Last week, planet Earth said hello to two separate extraterrestrial objects: an asteroid that was the closest near-miss asteroid fly-by on record, and a meteor that exploded over the Ural Mountains in Russia. NASA officials have stated that the fly-by of the asteroid (a small rocky object that orbits the sun) and the explosion of the meteor (an asteroid that enters the earth's atmosphere, appearing as a streak of light) were two completely unrelated events as they were on two different trajectories. With two unrelated events happening so close together, it makes one wonder what would happen if an asteroid did impact the Earth.
Just in case you're sitting around waiting for the end of the world with nothing to do, why not pick up one of these science fiction stories involving planetary destruction by celestial bodies and see what might be in store?
- The central idea of Larry Niven's 1973's novel Protector is that humans evolved from the juvenile stage of an alien species know as the Pak, a species whose adult members are compelled to act as protectors for the younger ones. In Protector, which is only a small part of Niven's vast Known Space future history, an asteroid is used as part of a diabolical plan of genocide on the planet Mars...all for the purpose of making a safe, new home for Pak descendants.
- Closer to home is the impending planetary destruction of Earth itself in Lucifer's Hammer, a 1977 novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. The first half of the novel plays out like a smart disaster film, following multiple characters as they deal with the impending collision of an asteroid. Despite finding out that the asteroid is actually a gaseous comet, the destruction is no less severe and the second half of the novel shows what life might be like for survivors of the apocalypse.
- Earth has to deal with a whole swarm of asteroids and meteors in Gregory Benford's and William Rotsler's 1980 sf disaster novel, Shiva Descending. A mass of celestial objects 50,000 miles across heads toward Earth, unavoidably causing anarchy and untold damage through countless strikes with the planet's surface. But even that’s not the worst of it, because inside that mass of comets is a huge, 30 billion-ton comet that signals the end of all life on Earth.
- Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (who apparently both love asteroids) teamed up again in 1985 for Footfall, a story about the earthly arrival of hostile, elephant-like aliens. During their attack on Earth, the aliens throw asteroids at the planet to cause massive amounts of devastation and present humans a simple choice: surrender or be destroyed.
- In Moonfall by Jack McDevitt (1998), the danger is not from a rocky asteroid but from a comet composed of ice and gas. That spells bad news for the recently completed American Moonbase. Even more alarming: If the comet hits the moon, the resulting chunks of moon debris could impact the Earth, causing an extinction-level event.
- Science Fiction Grand Master Arthur C. Clarke also wrote an asteroid-themed story. 1993's The Hammer of God takes place in the year 2110, when technology has solved most of mankind's troubles. But not all of them: A massive, species-threatening asteroid is discovered by an amateur astronomer on Mars. The best attempt to thwart the asteroid, named Kali, is to launch a space mission to use nuclear weapons to divert the asteroid's path enough so that it completely misses the Earth. But the mission itself is the target of extremists who welcome Kali as a sign from God.
- Speaking of Science Fiction Grand Masters, Jack Williamson's 2001 novel Terraforming Earth (2001), starts its generations-long story with a meteor crashing into the Earth, nearly exterminating all human life. However, a small group of survivors manages to leave the planet and establish a base on the Moon. Their descendants watch the once-livable planet from above in the hopes that one day it will become livable again.
Those books should keep you up to date on what might happen if something large were to strike the Earth's surface. If, rather than reading, you are more in the mood for a film, then check out these two scientifically laughable but nonetheless fun ones from 1998: Deep Impact, a disaster film involving a comet headed to earth (which is said to be very loosely based on Arthur C. Clarke's The Hammer of God); and Armageddon (1998), a SciFi film that prefigures Twitter-level attention spans with the rapid-fire story of civilian oil riggers tasked with drilling an asteroid to blow it apart to avoid the end of the world.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels and the sound of soda fizz.