November 29, 2017 (Opinion by Grig Richters) – I am not an asteroid expert, but a passionate amateur with a avid appetite for information about asteroids.
Since 2010, I have been involved in one way or another in the asteroid community, and in 2014, helped to organize “Asteroid Day,” – today recognized by the United Nations as the official day of education and awareness about asteroids.
Today, it is almost three years since we founded Asteroid Day and it‘s been an amazing ride. During this time I realised how awesome (yes, I use that word on purpose) the human brain can be. I also realise that we are a fearful species which is okay as long as fear doesn‘t substitute for knowledge.
I am a filmmaker and for a long time I was scared by asteroids, but I’ve learned to respect them. It was the BBC documentary, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, that triggered this fear when I was 22 years old.
That ultimately led me to direct a film about an asteroid impact leading to the end of the world, called 51 Degrees North (watch for free on our website, here). I still remember the night when I watched that BBC documentary. I had zero knowledge about asteroids, my best friend (who is sadly no longer with us) sent me a link to this film and I watched it at 4AM. I did not sleep that night! In fact I didn’t sleep for several nights. All I was thinking about was the next big one [asteroid] that could wipe out our planet.
The only pieces of information about asteroids I had at the time came from this film. For weeks, I thought about nothing but “we are not prepared… an asteroid impact is imminent and no one is doing anything about this…“ My lack of knowledge made me live in a constant state of fear that drove me into a real obsession. And, it was very easy for me to feed my fear by consuming a lot of pseudo-science and pseudo-news without even realising it. All you need to do is type “asteroid impact“ or “death by asteroid“ into Google and you will be bombarded by BOLD AND IMPACTFUL HEADLINES which will scare the living daylights out of you!
Just to give you a little taste. Here are some randomly picked asteroid-related headlines which appeared in the mainstream news during the last 24 hours:
I think it‘s very easy for us to get scared when being confronted by these types of headlines every day, especially if you are uneducated about asteroids like I was! Brainwashing the uninformed (I was one of them) is much easier than communicating with those of us who even have a basic knowledge of planetary science. My personal bit of advice: Arm yourself with knowledge and fear will never consume your life.
Back to my 22 year old self:
I was consumed by a fear of asteroids at first. Asteroid Apophis became a real favorite of mine. But as soon as I started to surround myself with the right people including Professor David Jewitt and Professor Richard Crowther from the UK Space Agency, I started to understand that asteroids are actually more fascinating than they are scary and dangerous!
Knowledge Rules! Fear sucks!!
Asteroids can be dangerous but just like driving a car, the danger can be controlled to some degree. As astronaut Chris Hadfield put it: “We live in a Cosmic shooting gallery [of asteroids].“ He is right. There are a lot of asteroids in our solar system – a lot traffic for our planet to drive in!
Every time you get into your car there is a risk. Let’s just pretend for a moment that Planet Earth is the car, a big blueish SUV, and asteroids are traffic. You drive on the German Autobahn at night. No speed limit. Your lights are broken. You can barely see your traffic. Asteroids orbit the Sun, as does our Planet Earth. Put very simply, we can’t be in the same place at the same time, on a collision course. So, much of our work for Asteroids is on new detection and following the trajectories of hazardous asteroids.
And, if we are on a collision course, we can’t just move Earth out of the way of that pending collision. We must move the asteroid. There are various techniques which some of the world’s most brilliant minds have designed. Two of those techniques are the Gravity Tractor and the Kinetic Impactor. Read more about them here. The joint ESA-NASA AIDA Mission is one very good example, along with the Gravity Tractor.
Ultimately, the goal is to be in control of our own destiny on Planet Earth. To do this, we need to map the asteroids in our solar system. Watch the wonderful clip from Asteroid Day LIVE from Luxembourg (below) to learn more about these techniques.
Join some of the greatest minds and over 40,000 private citizens by signing the 100X Declaration.
We get hit by small asteroids (also known as meteorites) almost every day [about 100 tons every day of dust and larger debris], but they are usually small enough that they burn up in the atmosphere and are only known to us as a shooting star! But some asteroids are big and can cause us a lot of trouble unless we find them early which we can IF we keep working together! There are potentially a million more smaller asteroids, similar in size to the Tunguska or Chelyabinsk asteroid, which can cause local or regional destruction. While we are getting better at finding those, there is still a lot of work ahead of us before we can call our planet “Asteroid safe.“ There is a wonderful community of scientists, engineers, astronomers, amateur observers, space agencies, politicians, lawyers (yes even lawyers) working to make our planet safer.
Using my new education on asteroids, and relying on the experts, I’ve learned that the probability of a life-ending asteroid in our lifetime is super slim. You shouldn‘t lose sleep over asteroid impacts. But the probabilities of you and your children witnessing a smaller asteroid impact (similar to Chelyabinsk or even Tunguska) are quite high. Hoping that it will impact over water and not a populated area is naïve. Hope is not a strategy and we can do better than that! If we all come together (and just like me you don’t have to be a scientist or engineer) we can keep our planet safe while doing some awesome science which will inspire the next generation because Knowledge Rules and Fear Sucks!!
So please join me and thousands of citizens like you and me in supporting the men and women who are dedicating their lives to keeping us safe from asteroids. Join us at #AsteroidDay.
See you there!
p.s. Here is a list with some useful resources:
- International Asteroid Warning Network
- Space Mission Planning Advisory Group
- NASA’s center for computing asteroid and comet orbits and their odds of Earth impact
- NASA Asteroid Watch
- NEO Coordination Centre
- ASE NEO Committee
- United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
- United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs
- United Nations Coordination of Outer Space Activities