Dear God make it stop:
Creepy Cosmic Thought: A running mystery of cosmology is gamma-ray bursts, extremely strong energy blasts from deep space that cannot be explained by any known mechanism, including supernova explosions and neutron stars. Astronomers assume gamma-ray bursts must be natural in origin: TMQ [Old Gregg] asks, what if they are the muzzle flashes of horrific planet-killer weapons? Recently Louisiana State researchers using the Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter, a balloon-borne experiment drifting at the edge of the atmosphere above Antarctica, announced they had detected very strong gamma bursts coming not from deep space, but from about 3,000 light years distant — the general neighborhood of our galaxy. The researchers went on to speculate that since there are no known cosmic objects in our neighborhood of the galaxy capable of projecting strong gamma rays, perhaps they had witnessed interactions involving the hypothesized “dark matter.” TMQ’s reaction: Great, maybe there is an interstellar war going on just 3,000 light years away.
A few columns ago, I speculated that even if there is never any way to exceed or circumvent the light-speed barrier, relatively nearby planets might still fight by hurling nuclear bombs at each other at 99 percent of light speed — with existing technology, something moving that fast wouldn’t even be seen until nearly here. Let’s hope any world advanced enough to build near-light-speed stardrive will also have become wise enough to forswear war. But based on the only model we know, human society, technology and wisdom do not go hand in hand. Anyway, John Duezabou of Helena, Mont., adds this creepy postscript: “A bellicose or paranoid extra-solar civilization that could accelerate an object to 99 percent of light speed wouldn’t need to launch bombs at us. They could shoot anything with devastating results, because the kinetic energy of a moving object is half its mass multiplied by the square of its velocity, or KE = 1/2 mv2. Thus, one pound of anything — a pint of vanilla ice cream, for instance — accelerated to 99 percent of light speed has an energy of about 4.8 megatons, roughly the blast yield of the largest hydrogen bombs.” A moderate-sized object, say a small asteroid, if accelerated to 99 percent of light speed, could conceivably shatter the Earth.
According to SCIENCE!
Now, that a man who writes a sports column likes to fantasize about space wars and disaster movie plots is not news. That a widely-published man who is employed by the influential Brookings Institution as an expert on “Environmental policy; Global warming; Science; Space policy […]”, and who is regarded by his chummy peers as brilliantly “hyper-logical”, doesn’t have any sense of what that Einstein fellow was on about might be news; unless, of course, that man’s name is Gregg Easterbrook, in which case we’re just glad he isn’t writing about sports. Death from above can be a mercy.