Today is Asteroid Day, when colleges, museums and observatories across the globe are striving to raise awareness about the wonders and potential dangers of asteroids. From online broadcasts and lectures to hands-on activities, a number of events are happening worldwide.
Here is just a sampling:
- The University of Arizona will host a weekend-long event with members of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample-return team.
- At Kennedy Space Center in Florida, former NASA astronaut Tom Jones will examine the potential dangers asteroids.
- Imperial College London will utilize a 3D projection system to study astronomical images.
- The National Autonomous University of Honduras will present asteroid art and impact simulations.
- At the Brockton Public Library in Massachusetts, there will even be asteroid cookies!
The first Asteroid Day kicked off in 2015, after astrophysicist Brian May, best known as a guitarist for the rock band Queen, introduced director Grigorij Richters to the B612 Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit advocacy agency with the goal of protecting Earth from asteroid impacts through early prevention. Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart and Danica Remy — founder and chief operations officer of B612, respectively — joined May and Richters as co-founders of Asteroid Day. [Near-Earth Asteroids: Famous Space Rock Flybys and Close Calls (Infographic)]
“The more we learn about asteroid impacts, the clearer it became that the human race has been living on borrowed time,” May noted on the official Asteroid Day website. “Asteroid Day would [be] the vehicle to garner public support to increase our knowledge of when asteroids might strike and how we can protect ourselves.”
Every day, Earth is bombarded by tons of dust-size particles that burn up in the atmosphere. According to NASA, an automobile-size asteroid hits Earth’s atmosphere about once a year, burning up before it reaches the ground. A larger object that would be capable of threatening the planet’s civilizations collides with Earth once every few million years, the agency estimates.
To prepare for the risk of catastrophe, NASA has developed a Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Other space agencies have developed similar programs. On NASA’s Planetary Defense FAQ, the agency writes that deflecting an asteroid would require changing its velocity by less than an inch per second years in advance of a potential collision. NASA is working to develop a so-called kinetic impactor, which…