Tag Archives: Oceanography

Blue Whales and Asteroids

25 Mar

An unlikely combination I appreciate, but nonetheless the title sums up the story line of IMPACT POINT Kindle Thriller. So, how can whales and rocks from space be connected?

Well for one, both blue whales and asteroids and comets are pretty rare, but unlike asteroids and comets, blue whales are unlikely to harm you, unless of course your name is Moby Dick. OK, so it wasn’t a blue whale that got him, but you know what I mean! On the other hand, if a large asteroid or comet strikes the Earth, we would all be vaporized, much like the dinosaurs were 65 million years ago.

First of all, some facts. The blue whale is the largest creature that has lived, yes, even bigger than any dinosaur that ever existed. There are estimated to be only around 5-12,000 blue whales left in the world’s oceans, down from around 200,000 – 250,000 back at the start of the Twentieth Century, before man hunted them to virtual extinction. Thankfully their numbers are now increasing, but they still face numerous threats from shipping, global warming, increasing levels of ocean noise and being attacked by its natural predator, the orca whale.

In IMPACT POINT, Robert Spire’s adventure is kick started after a blue whale beaches itself in front of him on his local stretch of Welsh coastline. A second whale is discovered in South Carolina in the USA. What is the connection? It transpires that both whales have ingested the mineral olivine, to discover why, you’ll have to read the book otherwise i’ll give away too many spoilers!  Suffice to say, Spire is helped in his task by marine biologist Dr Sally Rivea; her name is actually an anagram for Dr Sylvia Earle – American oceanographer and author of many a book on the world’s oceans and its lifeforms.

What about the space rocks? My fascination began long ago, when I first read about the massive comet that wiped out the dinosaurs. That comet is thought to have been 10 kilometers  wide and left an impact crater – the Chicxulub crater – 180 km in diameter and 10 km deep in the Yucatan Peninsular of Mexico, which just happens to be the ancient home of the Mayans, who just happen to foretell the end of the world in December 2012, but that’s another story…

Back to space rocks. First some facts.

Asteroids, leftovers from the formation of our solar system generally reside in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and there are millions of them.

Near Earth asteroids have orbits that take them close to the Earth. NASA has found 19,500 objects between 100 meters and 1000 meters in size to date. There are 981 over 1000 meters in size, with an estimated 70 objects over 1000 meters still undetected. In November 2011, an aircraft-sized asteroid 2005 YU55 passed by Earth at only 201,700 miles away, closer than the Moon!

The next closest approach that we know about will be Apophis, when on Friday, April 13th – yes, that’s the genuine date – it will pass by at only around 18,300 miles away, a very close shave. Needless to say, NASA are keeping a close eye on it!

Meteoroids are generally classified as space rocks less than 10 meters across – these are the shooting stars that people often spot streaking across the night sky.

Comets are icy bodies with nuclei – ranging from hundreds of meters to tens of kilometers across – comprised of ice, dust and rock. Just over 4000 are known about. The comet or asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was about 10 kilometers across.

Centaurs are objects that display characteristics of both comets and asteroids. They have unstable orbits that cross one or more of the giant planets. It is estimated there are about 44,000 of them with diameters over 1 kilometer.

Pholus, one such Centaur is thought to be partly composed of olivine.

So, if the above facts don’t scare you a little, try IMPACT POINT. Your thoughts when looking up at the night sky will never be the same again!