Know the Importance of Asteroid Day

Know the Importance of Asteroid Day
Image source: Google

Every year, 30th June is marked as ‘International Asteroid Day’ in order to educate the world about asteroids – their role in the formation of our solar system, how we can use their resources, how asteroids can pave the way for future exploration and finally how we can protect our planet from asteroid impacts. Asteroid Day events are largely independently organized around the world for people of all ages and are mostly free-of-charge.

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) represent potentially catastrophic threats to our planet. NEO is an asteroid or comet, which passes close to the Earth's orbit. According to NASA’s Centre for NEO Studies, there are over 16,000 ‘Near Earth Asteroids’ discovered.

What are Asteroids made of?

Asteroids are space rocks. Some asteroids are as small as boulders. Others are as big as football fields. Some asteroids are almost as large as planets, and astronomers sometimes argue about whether really big asteroids ought to be called planets or not.

Asteroids are made of rock, metals and other elements. Some even contain water, astronomers say. Asteroids that are mostly stone sometimes are more like loose piles of rubble. Asteroids are mostly iron are more, well, rock-solid.

Meteorites found on Earth often come from asteroids, and so they help astronomers figure out what's in asteroids. An iron meteorite can be 91 percent iron and 8.5 percent nickel and might also contain cobalt. A stony meteorite can contain oxygen, silicon, magnesium, calcium, and other elements.

Why 30th June?

The Earth's largest asteroid impact in recorded history occurred on June 30, 1908, near river Tunguska in Siberia, Russia and is hence, remembered as the Tunguska event.

The explosion, with the energy of 10-15 megatons of TNT, knocked or burned down 80 million trees within a radius of 30 kilometers. At that time, Siberia was a wilderness, and had a very sparse population. Hence, no human casualties occurred. According to one estimate, the total weight of that meteorite was 40,000 tons.

*If the meteorite fell to Earth from the same part of the sky some five hours later, it would wipe out St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia!

The United Nations gave the call to declare the day as International Asteroid Day in December 2016 as the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/71/90, in order to "observe each year at the international level the anniversary of the Tunguska impact over Siberia, Russian Federation, on 30 June 1908, and to raise public awareness about the asteroid impact hazard."

Based on a proposal by the Association of Space Explorers, which was endorsed by Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), the resolution was adopted.

The educational program ‘Asteroid Day’ was co-founded in 2014, by Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist and lead guitarist of QUEEN, together with Danica Remy, President of B612 Foundation, Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9 Astronaut, and filmmaker Grig Richters. Together with the United Nations, space agencies, schools and universities Asteroid Day is organized by networks of supporters who host events worldwide on 30, June and any other day of the year that the independent groups determine.

To initially launch the Asteroid Day education programs in 2014, members of the asteroid community drafted and released a petition to gather public support for asteroid education and called on governments to accelerate the funding of asteroid discovery programs.

The second-largest asteroid impact came on 15th February 2013 when a large fireball (technically, called a "superbolide"), traveling at a velocity of 18.6 kilometers per second, entered the atmosphere and disintegrated in the skies over Chelyabinsk.

According to NASA, the approximate effective diameter of the asteroid was estimated at 18 meters and its mass at 11,000 tons. The approximate total impact energy of the Chelyabinsk Fireball, in kilotons of TNT explosives (the energy parameter usually quoted for a fireball), was 440 kilotons. The Chelyabinsk event was an extraordinarily large fireball, the most energetic impact event recognized since the 1908 Tunguska blast in Russian Siberia.

Through the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA), which leads the ‘’ initiative that has been instrumental in the expansion of Asteroid Day, Marc Serres, CEO of LSA states:

"Luxembourg is proud to be headquarters for Asteroid Day and to aid in inspiring countries around the world to participate in this United Nations Day."

"SES has been supporting Asteroid Day for several years, and we are proud to again join efforts with other partners on this campaign to enable raising awareness about asteroids and space," said Ruy Pinto, Chief Technology Officer at SES.

Asteroid Day themes range from the science of asteroids in the formation of our solar system to discussions of new space industries accelerating technologies to advance space-based activities. Current missions advancing efforts develop greater detection, tracking, and deflection techniques:

DART and HERA - the first demonstration of a kinetic impact technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space; (NASA/ESA); and two sample return missions: Hayabusa 2, (JAXA); and OSIRIS-REx (NASA) along with the new NEO-Mapp project.

According to one estimate, about 500 substantial meteorites strike the Earth annually. However, only a handful is recovered. Historic times have seen very few meteorite strikes, compared to pre-historic times, but they are still a clear and present danger today. A few days ago, on June 22, 2019, a small asteroid entered and exploded in the atmosphere south of Puerto Rico, releasing blast energy equivalent to 3-5 kilotons of TNT.

Thousands of meteorites and comets have struck Earth in the past billion years or so. These strikes are quite massive, propelling debris at 50 times the speed of sound, simultaneously vaporising tons of solid rock and carving out impact craters many kilometers across.

The effects of such impact events resonate through the geologic and biological world for ages.