Friday, September 23, 2011

23/09 VOX POPULI: Fear rays, not chunks of metal falling from the heavens

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.


The 23-year-old pro golfer Chie Arimura wowed the gallery in July with an albatross and a hole-in-one in the same round. In golf parlance, an albatross is a score of three under par on one hole.

Over the last decade, there have been five albatrosses and 150 hole-in-ones in women's professional golf.

Statistically, the probability of a professional golfer nailing both an albatross and a hole-in-one in the same round (18 holes) is said to be about one in 10 million rounds. Arimura, who beat these astronomical odds, said it was "almost scary."

I was reminded of her stellar feat by NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which could be falling out of the sky any moment now. The odds of its debris hitting someone are reportedly one in 3,200―far higher than the "almost scary" miracle worked by Arimura on the golf course.

The UARS was launched 20 years ago. It will burn up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, but NASA says 26 metal fragments, totaling 532 kilograms, could fall over an area 800 kilometers square somewhere between the latitudes of 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south.

That "somewhere" covers most of the world's populated countries. Narrowing down the area at risk will be difficult even immediately before the debris shower begins.

But there is no point in worrying and constantly looking up at the sky. The chance of you or I being unfortunate enough to get hit is said to be one in 21 trillion.

Among the UARS's achievements was confirming chlorofluorocarbons as the cause of the depletion of the ozone layer. Harmful ultraviolet rays, which are known to cause skin cancer, are falling on us through ozone holes over Antarctica and elsewhere. These are what we should watch out for when we gaze up at the sky during this autumn equinox weekend.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 23

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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