Don’t panic, but Asteroid Day is upon us

29 Jun 2015

A worldwide movement is attempting to warn Earth of its inevitable doom with the celebration of Asteroid Day, a day that hopes to bring together astronomers and scientists to best determine how to prevent the Armageddon that would be caused by an asteroid collision.

As far as end-of-the-world scenarios go, there’s none more hopeless a situation for those of us here on Earth than if an asteroid were to hit, given the scale of destruction it would cause and our lack of preparedness.

However, on 30 June, the latest attempt to at least raise awareness of its possibility will take place, with more than 100 names, both familiar and not-so-familiar, including Bill ‘Science Guy’ Nye and Queen guitarist Dr Brian May, having been recruited to take part in Asteroid Day.

As part of the Asteroid Day proclamation all of the signatories signed up for, they will agree to “employ available technology to detect and track near-earth asteroids that threaten human populations via governments and private and philanthropic organisations”, along with 100-fold advancement in tracking technology for asteroids.

According to the group behind Asteroid Day, the date of 30 June was chosen because it was on that day 107 years ago that Earth’s most recent near-disastrous asteroid, which flattened 2,000km2 of forest, landed in Tunguska in Siberia, Russia .

For the sake of everyone, its landing in Tunguska couldn’t have been more fortunate, as its remoteness meant it spared millions of people from experiencing an explosion that would have been 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

‘Time is an issue’

As part of marking Asteroid Day tomorrow, a number of events will be live-streamed online, including from the Science Museum in London, where the organisers of the day will premiere their film 51 Degrees, offering a fictional look of what the end of the world might look like if an asteroid were on a collision course with Earth.

Meanwhile, dozens of events will be held around the world to raise awareness of the dangers of a potential asteroid collision.

Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9 Astronaut and founder of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), said it is a matter of urgency for this technology to be developed.

“Time is an issue. At the current rate of discovery of 20-metre near-Earth objects (NEOs) and larger at about 1000/year, it will take more than 1,000 years to find 1m NEOs that potentially threaten Earth. That’s a long time and even then we’d have reached only 10pc or so of the Chelyabinsk-size objects that potentially threaten impact.”

Previous attempts at building technology to defend Earth from asteroids have yet to gain the interest of financial backers, with an appeal in May by an organisation called the Emergency Asteroid Defence Project failing to raise the US$200,000 it was looking for to create a defence system on Indiegogo — ultimately raising less than US$10,000.

Asteroid on collision with Earth image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic