It's Asteroid Day 2020: Why you should care, and how to catch live events on asteroids today

Asteroids are a lot more than objects of scientific curiosity. Past encounters have warned us that asteroid impacts leave a mark.


Wherever in India you are, you're able enough to participate in Asteroid Day — an event meant to raise awareness about these small, rocky bodies, globally. On this day in 1908, a large asteroid impact flattened the forest in Tunguska, Siberia, leaving behind a crater (now a huge pond) spanning as fas as the eye can see on both sides from the centre.

Researchers argue that the meteor, which blasted millions of trees in the forest, just 'grazed' the Earth. The morning sky above Siberia on 30 June 1908 flared so bright and hot that a witness standing dozens of kilometers from the site thought that his shirt had caught fire, according to a LiveScience reportAn explosion, which followed the minute-long blinding brightness, smashed windows and knocked people off their feet in a town 60 km away, BBC reported.

 Its Asteroid Day 2020: Why you should care, and how to catch live events on asteroids today

A mysterious blast in 1908, thought to be caused by a meteor, flattened a Siberian taiga forest. Image courtesy: Sovfot/Universal Images

"The sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire," another witness reportedly said in testimony. NASA estimated that the energy released by the blast was roughly 185 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

More than 100 years later, new patchy forest grows at the site of the massive 1908 Tunguska explosion. Image courtesy: Sovfot/Universal Images

More than 100 years later, new patchy forest grows at the site of the massive 1908 Tunguska explosion. Image courtesy: Sovfot/Universal Images

It has also been theorised that asteroids were a major player in the cataclysm that killed the last of the dinosaurs. An asteroid that hit Earth at an incline – roughly 60 degrees – maximised the amount of climate-changing gases that entered the atmosphere.

The consequences of the asteroid impact lasted a lot longer, researchers say, than the impact itself. It released sulphur into the air, jumpstarting a "nuclear winter" on the planet's surface, which not only wiped out the dinosaurs but caused 75 percent of life on Earth to go extinct.

Today, asteroids are a lot more than an object of scientific curiosity. Researchers are also studying rocks in space to understand what forms them, to map their path and make predictions about likely future impacts that pose a threat to Earth, and because asteroids are time capsules of the early solar system.

Map of small asteroids that disintegrated in the atmosphere 1994-2013. Image: NASA

Map of small asteroids that disintegrated in the atmosphere 1994-2013. Image: NASA

In fact, research into asteroids alongside advancements in satellite technology have revealed that small asteroids impact Earth very frequently. A map released by NASA's Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program reveals that small asteroids regularly enter Earth's atmosphere and disintegrate with a random location distribution around the globe. The map visualizes data gathered by American government sensors from 1994 to 2013.

Asteroidday.org, a multi-partner effort to spread awareness about asteroids and events associated with them, released a petition in 2014 for public support to launch education programmes for awareness about asteroids. They also called on governments to accelerate the funding of asteroid discovery programs.

The website is hosting a day-long live program, covering many interesting dialogues, explaining research, and an exhibition by the European Space Observatory (ESO) with asteroids on display. You can catch the livestream here.

Also Read: Asteroid Day 2020 – raising awareness about threat posed by near-earth asteroids, since 2016

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Did asteroid, climate change really cause the mass extinction that took place 215 million years ago?

New type of Trojan asteroid discovered near Jupiter has an orbit like an asteroid but the tail of a comet


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