Don’t look now – but we’re currently seeing a string of stories about an impending global catastrophe. But in a change from reports of epidemics and climate change, this global catastrophe is caused by the impact of a giant asteroid. or the culprit. or both. This may seem ominous given the events in the recent Netflix movie Don’t Look Up, where Earth is threatened by a “planet-killing” asteroid.
But how worried are we really—and what would happen if such a body really hit us?
It has been my experience that deadly asteroids tend to strike in the summer months, when the news is weak on Earth. We may have been so sick of the grim news about the spread of the omicron COVID variant and its associated problems that a deadly (or comet) asteroid could make a refreshing change.
Some British newspapers turned to Nostradamus, the astrologer in the 16th century. A couple published stories at the end of 2021, around 2022 which was the year Nostradamus predicted the world would end with a massive impact with an object from space. This hook has scheduled objects that may (or likely won’t) come close to Earth in 2022.
My favorite list was published in the Sun newspaper, which described five asteroids heading toward Earth in the month of January alone.
The frightening title and the accompanying image of Earth in apparent danger are somewhat undermined by the following sentences of the image, in which the newspaper states that “all asteroids expected this year will pass close to Earth at a great distance and are unlikely to hit our planet.” We’ve already missed (or missed) the first two asteroids on this list (2021 YQ and 2021 YX) that hit Earth on January 5 at distances of 1.3 and 2.4 million miles, respectively.
No, I haven’t noticed them either – and I’m studying asteroids. There are three more asteroids expected to pass between 1 million and 5 million miles from Earth in the next few days, ranging in size from the size of a car to the Statue of Liberty. The person who gets the closest point will still be four times further from the moon, so there are no quite close calls.
Is “not looking” realistic?
Don’t look for an allegory, it uses the global catastrophic impact of the “planet killer” to the global catastrophic impact of climate change. It is a tale of corruption, corruption, and political and institutional self-interest that has been placed before the health and well-being of humanity. It’s also very funny
Without leaving out too many spoilers, the plot centers around two astronomers (a graduate student and her professor) who discover a comet that will crash into Earth in six months. They try to tell the President of the United States (played wonderfully by Meryl Streep), but she is more interested in the midterm elections.
The film satirizes right-wing American politics, the impact of donations to political parties on politics (and politicians), and the growing ability of modern technology to gather information about health, habits, and lifestyle and the use of that information by tech giants. .
However, he’s not making fun of science: The comet’s discovery is (sort of) realistic. Which is as it should be, since Aimee Menzer, principal investigator in NASANEOWISE asteroid tracking software was the production scientific advisor. In the movie, astronomers report their findings to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which, as seen in the movie, is a real organization run by NASA.
Is the movie realistic? Earth was hit by big asteroids in the past – which is why there are no gigantic dinosaurs roaming the planet today. It is bombarded every day with tons of dust and meteors. Planet Killer is sure to be written in the future (although it happens at most once every 50 million years) – and international governments take this much more seriously than it appears in the movie.
There is a well-tested protocol for reporting new asteroids and comets, which is what we know about those passing near Earth this month.
There are also plans to mitigate the possible consequences of an asteroid on its collision course with Earth. These usually depend on the distraction of the asteroid’s path, because trying to bring it down at the last moment is not feasible – it will take a lot of energy. The November launch of NASA’s DART mission, a technology test mission, will help shed light on how best to ward off asteroids threatening Earth.
But where the “don’t look up” program touches a nerve is the lack of preparedness for an emergency if (when) it finally occurs and mitigation plans fail. Here I return to the story of climate change. There is no plan B. In the movie, the catchphrase of “Don’t Look For” is the denial that a comet is close to destroying the planet – portrayed as fake news.
I thought it was a great movie. It is entertainment. But it’s not fake news. We are a global community and we must work together.
Written by Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences, The Open University.
This article was first published in The Conversation.