I have enjoyed many of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts over the years. And while I was listening to an All Songs Considered show, it was mentioned that there have been over 200 shows (I believe it is now over 300). And I realized that I had missed dozens of good ones. So, being the kind of person I am, I decided to start watching/listening to them all. I don’t typically watch most of them as they’re usually not very visually interesting–they’re fun to watch for a minute or so, but most of the artists are there to sing, not to do visual entertainment. So usually I just listen while doing something else.
I toyed with the idea of writing about one a day until I was done. But the logistics of that made my head hurt. So instead, I will write about them all over the course of however long it takes. (And since they don’t post one every day, I will catch up eventually).
Laura Gibson had the first ever Tiny Desk show, and there’s some notable things about the show itself. First, look how empty Bob’s shelves are! And the camera work is a little wonky, I think. I also enjoy how they introduce this performance without a clue as to whether there would be more of them!
I had never heard of Laura Gibson before listening to this. She plays simple but beautiful guitar (I enjoyed watching how confidently she played the chords and individual strings). But the big selling point is her voice. Her voice is very quiet (this was the impetus for the Tiny Desk concept–they saw her in a club and the crowd was too loud for them to enjoy her so they invited her up to their office). But her voice is also slightly peculiar (in a very engaging way), which you can especially hear on “A Good Word, An Honest Man,” where she is practically a capella.
She sings four songs: “Hands in Pockets,” “A Good Word, An Honest Man,” “Come by Storm,” “Night Watch.” The sing-along at the end of the last song is really pretty–shame the audience wasn’t mic’d. All four songs are beautiful and slightly haunting–her delivery is so spare you kind of lean in to hear more. She currently has three albums out, and I’d like to investigate her music further.
[READ: October 31, 2013] “A Comet’s Tale”
Despite the fact that this article talks about and more or less guarantees the end of the world by asteroid or comet it was incredibly enjoyable and staggeringly informative.
Bissell begins by talking about the Biblical Apocalypse and how in 1862 Premillennial Dispensationalism (premillennialism is the belief that Christ will return before setting up his millennial kingdom and dispensationalism divides up the Bible and human history into various eras or dispensations, based on how God deals with humanity) was smuggled into the Americas and it has never left. Fully 59% of Americans now believe that Revelations will come to pass (although what that could possibly literally mean is another question). [Incidentally the book is not called Revelations, it is Revelation or more specifically Revelation to John. And all of that numerology (666) must mean something right? Well, yes, it means that the Ancient world was obsessed with numerology. The bible makes great use of the trick of predicting the future by describing the past.
Bissell pulls back from the bible to look at planet Earth “the most ambitious mass murderer in the galaxy.” He then lists all the atrocities that have happened from natural causes to all species in the history of the planet. But even recent tragedies (which seem to only happen to people in far off countries says the westerner) are only by happenstance happening there. Between overpopulation and global warming we are preparing for our own apocalypse. Although we also mustn’t look too crazy like in The Late Great Planet Earth (which still sells around 10,00 copies a year). In that book Hal Lindsey predicted the end of the world but also the rise of a single world religion, a Soviet Ethiopian invasion of Israel and the obliteration of Tokyo, London and New York. But astonishingly, Lindsey also worked for the Reagan administration, much like Tim LeHaye (famed “author” of the Left Behind series) was co-chairman of Jack Kemp’s 1988 presidential campaign. Apocalyptos have way too much power in this country.
But even if we weren’t preparing for our own doom, there would still be space items to do it for us. Like 1950DA an asteroid that has near-missed the earth fifteen times and may just not miss us in the future.
Biseell goes to NASA to speak with astrophysicists and scientists and learns a lot about heavenly bodies. He is amusingly shocked to see how primitive the equipment they use there is. He wrote (in 2003) “our technology gets no closer to the touch-screen sleekness of cinematic futurism” well, Mr Bissell, the future is now. And mostly he is here to see about the chances of an asteroid hitting earth. It turns out that if 1950DA does impact earth it will be in March of 2880 in the North Atlantic.
Then Bissell talks about the history of asteroidal impacts. The first asteroid, Ceres, was discovered in 1801. By 1900, astronomers has located 460 more. In the last 100 years, 150,000 have been discovered.
Bissell goes into very specific scientific terms about different classes and sizes of asteroids. The asteroid belt lies between Mars and Jupiter. There are S-type which are in the inner half of the asteroid belt and are largely stone and silicate. C-types are mostly in the outer half and are full of complex organic compounds. P and D-type are farthest away and are still quite mysterious. The belt’s nearest asteroids are M-types. Bissell says that one of the scientists had a piece from an M-type. It was the size of a compact disc but unreasonably heavy. The scientist says that the smallest known M-type which has a 500 meter radius would contain $1 trillion worth of nickel, $800 billion worth of iron and $700 billion of platinum. However, it would be counterproductively expensive to tow it back to earth and would collapse the markets for those materials.
Near Earth Asteroids are classified in different sizes. Anything smaller than 100 meters is pretty much undetectable. But even a 90 meter sized impact would generate 30 megatons of explosive energy. Anything over 100 meters would obviously be worse and they believe that there are about 20,000 Near Earth Asteroids that could destroy a country the size of Czech Republic. There are roughly 1,000 NEAs largely than 1 kilometer. Anything over 1 kilometer large is considered a “civilization ender” (these are thought to strike once every 800,000 years. 40 meter objects (with an impact of 10 megatons) impact earth once every 1,000 years. Astronomers search for these asteroids and keep track of them and try to avoid the “giggle factor”–a half suppressed hysteria that arises from an emotional inability to deal with the truth.
Then he talks about the Tunguska asteroid (1n 1908). A sixty yard meteorite detonated 4 and a half miles above the surface of the earth. 700 square miles of Russian forest were incinerated. And yet only two people died because the area was unpopulated. No one even bothered to investigate the area until 1927. But even as recent as the 1950s, large body impacts were not believed to be dangerous to Earth. It wasn’t until 1970 that a paleontologist suggested that the extinction of the dinosaurs (the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction) was caused by an extraterrestrial impact.
By the 1980s only 4% thought that the crater was the cause of the dinosaur extinction. It was the exploration of the crater in the Yucatan (called Chicxulub) in the early 1990s that pretty well confirmed the theory. The crater had been found in 1978 but few people believed the discoverer.
But while all of this history is interesting, Bissell isn’t done scaring the hell out of us. The final section of the article talks about comets. Comets are made up of ice and carbon-bearing rock. They travel at 26 miles a second, with a tail of dust and gas crystals that can stretch to 60 million miles. Pieces of a destroyed comet, the Shoemakler-Levy were predicted to impact Jupiter in 1994. Astronomers were bummed because the pieces would impact the dark side of the planet and they wouldn’t get to see what happened. But what happened was that pieces of the comet blew thousand kilometer high fireballs into Jupiter’s atmosphere which was visible through telescopes on Earth. When Fragment G collided, the flash was so bright that Earth’s infrared scanners were momentarily fried and the resulting crater was larger than the Earth. The energy release was equivalent to a Hiroshima-sized nuclear bomb exploding every second for thirteen years.
Yet another scientist speculates that comets and asteroids may have introduced the essential particles to jump-start evolution—amino acids and nitrogen along with cosmic radiation. So maybe all of humanity is really an alien life form.
A final theory is that mass extinction is good for the planet—perpetual evolution of a species is not good for the species or the planet. And a mass extinction allows the planet to start over.
So what can we do about it? Many people (and movies) have proposed solutions.
- Land a rocket booster on the asteroid and try to steer it away.
- Putting solar panels on an incoming asteroid altering the trajectory by the sun.
- Painting them black so solar absorption would change the path.
- Or, the most common theory nuclear weapons. But nuclear missiles would be useless—the asteroids are traveling too fast and would only absorb the blow. You could use nuclear weapons to try to alter the trajectory of the asteroid by having them explode in front of the asteroid—but imagine the fallout. Or what happened if the explosion turned one huge asteroid into several smaller but still enormous asteroids?
All in all, there’s not much we can do. But it’s still a pretty enjoyable article.