Stars turn up for launch of Asteroid Day 2016

9 Feb 2016

Many of the most famous names in astronomy, as well as noted space enthusiasts, turned up for today’s (9 February) launch of this year’s Asteroid Day, which is due to take place on 30 June.

Asteroid Day 2016 will be the second iteration of the now annual event started by former Queen guitarist, and astrophysicist, Dr Brian May.

Hosted by the European Space Agency (ESA), the announcement conference saw May joined by other space celebrities, such as Bill ‘Science Guy’ Nye, the CEO of the Planetary Society, and Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, as well as a group of former astronauts, including Chris Hadfield.

Revealing its plans, the ESA and those participating in Asteroid Day said they hope to run a series of events in person and online, globally, to help people learn about what asteroids are exactly, but also to attempt to spur on efforts to discover how we could one day deflect an oncoming asteroid, should we need to.

A date when we came close to the end of everything

The date of 30 June is by-no-means coincidental, with the organisers of Asteroid Day choosing this date because, on that day in 1908, a meteorite that had 1,000-times the power of the atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima exploded over a sparsely populated area of Russia known as Tunguska.

The incident is now legendary in astronomical circles as a sign of how close we came to a potential catastrophe, with this giant piece of space debris flattening 2,000km2 of forest, with the impact felt by people more than 100km away.

While there will be no dedicated effort from the ESA to organise events for the day, museums, research institutes, government agencies, universities, astronomers, filmmakers and concerned citizens are invited to organise their own events for Asteroid Day this summer.

However, there will be six major events taking place worldwide on the day in Austria, Spain, the US and South Korea.

‘We can change the path of an asteroid’

Ian Carnelli, project manager for the ESA’s proposed Asteroid Impact Mission, said at the day’s launch: “The ESA has been studying the role of space missions to address the asteroid hazard over the last 15 years.

“Today, we have the technology to change the path of an asteroid, but we need to test our technology in space and learn if our models are correct by measuring all the relevant parameters.”

Here’s one of the event’s attendees, Bill Nye, explaining how likely it is that we would be able to stop an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Hold on to your pants, folks.

Asteroid belt image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic