimal rainfall in this desert-like climate washed the salt out of the fields."

Anyway, "as of September 2021, there are more than 26,000 known near-Earth asteroids and a hundred short-period near-Earth comets" circling through our solar system. Odds are Earth hasn't seen it's last impact, especially since there are possible millions more asteroids that aren't detected.

Meteor in the sky


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