Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them before They Find Us

By Donald K. Yeomans | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Before the relatively recent discovery of a great population of asteroids in the Earth's neighborhood, a work on the asteroids and comets that make up the so-called near-Earth objects would have been more of a pamphlet rather than a book of this size.

The show-off comets, with their enormous gas and dust tails, have been recorded for millennia. They were feared as mysterious apparitions presaging disasters by the ancient Greeks and Chinese and as fireballs thrown at a sinful Earth from the right hand of an avenging God during the church-oriented Middle Ages. In late 1694, Edmond Halley, who first correctly predicted the return of the comet that bears his name, speculated, [comet impacts may have formed the vast depression of the Caspian sea and other great lakes in the world.] In 1822, the British poet Lord Byron imagined a time when men would have to defend Earth from these celestial miscreants.

Who knows whether, when a comet shall approach this globe to
destroy it, as it often has been and will be destroyed, men will not
tear rocks from their foundations by means of steam, and hurl
mountains, as the giants are said to have done, against the flam-
ing mass?—and then we shall have traditions of Titans again, and
of wars with Heaven.1

Although the show-off comets in the inner solar system are impressive, it is the far more numerous asteroids in the Earth's neighborhood that should have been feared as they represent the most frequent threats to Earth. However, the threats from these near-Earth asteroids have

1 Lord Byron in E. J. Lovell, Jr., ed., Medwin's [Conversations of Lord Byron] (Princeton: Prince-ton University Press, 1966), 188.

-xi-

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