If nuclear proliferation or global climate change don’t wipe out sentient life on Earth, an errant asteroid might do so. That was my thought when I stumbled across the reminder that June 30th is International Asteroid Day.
Most of us think of asteroids as those numerous, very large irregularly shaped rocks that orbit the Sun in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. The problem with asteroids, is that not all of them are found in the Asteroid Belt. Some of them are in independent orbits in much the same manner as comets. Some of those orbits intersect with Earth’s orbit.
Wikipedia says that Asteroid Day is observed on this day because it is the anniversary of the Tunguska event that took place on June 30, 1908 in Siberia. A severe, mysterious explosion flattened about 2,000 square kilometres of forest. The explosion is commonly attributed to the air burst of a very large meteoroid or small asteroid. The Tunguska event was the largest “impact event” on our planet in recorded history.
Asteroid Day was originally launched in 2014 by several scientists and scientifically minded people. They include astrophysicist and guitarist for the rock band “Queen” Brian May, film director Grigorij Richters, Bill Nye “The Science Guy”, and others.
“The main three goals are:
Employ available technology to detect and track Near-Earth Asteroids that threaten human populations via governments and private and philanthropic organisations.
A rapid hundred-fold acceleration of the discovery and tracking of Near-Earth Asteroids to 100,000 per year within the next ten years.
Global adoption of Asteroid Day, heightening awareness of the asteroid hazard and our efforts to prevent impacts, on June 30–With the United Nations recognition, this action item has been achieved.”
Celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has chimed in by reminding us that “the dinosaurs didn’t have a Space Program so they’re not here to talk about this problem.” Never mind that dinosaurs couldn’t speak in human languages and that we’d have major problems if dinosaurs were still here, Dr. Tyson has a valid point.
By becoming aware of the dangers of an asteroid strike, millions of people and probably all of humanity could be saved by developing technology that will avert an incoming asteroid or comet by nudging it to a different trajectory.
Celebrity physicist Michio Kaku sums it up best. “Sooner or later, we will face a catastrophic threat from space. Of all the possible threats, only a gigantic asteroid hit can destroy the entire planet. If we prepare now, we better our odds of survival. The dinosaurs never knew what hit them.”