24 June, 2019
Did you know that this weekend, Sunday, the 30th Jun 2019, is celebrated as the Asteroid Day (also called as the International Asteroid Day) across the world? This day has been declared as the Asteroid Day by the UN in remembrance of the Siberian Tunguska event that happened on the 30th June 1908, in Siberia. This was the worst, catastrophic Asteroid event in the world’s history. Hence, the UN has decided to dedicate this day to create awareness about the Asteroids and their harmful effects.
The idea was to spur thoughts and actions on what can be done to protect the earth, its life, and future generations from such harmful events, and to see if it is possible to prevent any future catastrophes. Asteroids are nothing but minor planets, or rocky bodies, that orbit the Sun, between Mars and Jupiter. However, few of them come closer to earth and are called Near Earth Asteroids, and they can crash into a planet when they orbit past them. That is when impact craters are created.
On the morning of 30th June 1908, a meteor is believed to have exploded at about an altitude of 5 to 10 KM, in what is known as an impact event. In other words, since it did not hit the earth’s surface, there was no impact crater. This caused a massive explosion in the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate (now Krasnoyarsk Krai), Russia. Incredibly, even though around 200 KM was flattened, there were no human casualties, as the region was sparsely populated.
The meteor size was estimated to be about 60 to 190 meters, and many scholarly papers have been published by scientists who studied this event, the worst such in human history. Approximately 80 million trees were knocked down, and shocks to the effect 5.0 on the Richter scale were measured at the place. The magnitude was such that it could easily have entirely destroyed a metropolitan city. Many eyewitnesses from around the area also recorded their version of how they saw the sky splitting and a fireball falling and feeling the heat, etc.
Asteroid Day was co-founded by Filmmaker Grigorij Richters, B612 Foundation COO Danica Remy, Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart and Brian May, Queen guitarist, and astrophysicist. There is a declaration called "100X Declaration", created by the workgroup of the Asteroid Day. As part of this, an appeal is given to all scientists and technologists who are supporting the idea of saving the earth from asteroids to sign this declaration. Anyone can sign this declaration, and more than 22,000 private citizens have also signed this.
The UN resolution in this regard was approved only in Dec 2016, when it took up the proposal submitted by Romanian astronaut Dumitru Prunariu and the Association of Space Explorers. The AsteroidDay.org lists out various related activities across 78 countries, across the first two years globally.
There are many national and international events being organized on this day, and one can take part in these to understand more about the Asteroids. This could be a good outing to go along with family, especially if you have grandkids, or with friends. The Nehru Planetariums in Delhi and Mumbai have interactive talks, live streaming, etc. planned out. The Jawaharlal Planetarium in Bangalore also has some exhibitions and lectures planned.
Besides these, there are events planned in many schools and colleges as well. You could check out the details of all events in this Astronomical Society of India website, if interested to attend any of these. It would be good to understand what happened, why and what can happen in the future, and how our scientists and astronauts are working to bring about our safety and safeguard the planet. Especially for kids, it will be very good to understand all this, and they could use this information for their school or college projects and events to generate awareness.
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