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No, A Huge Meteor Did Not Threaten A US Base With Destruction
On July 25th, a fireball graced the skies over icy Greenland near Thule Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force’s northernmost base and a key to its aerospace defense strategy. The meteor released 2.1 kilotons of energy over a installation designed to detect nuclear missile launches, which led to a predictable media freakout; Fox News posted a story about the incident beneath a picture of an explosion — definitely not this one — with a mushroom cloud spilling from Earth into space:
Seriously? Come *on*, dudes.Screenshot
But the freakout is wrong. Digging into the meteor incident demonstrates that it really isn’t that big of a deal. Here’s why.
First, “The energy that came in with this was very limited,” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told Task & Purpose.
The fireball above Thule, presumably a meteorite, exploded at an altitude of 43.3 kilometers — around 27 miles — and released the same energy as a very low-yield nuclear weapon. By comparison, when a falling asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013, yielding tons of viral videos, it released 440 kilotons of energy at an altitude of 23.3 kilometers — shattering windows for miles around the city.
A 440-kiloton event is relatively rare; a much smaller explosion like the one over Greenland, however is not uncommon. In fact, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory fireball tracker, there was a 2.8 kiloton fireball on June 21st that entered the atmosphere roughly 200 miles southeast of Moscow. A meteor like the one that scared the shit out of everyone in Chelybinsk in 2013 is only likely to make an appearance every 60 years or so, whereas a 2.1 kiloton fireball seems to pop up at least a few times per year.
Part of the reason that this even made news waves was the possibility of a fireball being misconstrued as a first strike by a nuclear nation. For obvious species-ending reasons, nuclear war is looked at as a negative thing. And a nuclear war started by a mistake would really make us look silly to future alien anthropologists trying to figure out why humans decided to end it all.
That possibility — of a false trigger for nuclear war — appears to have originated with Kristensen in an Aug. 1 tweet:
Kristensen noted that the meteor exploded right above the early warning radar at Thule Air Base, which is constantly on the watch for inbound nuclear missiles.
Speaking to Task & Purpose on Friday, Kristensen said he was not concerned that this particular meteor could have been mistaken for an ICBM, but if another such event took place during an international crisis, it has the potential of triggering a false alarm.
“We’re at peace,” he said. “We may have a tense political situation, but there is no imminent threat of an attack coming from any adversary. It’s not about the situation today. It’s about the situation that could happen with these early warning systems in a tense crisis. If you imagine an atmospheric incident such as this, or another one, it can affect the early warning systems.”
Some types of atmospheric events can look like a missile coming over the horizon, Kristensen said. For example, in September 1983, the Soviet Union’s early warning system mistook sunlight reflecting off clouds as missile launches from the United States. Only the cool thinking of Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov prevented nuclear war.
Map of Greenland with location of Thule Air Base shown.Dept. Of Defense
Luckily, the systems in place to identify a first strike are seeking out objects traveling half the speed of most near-earth objects — asteroids and whatnot — that enter the atmosphere. Also, the lack of a launch indication from satellites that monitor for ICBM launches would probably tick a few boxes on the “is it a nuke?” checklist.
Task & Purpose's Pentagon correspondent, Jeff Schogol, interrupted the U.S. Air Force PAO’s lunch hour on Friday to get its statement on the incident. 'There has been no impact to Thule AB," that statement read. "For further questions, you can reach out to NASA."
So calm down. The world isn’t ending just yet. And even if it does, a tinfoil hat will not protect you.
An adorable arctic fox keeps watch at Thule Air Base, Greenland, terrified of the meteor threat to his home country.Dept. Of Defense
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Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal officially endorsed Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) for president on July 18. A former Marine infantry officer who deployed to Iraq four times, Moulton joined McChrystal on MSNBC to discuss the endorsement, and whether he's bothered that he hasn't found a spot on the crowded Democratic debates so far.
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"The Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone which had closed into a very, very near distance – approximately 1,000 yards – ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship's crew," Trump said during a White House ceremony. "The drone was immediately destroyed."
"This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters," he continued. "The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities, our interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran's attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce. I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the Strait and to work with us in the future."
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AFC commander Gen. John Murray briefed reporters on Thursday alongside Bruce Jette, the Army's Assistant Secretary of Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, on the progress of the Army's modernization roadmap and what's coming down the pipe to help soldiers soldiers win the conflicts of the future.
But while that lawmakers skirted questions on the war in Afghanistan during former Secretary of the Army Mark Esper's confirmation hearing for defense secretary this week, AFC's top priority remains, first and foremost, the soldiers fighting in conflict zones right now.
The official trailer for Top Gun: Maverick is here, and if you were praying to God there would be another volleyball scene, you are in luck.
Slated to hit theaters in 2020, the sequel to 1986 classic features Tom Cruise back in the role of Maverick, only this time he's a Navy captain behind the stick of an F/A-18 Hornet.
The two-minute trailer features a number of throwbacks to the original Top Gun: There's Maverick pulling the cover off his motorcycle and driving down the flight line, a shirtless volleyballer (there was no way you would have escaped this), and a piano-playing scene with Great Balls of Fire, my man.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, the film also stars Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, and Ed Harris. The film hits theaters on June 26, 2020.
Watch the trailer below:
Top Gun: Maverick - Official Trailer (2020) - Paramount Pictures www.youtube.com