Asteroid Day: reminding us of the threat, pushing us out into space

Summary: Today is asteroid day, an opportunity to see ourselves against the big picture of Earth’s history. As I’ve written before, Apollo was an expensive trip to nowhere, and explained why we have not gone into space, & why we will. Asteroid Day puts in context both this failure (of vision but not boldness) and our future success. It’s one of the worst of the certain to occur shockwave events. All that remains unknown is its timing and the price we pay for our clearer vision. Will we start the long slow process of preparing (reallocating a fraction of what we spend on war), or wait until we’re hit?  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Impact of comet or asteroid



  1. About Asteroid Day.
  2. It happened before. It will happen again.
  3. For More Information.
  4. Films about asteroid impacts.


(1)  Asteroid day: let’s protect Earth from asteroid impacts

From the Asteroid Day website

We are creating a global movement for asteroid awareness. From astronauts to scientists to business leaders to entertainers and artists, the list of signatories for the 100x Asteroid Declaration rapidly grew. In addition, multiple museums eagerly signed on as our first Founding Partners. The leaders of these institutions recognized the public service they could provide for asteroid outreach to the general public.

What is beginning as a scientifically-based declaration about the need for rapid discovery of asteroids to ensure the defense of our planet, will hopefully grow to a global movement of awareness regarding this solvable nature-caused problem. Through the technological capabilities of the scientists on our planet, we will collectively rise to the challenge of obtaining the data about our solar system that will allow us to have the knowledge about our near-Earth objects in order to prevent future destruction to our planet.

Sign the 100x asteroid declaration

(2)  It has happened many times before. It will happen again

From Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (1973)

Rendezvous With Rama
Available at Amazon.

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. … In those days, there was nothing that men could do to protect themselves against the last random shots in the cosmic bombardment that had once scarred the face of the Moon. The meteorites of 1908 and 1947 had struck uninhabited wilderness; but by the end of the twenty-first century, there was no region left on Earth that could be safely used for celestial target practice.

The human race had spread from pole to pole. And so, inevitably — At 09.46 GMT on the morning of 11 September, in the exceptionally beautiful summer of the year 2077, most of the inhabitants of Europe saw a dazzling fireball appear in the eastern sky. Within seconds it was brighter than the sun, and as it moved across the heavens – at first in utter silence – it left behind it a churning column of dust and smoke.

Somewhere above Austria it began to disintegrate, producing a series of concussions so violent that more than a million people had their hearing permanently damaged. They were the lucky ones.

Impact on Earth

Moving at fifty kilometres a second, a thousand tons of rock and metal impacted on the plains of northern Italy, destroying in a few flaming moments the labour of centuries. The cities of Padua and Verona were wiped from the face of the earth; and the last glories of Venice sank for ever beneath the sea as the waters of the Adriatic came thundering landwards after the hammer-blow from space.

Six hundred thousand people died, and the total damage was more than a trillion dollars. But the loss to art, to history, to science – to the whole human race, for the rest of time – was beyond all computation. It was as if a great war had been fought and lost in a single morning; and few could draw much pleasure from the fact that, as the dust of destruction slowly settled, for months the whole world witnessed the most splendid dawns and sunsets since Krakatoa.

After the initial shock, mankind reacted with a determination and a unity that no earlier age could have shown. Such a disaster, it was realized, might not occur again for a thousand years – but it might occur tomorrow. And the next time, the consequences could be even worse. Very well; there would be no next time.

A hundred years earlier a much poorer world, with far feebler resources, had squandered its wealth attempting to destroy weapons launched, suicidally, by mankind against itself. … No meteorite large enough to cause catastrophe would ever again be allowed to breach the defences of Earth. So began Project SPACEGUARD. … By the year 2130, the Mars-based radars were discovering new asteroids at the rate of a dozen a day. The SPACEGUARD computers automatically calculated their orbits …

—————————  End excerpt  —————————

Clear world

(3)  For More Information

To learn more about these shockwaves from the sky…

  • Recommended: Impact Earth! Describe an impact and see its effects. By Purdue U (London).
  • NASA’s website about Near-Earth objects, potential candidates to hit Earth.
  • The Sky Is Falling“, Greg Easterbrook, The Atlantic, June 2008 — “The odds that a potentially devastating space rock will hit Earth this century may be as high as one in 10. So why isn’t NASA trying harder to prevent catastrophe?”
  • No, it’s not: Letter in response to Easterbrook’s article, Prof Nicholas Pinter and Assoc Prof Scott Ishman (Geology, Southern Illinois University), The Atlantic, September 2008.
  • Calibrating Asteroid Impact“, Clark R. Chapman, Science, 29 Dec 2013 — Small impacts might be more frequently than expected, and more dangerous.

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If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about shockwave events, about NASA, and especially Men in space: an expensive trip to nowhere and Why we have not gone into space, & why we will.

(4)  Films about asteroid impacts

Meteor (1979) — Full film

Deep Impact trailer (1998)

Armageddon trailer (1998)

The Asteroid Day Video



5 thoughts on “Asteroid Day: reminding us of the threat, pushing us out into space”

  1. This field has always been underfunded. When I was a grad student 40 yrs ago there were about 10 active asteroid researchers. Two of them used the old 18-in Schmidt at Palomar, and were employed by the Geology (not Astronomy) Dept at Caltech.

    1. socialbill,

      I don’t know if it is underfunded. All shockwaves look underfunded when considered in isolation. But there are so many of them, and we could go broke fully funding them all — we’d be safe but poor.

      Consider how far the “Spaceguard program has come” since Congress first mandated it in 1992! NASA estimates it’s located ~90% of all Near Earth Objects with diameters > 1 kilometer (I don’t know if that means their orbit has been determined). Long-period comets are of course far more difficult to map, but far less likely to cause problems. We’re far from being able to alter their orbits, but we’ve made progress in the first steps…

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