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Danger from heaven

The astronomer community hopes that Spielberg's new film, Deep Impact, will indeed have a profound effect on the decision makers to launch the "Space Guard" operation


By Avi Blizovsky

On May 8, Steven Spielberg's new film Deep Impact, which deals with an important astronomical topic from a cinematic angle, will be released in the USA. Leo Biederman, a 14-year-old boy (played by Elia Wood) discovered in his private telescope an asteroid approaching the Earth. The young journalist, Thea Lerner accidentally discovers the existence of an international operation to fly to this asteroid, land on its surface, and plant a powerful atomic bomb there that will help divert it from the collision course. After that, an astronaut expedition leaves and the film is about them, as well as the philosophical reflection of a humanity on the brink of a death sentence.

Warnings about asteroids threatening to hit the Earth have appeared in film and television since the seventies, following Larry Niven and Jerry Parnell's book "The Devil's Hammer". Also Arthur C. Clarke contributed his part, as well as the term "Space Watch" which refers to people searching for such bodies, in his "Encounter with Rama" book series. But it turns out that even twenty years of such brainwashing did not help to advance the search for such bodies, which is mainly in the hands of amateurs.

Two of these enthusiasts Erwin Shoemaker and David Levy (the former was killed about a year ago in a car accident on his way to investigate an impact crater in Australia) even proved the danger, when they discovered during such a collision but on another planet in the solar system Jupiter. Before the impact in '94, all the telescopes were pointed towards Jupiter and showed everything that could happen to the Earth. Now Steven Spielberg is also throwing his weight behind.

According to the chairman of the Israeli Astronomical Society, Yigal Fatal, most of the asteroids are in fixed orbits in the space between Mars and Jupiter, roughly half a billion kilometers from us. However, due to power games between the asteroids, and the effect of the gravitational forces of the planets, some of them are thrown into the inner solar system, and in the process, a small part of them, fall into an orbit outside the Earth's orbit. Some even revolve around the sun almost coinciding with the orbit of the earth around it. On one of these asteroids, Eros was recently made into a documentary.

"Currently, no asteroid is known whose orbit has found itself in the direction of a collision with the Earth, this is because the Earth is relatively small along its orbit. But there are probably thousands of asteroids ranging in size from hundreds of meters to a few kilometers, which cannot be discovered with a telescope in a normal way. To discover them anyway, it is necessary to photograph the whole sky in an attempt to hunt them down. After in recent years a number of objects have been discovered that passed threateningly close to the Earth. One of them Totatis (named after the Gallic god of war) passed a few years ago at a distance of several hundred thousand kilometers, which is almost an injury.

In fact, this asteroid passes very close to Earth once every few years. The discovery of these asteroids turned on a red light again, regarding the quite tangible chance that one of them will hit the Earth in the future, and if it is large enough, it could lead to a holocaust such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. "

On March 11, 98, a circular was sent by the International Astronomical Union (IEU), which usually distributes the information online. In this circular, numbered 6837, the discovery of asteroid XF11-1997 was reported, which was discovered in December 97.

In the circular it was stated that the asteroid, which is approximately one and a half kilometers in diameter, will pass on October 26, 2028 at a distance of less than 400 thousand kilometers from the Earth, when the possibility of hitting the Earth cannot be ruled out at all, when observations made after the publication of the circular, in March, revealed that the body will pass approximately 50 thousand kilometers from the center of the earth, almost at the height of the communication satellites. After the discovery, this body was added to the list of about a hundred objects whose orbits are constantly monitored due to their threatening proximity. Of course the media made excuses from the discovery and put the public in a panic. As a result, astronomers decided to try to look for traces of the asteroid in photographs taken in previous years, in order to calculate the trajectory more precisely. And when they looked back at old photographic plates, traces of the asteroid were discovered in a photographic plate from 1990, and NASA scientists calculated the time of the transit will indeed occur on October 26, 2028 at 08.30:XNUMX Israel time, but the correction showed that it would be approximately only one million kilometers from Earth, so the probability To be vulnerable in this transition is zero. By the way, if this asteroid had indeed hit, it would have resulted in the release of energy of millions of megatons and most probably a significant part of humanity would have been destroyed.

Q: Films and press releases have already been made before, why was Spielberg needed?

Fatal: "Spielberg's film was made with a huge budget and it will be hard to ignore it. What Spielberg is trying to do, together with the scientific community, is to build observatories, such as the one we started to build in Givataim, and even if a small asteroid hits, the damage will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars, even hitting the ocean. The cost of erecting such observatories is less than the insurance rate for the businesses located in the coastal areas that may be flooded. Since the question is not if it will happen, but when it will happen, the community of scientists with the help of celebrities like Phileberg, are trying to shake the minds of the decision makers. It is hoped that the allocation of resources, as well as professional personnel in the field of astronomy, will advance the investigation of bodies that may collide with the Earth."

"At the Mitzvah in Givatayim, we set up a group with the help of the equipment that already exists at the Mitzvah (a 30-centimeter telescope and a sophisticated CCD camera, whose job it is to systematically survey the sky), and we would like to hold a gathering this summer of all active observatories in Israel in order to share the project with them and establish an information center at our Mitzvah that will bring together all The information collected in Israel in this field. It should be remembered that today the asteroid hunt is mainly in the hands of amateurs because the equipment that is in the hands of amateurs today is comparable to that of large telescopes in the XNUMXs, therefore the integration of amateurs in Israel into the global network consisting mainly of amateurs and a few professional astronomers is important."

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