Badgers aren’t the only animals that Brian May wants to save. In 2015, the legendary Queen guitarist became a ‘rock star’ of a different kind, championing awareness of the risks posed by meteorites falling from space by founding Asteroid Day. Taking place on 30 June, it brings scientists with different expertise together to plot a way to avoid Armageddon.
Debbie Lewis is a Resilience Preparedness Consultant who looks at the impact a BIG impact would have on society. “Thankfully no large asteroid [at time of writing] has been discovered to be on a collision course with the Earth,” she says. “The problems are the smaller ones which are harder to see. This is why we need money spent on additional space-based telescopes to ascertain if one will cross Earth’s orbit.”
The Chelyabinsk meteor streaked across the skies of Russian skies on 15 February 2015. It is an example of a smaller asteroid, currently difficult to detect, that could land on your head without warning.
“From my perspective there’s a huge risk facing the population,” Lewis says. “Over 1000 people were injured as a result of that incident, people had injuries from flying glass because they went to the windows – as anybody would. If you see a bright light streaking across your window then you are drawn to it, and essentially that’s the last place anybody should go.”
They can be as small as a teacup or as big as the state of Texas
Lewis explains that asteroids are basically minor planets, leftover building blocks of the solar system that happily sit in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. They can be as small as a teacup or as big as the state of Texas – but if one large enough was knocked out of orbit to head in our direction, we’d go the way of the dinosaurs.
“Unlike the dinosaurs we have space programmes,” Lewis points out. “If an object between 140-300 metres in diameter was coming there is a chance there could be 20 years warning time, or planning time, as I prefer to call it.
“If you are advised in 20 years this is happening, you would want to know what plans are in place. They’d send a characterisation mission, a spaceship to assess the asteroid’s size and what it’s made of to then determine its trajectory and speed and identify a risk corridor – the likely points across the globe where it might hit.
“They can start to put deflection missions together but of course it takes time to design, develop and build the spacecraft, and as a contingency arrangement then we need to put plans in place to evacuate people well away from the impact site.”
However its bad news for anyone who wants to live forever. “It’s when not if,” Lewis warns. Ultimately the larger ones will devastate much, if not all, of the planet.”
For more information on Asteroid Day on 30 June visit asteroidday.org
Photo: Chelyabinsk meteor, ESA/M.Ahmetvaleev