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Marking the first ‘Asteroid Day’

A circular hole in the ice where a meteor struck the lake near Chelyabinsk. (AP)

WASHINGTON — Tuesday, June 30, 2015 is the first “Asteroid Day.”  Asteroid Day is a “global awareness movement where people from around the world come together to learn about asteroids and what we can do to protect our planet” from asteroid and comet impacts.

Events will be held on the Internet and at institutions around the world, where the public is invited to attend. George Mason University Observatory will host its Asteroid Day starting at noon. I will be speaking on “The Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater – An Example of a Hit.”

June 30 is a significant date in the history of Earth impacts, as on that date in 1908, a 5 to 10 megaton airburst occurred over Tunguska, Russia. Eight hundred square miles and 80 million trees were flattened – there were no known fatalities. This is the largest impact to occur in modern times.

Another watershed impact event was my top space story for 2013, as it was historic due to the number of injuries and damage to buildings it caused – the most ever recorded due to an asteroid/meteorite event. Chelyabinsk would go on to be the most documented meteorite fall ever due to the number of videos, sound recordings, photographs, witness interviews and the precise recovery process of associated meteorites, three of which I own.

Chelyabinsk also improved our knowledge regarding the threat posed by asteroids that are smaller than a kilometer. The smaller asteroids, like Chelyabinsk, pose a greater hazard for damage than previously thought.

Efforts to defend ourselves against asteroids (and comets) have taken on new life, as can be seen in this essay by Ed Lu of the B612Foundation. Efforts are underway by the United Nations and NASA to develop defensive capability as well as improved detection of the millions of Chelyabinsk-sized asteroids out there.

One thing we know for certain is that we will be hit again. If we get good enough at detection and defensive capabilities – after all space is a very big place and we are talking millions of potential impactors – we might be able to deflect or destroy the incoming impactor or absent those possibilities, evacuate the impact zone.

We have had our warnings. We need to heed them and prepare. We do not want to go the way of the dinosaurs or have a large impact event involving a major city. The dice of chance and the passage of time are never-ending. So must be humanity’s collective efforts to defend ourselves.

Asteroid Day is a good step forward in this process. Become part of the movement.

Follow my daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email me at skyguyinva@gmail.com.

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