Monday, March 31, 2008

Sodom And Gomorrah And Asteroids?

Genesis Chapter 19:
24 - Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire, from the LORD out of the heavens.
25 And He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.
26 But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
27 And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD.
28 And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the lands of the plain, and saw, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.
29 And when God destroyed the cities of the plain, it happened that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.

A new twist on an ancient Assyrian clay tablet may give credence to the biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorroh - by an asteroid. From Fox News:

A clay tablet that has baffled scientists for 150 years has been identified as a witness's account of the asteroid suspected of being behind the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Researchers who cracked the cuneiform symbols on the Planisphere tablet believe that it recorded an asteroid thought to have been more than half a mile across.

The tablet, found by Henry Layard in the remains of the library in the royal place at Nineveh in the mid-19th century, is thought to be a 700 B.C. copy of notes made by a Sumerian astronomer watching the night sky.

He referred to the asteroid as a "white stone bowl approaching" and recorded it as it "vigorously swept along."

Some terminology: an asteroid is basically a small planet that is in orbit around the Sun. It can be anywhere from over 700 km to about a kilometer or two in diameter. A meteroid is cosmic debris, smaller than an asteriod, that becomes a meteor when it hits the Earth's atmosphere.

So it was a big honking asteroid and not a meteor that struck Austria 8700 years ago. That someone made notes regarding this event is not surprising. That the record survived is amazing.

How much of our modern culture could survive 8,700 years without massive restorative efforts? Many of our buildings do not last a hundred years. Our books, newspapers, CD's, DVD's, microfiche, photos - everything not carved in stone, written on scrolls in humidity free storage with acid free ink or cast in some kind of rust resistant metal will be gone.

If you can, examine an old cemetary (there's one not far from my house) where Revolutionary War vets are buried - some of the tombstones are getting hard to read after less than 270 years. Now consider ten, twenty or even thirty times that period of time - I wonder what will still be legible of our passing?

Using computers to recreate the night sky thousands of years ago, scientists have pinpointed his sighting to shortly before dawn on June 29 in the year 3123 B.C.

About half the symbols on the tablet have survived and half of those refer to the asteroid. The other symbols record the positions of clouds and constellations. In the past 150 years scientists have made five unsuccessful attempts to translate the tablet.

There is a truly extraordinary (and inexpensive - around $12) DVD available that explains in great detail the computer generated calculations that enable astronomers to reproduce ancient skies and even ascertain with absolute certainty dates reconstructured by stellar observations. It is extraordinary how carefully the ancients documented the movement of stars, planets and constellations.

The DVD shows how the Bethlehem Star (Gospel of Matthew Chapter 2)was an actual cosmic phenomena that was observed by many people. The actual date that the Star appeared above Bethlehem is based on Johannes Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion. The Laws are still used today with few moderations. It is amazing how accurate they can be. (Yeah, I know I didn't provide the date... buy the DVD, I promise you it's worth it).

Mark Hempsell, one of the researchers from Bristol University who cracked the tablet's code, said: "It's a wonderful piece of observation, an absolutely perfect piece of science."

He said the size and route of the asteroid meant that it was likely to have crashed into the Austrian Alps at Köfels. As it traveled close to the ground it would have left a trail of destruction from supersonic shock waves and then slammed into the Earth with a cataclysmic impact.

Debris consisting of up to two-thirds of the asteroid would have been hurled back along its route and a flash reaching temperatures of 400 Centigrade (752 Fahrenheit) would have been created, killing anyone in its path.

About one million sq kilometers (386,000 sq miles) would have been devastated and the impact would have been equivalent to more than 1,000 tons of TNT exploding.

It's a moot point whether or not these two cities were destroyed by an asteroid or something else. There is evidence that indicates that there were twin cities located at the southern end of the Dead Sea and that they were destroyed long ago. The historian Josephus wrote about the ruins of these cities which were observable in the first century AD.

Our knowledge of previous generations is based on the written records provided by contemporaries of that time. How reliable are they? For this reason it is reasssuring to have external (and neutral) verification that such events may have actually occured. But there is no doubt that something did happen at Köfels, Austria, about 8700 years ago.

Dr Hempsall said that at least 20 ancient myths record devastation of the type and on the scale of the asteroid's impact, including the Old Testament tale of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the ancient Greek myth of how Phaeton, son of Helios, fell into the River Eridanus after losing control of his father's sun chariot.

The findings of Dr. Hempsall and Alan Bond, of Reaction Engines Ltd., are published in a book, "A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels Impact Event."

The researchers say that the asteroid's impact would explain why at Köfels there is evidence of an ancient landslide 3 miles wide and a quarter of a mile thick.

The book described above is available at for $25. I just ordered a copy.

A UK publication The Register also has some information on the clay tablet and the Köfels Impact Event:

[...] Alan Bond, Managing Director of Reaction Engines Ltd and Mark Hempsell, Senior Lecturer in Astronautics at Bristol University, subjected the Planisphere to a programme which "can simulate trajectories and reconstruct the night sky thousands of years ago". They discovered that it described "events in the sky before dawn on the 29 June 3123 BC", with half of it noting "planet positions and cloud cover, the same as any other night".

The other half, however, records an object "large enough for its shape to be noted even though it is still in space" and tracks its trajectory relative to the stars, which "to an error better than one degree is consistent with an impact at Köfels".

That a large body had impacted at Köfels had long been suspected, the evidence being a giant landslide 500m thick and five kilometres in diameter. The site had no impact crater to back the theory, but the researchers now believe they have a plausible explanation for that.

The Bristol Uni press release explains: "The observation suggests the asteroid is over a kilometre in diameter and the original orbit about the Sun was an Aten type, a class of asteroid that orbit close to the earth, that is resonant with the Earth’s orbit. This trajectory explains why there is no crater at Köfels.

Somehow screaming "Incoming!" at the top of your lungs does not begin to describe what this must have been like. The distance from the south end of the Dead Sea to Köfels is about 1,500 miles. How do you document something like this occuring during a time when there was only rudimentary communications? How would we document something like this with no radio, television, newspapers, cameras, telegraphs and *shudder* without the internet?

I saw something similar to this but on a much, much smaller scale on April 25, 1966. I was almost 17 years old. My brother and I were practicing with a drum and bugle corps in Smithown, NY. Actually we were using the football field at the nearby Hauppauge High School. There was an incredible light in the sky, a meteor, more like a brilliant smear. I remember it as being greenish in color.

The event made all the newspapers and we talked about it for weeks. You never forget something like that because it scared the crap out of us. Literally. For a while we had no idea what the hell it was - I thought it could be the end of the world, it was that spectacular. It lit up the sky for a second or three like a flare from hell.

"The in coming angle was very low (six degrees) and means the asteroid clipped a mountain called Gamskogel above the town of Längenfeld, 11 kilometres from Köfels, and this caused the asteroid to explode before it reached its final impact point.

"As it travelled down the valley it became a fireball, around five kilometres in diameter (the size of the landslide). When it hit Köfels it created enormous pressures that pulverised the rock and caused the landslide but because it was no longer a solid object it did not create a classic impact crater.

"Mark Hempsell, hinting at the possible fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, adds: “Another conclusion can be made from the trajectory. The back plume from the explosion (the mushroom cloud) would be bent over the Mediterranean Sea re-entering the atmosphere over the Levant, Sinai, and Northern Egypt.

“The ground heating though very short would be enough to ignite any flammable material - including human hair and clothes. It is probable more people died under the plume than in the Alps due to the impact blast.“ While the biblical fate of the legendary dens of vice (“Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah - from the Lord out of the heavens” - Genesis 19:24) sits nicely with the asteroid theory, it's never been categorically proven that they actually existed in their suspected location close to the Dead Sea.

Other sites having links to this clay tablet are here.

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