Hollywood films don’t always take reality to the letter – and that’s okay, after all, we’re talking about works of fiction, right? But it is a fact that this whole fiction feeds the popular imagination when the subject is an asteroid approaching Earth, and artistic freedoms, in this case, end up generating confusion regarding what could, in fact, happen in real life in such a situation. . In real life, there are experts who monitor nearby space objects and constantly think about ways to rid our planet of possible threats – perhaps Hollywood has a slightly superficial understanding of all the work that goes on behind the scenes.
Across the Solar System, there are thousands of asteroids, and most of them, like the Earth, orbit the Sun – in recent years, we have even discovered some visitors from other star systems. And a good amount of small debris from these large celestial bodies hits our planet all the time, giving rise to the popularly called shooting stars (ie, meteors). Physicist Kirsten Howlen, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), who works as a planetary defender, reports that, when saying what her profession is, people say something like: “oh, like in the movie Armagedon (1998)? ”. In fact, this activity is nothing like cinema – we are sorry to inform you.
Contrary to what many films narrate, Howley does not have an orange jumpsuit within his immediate reach, but his work is nonetheless serious and important. She is part of a team of planetary defenders specializing in ways to deflect asteroids that could endanger the Earth.
But, after all, where does the cinema get it right (or get it wrong) when the subject is asteroids coming our way?
Although Howley and his team do not have their faces on posters like the saviors of planet Earth, they are true planetary defenders. Unlike the movies, they don’t have to get on a rocket and travel to the asteroid to destroy it; its weapons are physics and mathematics. Kirsten Howlen explains that NASA is responsible for constantly monitoring such objects through the NEO Study Center (CNEOS), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Any body of an approximate size of 140 meters (a football field and a half) and approaching a distance of about 7.5 million kilometers, is considered to be “potentially dangerous”. But rest assured, because there is no prediction of an impact until at least 2175. “There is no asteroid now that concerns us,” said Howley.
If there is a very similar point between the films and the work of the planetary defenders, it is teamwork. Annually, LLNL teams meet to discuss and simulate strategies for relocating these asteroids. These plans are long-term and long-term. No one would be caught off guard by a piece of giant rock towards Earth.
Currently, we have so much information about asteroids that are considered dangerous that we are able to predict their behavior for years. Physics says that “I worry more about using sunscreen”, when asked about an object like taking everyone by surprise.
Explosions in space
The asteroid protagonist of the film Armageddon it is the size of Texas – more than 1,200 km in diameter – and was discovered when it was just an hour from Earth. Howley says that the energy needed to push a body this size would be the equivalent of the sun’s total energy output in just one day. “And we don’t have that capacity,” he adds.
It is thanks to the work of planetary defenders that we do not need to prepare to face an asteroid as in the movies. In advance, we were able to anticipate possible threats and prepare ourselves. For example, a nuclear bomb is not discarded as an energy supplier to alter the path of an asteroid. For this, it is essential that information regarding mass, size and composition.
On the other hand, many planetary defenders believe in an approach with less energy than a nuclear explosion, such as sending a spacecraft that simply strikes the asteroid to deflect its course. “I just think it’s good to have a plan,” said Howley.
We are safe
In short: don’t give confidence to any sensational headlines that come around. As we can see, there are many competent people working at all times to protect our planet from possible catastrophic encounters with large asteroids. And remember: “just because something is approaching the Earth does not mean that it is a risk”.
The following is a full explanation of Kirsten Howlen physics:
Source: Space Daily
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