In early August, a faint white speck becomes barely visible in the night sky. With each passing day, it grows rapidly larger and brighter, approaching at several times the velocity of a rifle bullet. It is not a meteoric space rock, but a ball of cosmic dust and ice left over from the formation of the solar system billions of years ago—a comet. By mid-August, it lights up the sky almost like a second sun. While not especially large as comets go, it is getting much too close. It is, in fact, on a collision course with planet Earth.
The comet almost misses, but it comes so near that Earth’s gravity captures it and whips it back around the planet, over the North Atlantic, southern France and Italy. Soon after entering Earth’s atmosphere, the comet suddenly explodes over the Aegean Sea with the earthshaking roar of a thousand atomic bombs.
Astronomers have known for a long time that such an event is virtually inevitable, but it may be much closer than most people think. Exactly this scenario was envisioned for this year of 2004 by the famed French psychic Nostradamus. (See Comet of Nostradamus, Llewellyn 2000)
Here on Earth – a planet pock-marked by more than one hundred known impact craters – it is clear that bolides (large fireballs from space that impact Earth) are a constant threat. The last one hit less than a century ago. By some fluke of fortune, the 1908 Tunguska comet happened to strike an almost uninhabited forest region in Siberia. The missile flattened more than 1,000 square kilometers of timber with a blast that could be heard 500 miles away. According to one eyewitness who was too close for comfort: “The sky split apart and a great fire appeared. It became so hot that one couldn’t stand it. There was a deafening explosion and Semenov [a friend] was blown over the ground a distance of six meters. As the hot wind passed by, the ground and huts trembled.” (Gallant, Roy A., originally from Interdesciplinary Independent Expeditions of the Tomsk Branch of the Russian Society of Astronomical-Geodedic Society. See http://www.galisteo.com/tunguska/docs/splitsky.html for more information.)
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