This Calls for Flash Gordon

Science Museum

Maybe it takes a rock star to understand the dangers of space rocks.

A group of scientists and astronauts, including Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May, have targeted June 30 as Asteroid Day. They’re hoping to help people understand the position Earth is in when it comes to threats from asteroids while also promoting fundraising activities to help build the tools that could deflect any incoming space rocks.

The date is significant: On June 30, 1908, a small asteroid or comet blew up over Serbia with the force of 1,000 atomic bombs in what remains the largest impact event on the planet in recorded history.

While asteroid impact events on Earth are rare, we’re overdue for something to happen, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees told The Guardian recently. “Every 10 million years or so, a body a few kilometers across will hit the Earth, causing global catastrophe—there are a few chances in a million that this is how we will die. However, there are larger numbers of smaller asteroids that could cause regional or local devastation. A body that is, say, 300 meters across, if it fell into the Atlantic, would produce huge tsunamis that would devastate much of Europe as well as the East Coast of the US.” By comparison, he notes that the “smaller” impact that occurred in Tunguska is believed to have been 60 to 190 meters wide.

May, who composed the soundtrack for a film making its debut on Asteroid Day about a blogger who finds London’s in the direct path of an asteroid, tells The Guardian, “The more we learn about asteroid impacts, the clearer it becomes that the human race has been living on borrowed time. We are currently aware of less than 1% of objects comparable to the one that impacted at Tunguska, and nobody knows when the next big one will hit. And it takes just one.”

May and Rees are joined in the group by biologist Richard Dawkins, Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto; British astronaut Helen Sharman and cosmonaut Alexey Leonov. They’re trying to secure funding for the B612 Foundation (named after the asteroid called home by the hero of The Little Prince) to launch the Sentinel telescope, an orbiting observatory that could detect potential threats in enough time to take some kind of action.

More information on Asteroid Day is available here.

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