Impact events: when were they first seen as potentially catastrophic?

In summary, the understanding of major Earth impact events as potentially catastrophic was first raised in the early to mid-20th century, with notable events such as the impact theory of Meteor Crater in 1903 and the Tunguska event in 1908. However, it wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s with the study of nuclear cratering and the publication of books like Bombarded Earth and Giant Meteorites that the idea gained more traction. In the mid-1960s, there were even discussions around designing a system to intercept potential impactors. However, there were also some pseudoscientific theories, like Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky, which were debunked by scientists.
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TL;DR Summary
When did someone first realize that Earth impact events could be potential catastrophes?
(This is a history of science question, so please let me know if it's not appropriate to this forum.)

When did someone first realize that major Earth impact events (asteroids, etc.) could potentially be catastrophic?

To be clear, I don't mean in the purely theoretical sense (the likely given that a whopping big object hitting the Earth at a high speed would cause big problems, at least locally) but rather in the practical sense, the understanding that there was a real possibility that such a catastrophe could happen in the future or had happened in the past. (For context, I know a bit about the history of the debates over catastrophism in the sciences, just not when this particular issue was first raised as a practical possibility.)
 
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Disregarding use of the term 'first' in the thread title, contemporary physicist Luis Walter Alvarez correctly identified certain residues in Earth soils as indicators of impact events correlated with past widespread extinctions.
 
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I would guess somewhere between 1903 (when the impact theory of Meteor Crater was proposed) and the 1964 book Bombarded Earth by Gallant. Some people discount this book because it has good and bad stuff. I would bet on the 1950’s with the study of nuclear cratering. If I have some time, I’ll look into it further.

Edits which have been later edited:
1) There is also Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky (1950). I have never looked at it, but my understanding is that it is pseudoscience.
2) Tunguska happened in 1908. The first serious studies started in the 1920's
3) In 1916 Opik showed that a high speed meteorite would produce an “explosive” crater.
4) In 1932, Karl Reinmuth discovers 1862 Apollo, a 1.5 km Earth crossing asteroid.
5) Baldwin (1948) writes The Face of the Moon making the argument for impact origin of lunar craters.
6) The 1966 book Giant Meteorites by Krinov lists 12 authentic craters and 11 suspected craters on Earth plus Tunguska and the 1947 Sikhote-Aline meteor shower from which 23 tons of material have been recovered. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhote-Alin_meteorite
7) Ideas were floating around by the mid 1960's as evidenced by the 1967 MIT Project Icarus design project to design an interceptor to prevent the impact of an asteroid https://www.wired.com/2012/03/mit-saves-the-world-project-icarus-1967/
8) Mass Extinction Debates edited by Glen quotes
a) De Maupertuis (1742) "comets have occasionally struck the Earth, causing extinction by altering the atmosphere and oceans"
b) Laplace (1797) "a meteorite of great size striking the Earth would produce a cataclysm that would wipe out entire species and destroy .. all the monuments of human history"
9) Mass Extinction Debates edited by Glen lists the following refs which might be of interest.
a) McLaren (1970) "Time, Life and Boundaries" J.Paleontology
b) Urey (1973) "Cometary Collisions and Geological Periods" Nature
c) De Laubenfels (1956) "Dinosaur Extinction: One More Hypothesis" J.Paleontology
d) Opik (1958) "On the catastrophic effects of collisions with celestial bodies" Irish Astronomical J.
e) Oro (1963) "Studies in experimental organic cosmochemistry" NY Acad. Sci. Annals
 
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Thank you both for the replies so far! I'm familiar with the Chicxulub event and the work around it, but every bit of context helps, and a lot of the earlier 20th century stuff is a good place for me to start.
 
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caz said:
1) There is also Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky (1950). I have never looked at it, but my understanding is that it is pseodoscience.
It's nowhere near THAT reliable. It's junk.
 
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phinds said:
It's nowhere near THAT reliable. It's junk.
What possessed you to read it? I’m a book person with an entire shelf on planetary cratering, but after reading the descriptions I never bothered to find a copy.
 
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caz said:
What possessed you to read it? I’m a book person with an entire shelf on planetary cratering but after reading the descriptions I never bothered to find a copy.
We read it in college in the 60's as an example of the very worst of the plethora of pseudo science books that came out during that period. The prof used it as the basis for discussions of research and critical thinking. Pretty much everything in it is clearly deliberate misrepresentations, outright lies, gross exaggerations and so forth.

All reputable bookstores, with anything like a knowledgeable staff, keep it in the sci-fic section.
 
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phinds said:
It's nowhere near THAT reliable. It's junk.
I read Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky as an adult fairy tale. Spotting the errors, incomplete analysis and false conclusions was good for teaching critical thinking and analysis.
 
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Baluncore said:
I read Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky as an adult fairy tale. Spotting the errors, incomplete analysis and false conclusions was good for teaching critical thinking and analysis.
Velikovsky and Albert Einstein were good friends.
 
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Hornbein said:
Velikovsky and Albert Einstein were good friends.
Yeah, and Henry Kissenger invested heavily in Bernie Madoff's Ponzie Scheme. Bright people can be conned.
 
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  • #11
Baluncore said:
I read Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky as an adult fairy tale. Spotting the errors, incomplete analysis and false conclusions was good for teaching critical thinking and analysis.
Velikovsky and Albert Einstein were good friends.
phinds said:
Yeah, and Henry Kissenger invested heavily in Bernie Madoff's Ponzie Scheme. Bright people can be conned.
I doubt Albert was conned. More likely he enjoyed V's company.
 
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Hornbein said:
I doubt Albert was conned. More likely he enjoyed V's company.
Yes. Good con men are usually quite charming.
 
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caz said:
I would guess somewhere between 1903 (when the impact theory of Meteor Crater was proposed) and the 1964 book Bombarded Earth by Gallant. Some people discount this book because it has good and bad stuff. I would bet on the 1950’s with the study of nuclear cratering. If I have some time, I’ll look into it further.

Edits which have been later edited:
1) There is also Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky (1950). I have never looked at it, but my understanding is that it is pseudoscience.
2) Tunguska happened in 1908. The first serious studies started in the 1920's
3) In 1916 Opik showed that a high speed meteorite would produce an “explosive” crater.
4) In 1932, Karl Reinmuth discovers 1862 Apollo, a 1.5 km Earth crossing asteroid.
5) The 1966 book Giant Meteorites by Krinov lists 12 authentic craters and 11 suspected craters on Earth plus Tunguska and the 1947 Sikhote-Aline meteor shower from which 23 tons of material have been recovered. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhote-Alin_meteorite
6) Ideas were floating around by the mid 1960's as evidenced by the 1967 MIT Project Icarus design project to design an interceptor to prevent the impact of an asteroid https://www.wired.com/2012/03/mit-saves-the-world-project-icarus-1967/
7) Mass Extinction Debates edited by Glen quotes
a) De Maupertuis (1742) "comets have occasionally struck the Earth, causing extinction by altering the atmosphere and oceans"
b) Laplace (1797) "a meteorite of great size striking the Earth would produce a cataclysm that would wipe out entire species and destroy .. all the monuments of human history"
8) Mass Extinction Debates edited by Glen lists the following refs which might be of interest.
a) McLaren (1970) "Time, Life and Boundaries" J.Paleontology
b) Urey (1973) "Cometary Collisions and Geological Periods" Nature
c) De Laubenfels (1956) "Dinosaur Extinction: One More Hypothesis" J.Paleontology
d) Opik (1958) "On the catastrophic effects of collisions with celestial bodies" Irish Astronomical J.
e) Oro (1963) "Studies in experimental organic cosmochemistry" NY Acad. Sci. Annals
That's quite a comprehensive list. Allow me to add a more recent evaluation.

Nice story about what evidence scientists research with respect to meteor or meteroite impacts on the Earth's surface.
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/sodom-asteroid
Original - https://theconversation.com/a-giant...-inspiring-the-biblical-story-of-sodom-167678
As the inhabitants of an ancient Middle Eastern city now called Tall el-Hammam went about their daily business one day about 3,600 years ago, they had no idea an unseen icy space rock was speeding toward them at about 38,000 mph (61,000 kph). Flashing through the atmosphere, the rock exploded in a massive fireball about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) above the ground. The blast was around 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The shocked city dwellers who stared at it were blinded instantly. Air temperatures rapidly rose above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius). Clothing and wood immediately burst into flames. Swords, spears, mudbricks, and pottery began to melt. Almost immediately, the entire city was on fire.

Some seconds later, a massive shockwave smashed into the city. Moving at about 740 mph (1,200 kph), it was more powerful than the worst tornado ever recorded. The deadly winds ripped through the city, demolishing every building. They sheared off the top 40 feet (12 m) of the four-story palace and blew the jumbled debris into the next valley. None of the 8,000 people or any animals within the city survived—their bodies were torn apart and their bones blasted into small fragments. About a minute later, 14 miles (22 km) to the west of Tall el-Hammam, winds from the blast hit the biblical city of Jericho. Jericho’s walls came tumbling down and the city burned to the ground.

A group of archaeologists, geologists, geochemists, geomorphologists, mineralogists, paleobotanists, sedimentologists, cosmic-impact experts, and medical doctors have published their investigation.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97778-3
 
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Astronuc said:
Please be aware that the evidence presented in this Nature article is questionable. Skeptical Inquirer recently published an analysis by Mark Boslough entitled "Sodom Meteor Strike Claims Should Be Taken with a Pillar of Salt" with the tagline:

"A controversial, widely publicized paper claiming that a cosmic impact destroyed a biblical city has had key images photoshopped and rotated to fit the biblical hypothesis."

https://skepticalinquirer.org/2021/...claims-should-be-taken-with-a-pillar-of-salt/
 
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renormalize said:
Please be aware that the evidence presented in this Nature article is questionable.
It does read much like Velikovsky by commitee.
 
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renormalize said:
Please be aware that the evidence presented in this Nature article is questionable. Skeptical Inquirer recently published an analysis by Mark Boslough entitled "Sodom Meteor Strike Claims Should Be Taken with a Pillar of Salt" with the tagline:
Thanks for the warning.

One allegation:
The team’s established scientists are so wedded to the theory they have opted to ignore the fact their colleague “Allen West” isn’t exactly who he says he is. West is Allen Whitt—who, in 2002, was fined by California and convicted for masquerading as a state-licensed geologist when he charged small-town officials fat fees for water studies. (Dalton 2011)
 
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I'm interested in the methods and methodology for determining 'evidence' or the 'signature' of certain physical phenomena, and what the means with respect to temperatures and pressures that would indicate a meteor or comet event in the atmosphere or impact on Earth's surface. Certainly, a large impact crater is strong evidence, or deposits of metal elements not found in a broader geological area, e.g., the Sudbury Basin (Canada), which apparently "formed as a result of an impact into the Nuna supercontinent from a bolide approximately 10–15 km (6.2–9.3 mi) in diameter that occurred 1.849 billion years ago."

Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbury_Basin#Formation

With respect to methods and signatures/evidence: 'Fingerprinting' minerals to better understand how they are affected by meteorite collisions
https://phys.org/news/2022-02-fingerprinting-minerals-affected-meteorite-collisions.html
When a space rock survives the turbulent passage through Earth's atmosphere and strikes the surface, it generates shockwaves that can compress and transform minerals in the planet's crust. Since these changes depend on the pressure produced upon impact, experts can use features in Earth's minerals to learn about the meteorite's life story, from the moment of collision all the way back to the conditions from which the celestial bodies originate.
 
  • #19
Asteroids more than 460 feet across make up about a third of the near-Earth asteroids scientists have spotted to date; all told, scientists have spotted 28,266 near-Earth asteroids as of Monday (Feb. 14), according to NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Many of those rocks are so small that if they collided with Earth, they would harmlessly burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

Scientists are actually most worried about the threat of asteroids between 460 feet and 3,300 feet (1,000 m) across. Although larger space rocks could catastrophic damage, planetary defense experts are confident they have identified nearly every such asteroid that comes into Earth's neighborhood, which NASA defines as approaching within 120 million miles (195 million kilometers) of the sun.
https://www.space.com/planetary-defense-10000th-medium-near-earth-asteroid

To date, scientists believe they have discovered about 40% of near-Earth asteroids larger than 460 feet but smaller than 3,300 feet. Congress has asked NASA to work toward detecting 90% of these space rocks.

Two key projects will help the agency tackle that goal. One is the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, which is due to begin observations in the summer of 2023. The other is a NASA space telescope called the Near-Earth Object Surveyor, which will detect asteroids in infrared light to help scientists spot darker rocks. NASA hopes to launch the mission in 2026.
 
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Astronuc said:
I'm interested in the methods and methodology for determining 'evidence' or the 'signature' of certain physical phenomena, and what the means with respect to temperatures and pressures that would indicate a meteor or comet event in the atmosphere or impact on Earth's surface.
This seems to be a very good beginning, Chicxulub impact consequences abstract.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s43017-022-00283-y
 
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1. When were impact events first recognized as potentially catastrophic?

The idea that impact events could have catastrophic consequences has been around for centuries. However, it wasn't until the 1980s that the scientific community began to seriously consider the idea. This was largely due to the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater in Mexico, which was linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

2. How do scientists determine the potential impact of an impact event?

Scientists use a variety of methods to assess the potential impact of an impact event. This includes studying the size, speed, and trajectory of the object, as well as the location of impact and the geological makeup of the area. Computer simulations and mathematical models are also used to estimate the potential consequences of an impact.

3. What are the potential consequences of a large impact event?

The consequences of a large impact event can vary greatly depending on the size and location of the impact. Some potential consequences include massive destruction of land and infrastructure, tsunamis, wildfires, and the release of gases and particles into the atmosphere that can lead to global cooling and other environmental changes. In extreme cases, an impact event could even cause mass extinction events.

4. How can we prepare for potential impact events?

While the likelihood of a catastrophic impact event is relatively low, it is still important for scientists and governments to be prepared. This includes continued monitoring and tracking of near-Earth objects, developing early warning systems, and creating emergency plans for potential impact scenarios. Some scientists also advocate for developing technologies to deflect or mitigate the effects of an impact event.

5. Are impact events a common occurrence?

While impact events do occur, they are relatively rare events. Large impacts are estimated to occur on Earth once every 100,000 years or so. However, smaller impacts, such as the one that occurred in Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, are more common and can happen once every few decades. It is important for scientists to continue studying and monitoring impact events to better understand their frequency and potential consequences.

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