Lileks: What animal do you associate with asteroids?

I have a lot of questions about this story from the Daily Mail: “Asteroid half the size of a giraffe strikes Earth off the coast of Iceland – just two hours after it was discovered by astronomers.”

Someone’s mind saw the words “asteroid” and “Iceland” and immediately went to giraffe.

Half a giraffe. That’s not as helpful as you might first think. I apologize for the imagery here, but it’s necessary. If you start cutting between the eyes of a giraffe …

No, I can’t do it. I see the warm brown eyes of the giraffe, beseeching me to stay my hand. So let us imagine a 1:1 scale giraffe made of marzipan. You begin cutting between the eyes, which have been glazed with sugar to give them a lifelike sheen, and …

What? No, I guess the sugar-glaze isn’t necessary. But some marzipan artists take pride in their ability to re-create things, so I thought I’d mention that. Any more objections before I go on? OK, you in the back. What’s your problem? You have a marzipan sensitivity? Well, you’re not eating it, it’s just a way of describing the giraffe bisection problem. But if you wish, we can say the giraffe is made out of Play-Doh.

There. I have imagined a Play-Doh Giraffe. But it can’t be cut, because it’s too soft, so let’s meet back here in six hours.

(time pass)

All right, let’s split this ungulate. I start by sawing very, very carefully between the eyes …

And the neck snapped. I forgot how fragile dried Play-Doh can be. See what happens when we forget the relative pliability of marzipan meteor-diameter symbols?

Anyway, if you cut the giraffe at the bottom of the neck, which is one half, you have somewhere between 8.2 and 9.85 feet, since the average height of a giraffe — male, fully grown — is 16.4 to 19.7 feet. That assumes the neck is one-half of the giraffe, and for the purposes of this discussion, we will include the transitional portion of the giraffe’s torso, where the body turns into the neck.

But if you start cutting between the ears, lengthwise, you have two halves, both equal in height.

This probably wasn’t the intention, so we’re left with a meteor that was 0.5 giraffes in diameter. So, has this always been the standard of measurement? Did we used to describe early space rocks in terms of “horses on stilts”? I don’t recall.

Another recent story said the earth was struck elsewhere by an asteroid the size of a grand piano, and I know what you’re thinking: Was the piano made of marzipan? Probably not; the keys would just mush down when you play a fortissimo arpeggio. Although a marzipan harpsichord sounds like something good for playing Mozart. Also, I think Marzipan Harpsichord was a 1960s psychedelic band. Fortissimo Arpeggio was the lead singer.

Anyway, the point is that I’m not sure a piano is a good measure, but it’s better than portions of giraffe, and it makes you think the asteroid would make a nice loud chord when it hit. Whether it would be a tonic chord, something bright and major key, or that jangly sound from a cartoon where a piano fell on someone’s head, I don’t know.

I do know that there’s entirely too much talk about asteroids in general, and it makes me wonder if they’re getting us ready for something. Like a lot of asteroids. We won’t be worried, because we will think of giraffes or pianos. They’ll say they found one that’s 4.9 elephants across, and we won’t panic because it sounds like a circus. Wake me when we’re talking something with the width of 146 elephants screaming our way.

Consider the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs: That thing was huge. How many T. rexes was it? A lot. Makes you wonder if the asteroid’s mass was greater than the total mass of dinosaurs. Perhaps it was about even. If so, it makes a good science lesson: All that mass in one object, striking at high velocity, had a catastrophic effect, but if all the dinosaurs in the world had jumped up at the same time, it would’ve had no effect any. To say nothing of the difficulty of coordinating such a thing, what with everyone’s busy schedules and time-zone differences.

I never understood why newspapers find it so difficult to write about science for a mass audience. Seems pretty easy to me.

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