The Asteroid Threat by William E. Burrows (book review).

I think the title, ‘The Asteroid Threat’, sums up exactly what William E. Burrows book is all about. The emphasis in the opening chapter about the near miss at Chelyabinsk and people turning their town into a global attraction tends to belie the danger meteorites can pose. A Russian town seeing commercial possibilities sounds practically American. Whether that was a reaction to a near miss you’ll have to decide but more luck that it hadn’t landed on their heads. As illustrations of crater size elsewhere in this book, things could be tragic.


Is it any wonder that there are various Spaceguard organisations around the world monitoring the many meteors and asteroids in our local space. The next step is preventing any coming down to Earth. Looking at the list of major strikes we’ve had in the past does tend to make me think gravity has brought up the major fragments down already. However, gravity is the great eroder, drawing smaller matter ever closer. Fortunately, most small particles burn up in the atmosphere but, something Burrows hasn’t mentioned, when you combine that to the man-made objects in orbit, we might be compromising our planet more and certainly the people manning the International Space Station have to adjust their orbit from time to time to avoid small objects.

I wish Burrows had put in a size comparison chart of the biggest meteorite crashes on Earth. The biggest was the Vredefort ring in South Africa being over 190km in diameter. Seeing some of the photos of the craters is a sharp reminder of the danger. As Burrows points out, although the threat might occasionally seem remote, it only takes one to cause devastation.

Having a chapter devoted to SF stories and films about meteorites crashing to Earth did seem like a bit of padding. Arthur Clarke was prominently indicated but much of it comes under Hollywood disaster films and their inaccuracies. I mean, blowing up a meteor or asteroid (can we call them meteoroids yet?) isn’t necessarily going to stop the remains still heading to Earth and hitting a wider area if it doesn’t burn up in the atmosphere. I suppose nudging them out of the way doesn’t look so glamorous film-wise. However, I tend to agree with Burrows that these films’ simplistic solutions needs to be resolved by having a few films showing the right way to stopping them crashing.

I was still puzzled why Burrows spent so much time over the space programme but it is brought into context as to who from it was involved in the Spaceguard program to keep an eye on what’s above us. If anything, those of you who read this book should be assured that the right people are treating this sort of thing with the seriousness needed. I think the Chelyabinsk crash proved this, although you would be left wondering why no one spotted it coming down earlier.

Although I doubt this book will give you nightmares, the assessment that governments are treating meteorites as serious potential hazards should be reassuring and for that message alone makes this book an interesting read.

GF Willmetts

June 2014

(pub: Prometheus Books. 259 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: $19.95 (US), $ 21.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-61614-913-0. Ebook: Price: $11.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-914-7)

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