Our Solar System is teeming with millions of asteroids – rocky objects that aren’t large enough to be classified as planets – and they’ve been smashing into Earth ever since the dawn of its existence. And if the dinosaurs have taught us anything, it’s that these collisions can be seriously bad news.
Asteroids don’t have to be big like that one to represent a threat, either: two years ago, one just 20 meters (65 feet) wide shattered as it came hurtling through our atmosphere, triggering a shock wave that injured more than 1,000 people in Russia. And while globally catastrophic impacts are rare, estimated to occur around every 100,000 years, the fact is that we know far too little about the asteroids whizzing around our Solar System to become complacent.
This is why Asteroid Day was founded. It takes place on June 30, the anniversary of the largest asteroid impact in recent history: Siberia’s Tunguska event. With more than 50 public events worldwide and the creation of a powerful, thought-provoking movie, Asteroid Day hopes to boost global awareness about these rocky worlds and gain support for a movement that calls for their heightened detection and charting. And getting involved can be as easy as stamping your name on the 100x Asteroid Day Declaration, which has already been signed by a whole host of notable scientists and astronauts, including Brian May, Brian Cox, Bill Nye and Lord Martin Rees. Check out an awesome preview of the film, which premieres tomorrow, here:
Alongside promoting awareness and education, Asteroid Day’s long-term goal is to safeguard our planet and the species that call it home by mapping all Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) that could potentially threaten Earth. To do this, their detection and tracking must increase a hundredfold, to 100,000 each year, over the next decade.
“If we can track the trajectories of asteroids and monitor their movement in our solar system, we can know if they are on a path to impact Earth,” Apollo Astronaut Rusty Schweickart said in a statement. “If we find them early enough, we can move them out of Earth’s orbit – thus preventing any kind of major natural disaster.”
In theory, we do have the means to deflect any potentially hazardous asteroids, Asteroid Day science advisor tells IFLScience, but the problem is that the existing methodology has not been tested. Should a threat that could affect us within the next 5 years become apparent, we really wouldn’t have much time to get the technology ready and be certain that it would work. But by making more people aware of the issue, politicians and the public alike, then hopefully testing these deflectors will become higher on the agenda.