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Asteroid Day raises awareness over threat from space

Paul Sutherland, Feature writer
Jun 30, 2015, 15:13 UTC

Sen—Today is Asteroid Day, with more than 50 public events being held around the world to highlight the threat faced of a potentially devastating impact from outer space.

The day was chosen because it is the anniversary of the biggest such occurrence of recent times—the Tunguska Event of 1908—when an object exploded over a remote and sparsely populated region of Siberia with the force of up to 15 million tons of TNT, flattening trees for around 2,000 sq km (850 sq miles). Had it happened just a few hours earlier over a densely populated part of the world, it could have caused huge loss of life. 

Two major events are being held in London and San Francisco. In London, the film 51° North will be shown, which with the help of leading experts, describes the very real danger faced from an incoming asteroid. There will be a Q&A session with the director Grigorij Richters, and astrophysicist Dr Brian May, of Queen, who is a leading figure in the Asteroid Day campaign.

A day-long event is being held in San Francisco, focused on ways to detect and study asteroids and protect ourselves from an impact. An array of speakers includes scientists and astronauts, including NASA veterans Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, whose B612 Foundation campaigns to improve Earth’s defences against cosmic missiles. More than 36 astronauts and cosmonauts are taking part at events around the world.

One main aim of the Asteroid Day campaign is to get as many members of the public as possible to sign what is called the 100X Declaration, which urges increased detection and tracking of near Earth objects.

TV science presenter Professor Brian Cox was among the first to sign the Declaration. He told Sen: “It is the overriding responsibility of the human race to maximise our chances of survival in a dangerous Universe. Asteroid impacts are one of the few natural threats that could destroy cities, countries or even the whole of civilisation in a single moment, and we must therefore take the threat seriously.

“Fortunately, we can do something about it if we chose. Even more fortunately, investment in space exploration is a key driver of economic growth, technological and scientific progress, and a source of inspiration. This would seem to present us with a win-win situation! Build an insurance policy against one of the greatest threats to our existance, and in doing so inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to develop the technologies of the future. It’s so blindingly obvious that it just might work!”

The Asteroid Day trailer. Credit: Asteroid Day

Dr May said in a statement: “Our surveillance of near Earth objects is not good enough, so we are trying to ramp up the rate of detection by 100 times. Signing the 100X Declaration is a way for the public to contribute to bringing about an awareness that we can protect humanity now and for future generations.”

Other lectures, films, expert science presentations and educational workshops are also taking place in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, India, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Spain, Turkey, South Korea, and USA, among other locations. And the European Space Agency (ESA) has organized a Twitter discussion #AskESA about asteroids, an online Q&A with ESA experts.

Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart said in a statement: “If we can track the trajectories of asteroids and monitor their movement in our Solar System, then we can know if they are on a path to impact Earth. If we find them early enough, we can move them out of Earth’s orbit—thus preventing any kind of major natural disaster.”

A reminder of the threat from space came as recently as February 2013 when a super-bolide exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, destroying buildings, shattering glass and causing hundreds of injuries.