One of the things I find fascinating about the Tunguska and Chelyabinsk impacts is that in one case it took decades of scientific research and multiple theories to settle on what probably caused it, while in the other we have video footage and the actual meteorite.

But there were eyewitnesses to Tunguska despite its remoteness, and somehow I’d never read their reports before.

As for the debate about what caused the Tunguska event: it was clearly something from space, but no one has ever found an impact crater or an actual meteorite, just damaged forest. Plus the scientific expeditions weren’t carried out until years later. Current consensus is that it was a meteor, but it exploded in the air before impact, causing the visible fireball across the sky, intense heat, shock waves, atmospheric disturbances and so on but no crater.

Remember the opening from the 1980s Flash Gordon, where the villain has a dashboard with buttons labeled with various disasters? He used it like a sound effects board: Press the Earthquake button and it would trigger an earthquake. Press the Hurricane button and trigger a hurricane. Press the freaking Hot Hail button and it would trigger a fiery hailstorm. (seriously).

I kinda feel like “Murder Hornets” is another button on that patch board.

For what it’s worth, the Smithsonian has a more…measured take on them: No, Americans Do Not Need to Panic About ‘Murder Hornets’

The Asian giant hornet, seen for the first time in North America in 2019, is unlikely to murder you or U.S. bees, according to Smithsonian entomologist

The practice of recycling old news articles still throws me off at times. For instance: here are two recent LA Times articles using big disasters as springboards to talk about possible giant earthquake scenarios in California. They start out talking about the Houston flooding from Harvey and yesterday’s quake in Mexico, then segue into Los Angeles disaster planning. By the end, they’ve segued into the same text. I was reading today’s and thinking, “I just read this, recently.” A ten-second search turned up the older article.

It’s not plagiarism. It’s the same reporter at the same newspaper. It’s basically the equivalent of stock footage, and it’s hardly the only example. It’s probably not even a new practice, just a lot easier to find now that everything’s online and searchable.

I’m thinking of a word. The definition is “a feeling of shock, sadness, compassion and sometimes guilty relief in response to a disaster that happens somewhere else.” It’s not “horror,” “rage,” pity,” or “sympathy.” It could be German in origin. It’s what a good chunk of the world felt after last year’s tsunami, and it’s what a goodly number of Americans are feeling now about Hurricane Katrina.

And it doesn’t exist.

People are good at making up words. The variety of creations added to the OED each year, and the number of suggestions that are rejected, prove that beyond a doubt. We even make up words without meaning to, running together utterances like “bighuge” and “goaheadand.” We have a word—emo—for “loud, emotionally charged pop-punk music.” Some of us know the word schadenfreude and aren’t afraid to use it. If we can encapsulate stuff like this, we should be able to pick a word or two to define the enhanced survivors’ guilt and horrific fascination, laced with uncharacteristic compassion, gripping so many of us.

So far, we haven’t.

Disasters happen all the time, and always have. We’re just getting better at broadcasting them all. Before the age of telegraph and radio, it was often too late to send rescue-type aid by the time bad news arrived. Today, we can get the news in an instant, but the majority of us are simply unable to give the kind of aid—airlifts, rebuilding, law and order—we perceive as most meaningful. We are isolated by distance and circumstance, so we send money, and watch, and hope. The more we are able to watch, the more we need a word for what’s making us watch. So everybody who’s working on the projects for how to write “whole nother” and finding the modern negative of “used to,” you have a new assignment. Due date: next disaster.