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It’s the year 2019, and the European Space Agency (ESA) has been carefully monitoring a worrying situation: the European Parliament does not know what it does, exactly. So the agency came up with a horrendously bad, action-deficient video. In it, the year 2028, and the ESA has been carefully monitoring a worrying situation: an enormous asteroid is en route to strike Earth, although the exact point of impact is not yet clear. Suspense!

Then there is an anti-climatic ending, and the asteroid lands in the Pacific Ocean. Boom, done.

Except for the fact that one would assume an enormous (“It is a 100 times larger!“) asteroid impact anywhere, even in the middle of the ocean, would have some consequences. Maybe for shipping? Is there a danger of a tsunami? Is it not big enough for that? Why are you not communicating this information to the press or authorities? Oh, well.

Free advice: if you want to highlight the importance of “keeping watch for risky rocks” (kudos for the alliteration), a ‘no consequence’-ending might not be your best course of action for a big impact. We realise ESA has “given up on the news“, but you know… call us.

The lack of quality in the clip is really a shame, because as is more often the case, the science and technology of the Planetary Defence project itself is rather neat. For more explanation, listen to ESA’s Head of Planetary Defence, Rüdiger Jehn:

As ESA’s website explains, its Planetary Defence Office is just the coolest an “essential element” in ESA’s safety-related activities. Its stated goals:

  • Become aware of the current and future position of near-Earth objects relative to our planet
  • Estimate the likelihood of Earth impacts
  • Assess the consequences of any possible impact
  • Inform relevant parties, e.g. national emergency response agencies
  • Develop methods to deflect any risky asteroids

In order to fulfill these tasks, ESA is working on a new type of telescope, the Flyeye-telescope, as mentioned in both clips.

“Similar to the technique exploited by a fly’s compound eye, these bug-eyed telescopes split each image into 16 smaller subimages, increasing the total amount of sky that can be observed and expanding the ‘field of view’.”

ESA

Two testbeds for the new telescopes are under construction, one in Madrid, Spain, the other will be installed in La Sille, Chile.

Data from current and future telescopes is fed to the Minor Planet Center, and from there send on to ESA’s Near-Earth Objection Coordination Centre (NEOCC). NEOCC monitors information on the objects in our Solar System – asteroids, comets, etc. – and evaluates if there is a threat to Earth from one of them.

If NEOCC determines there is a possible danger of impact, relevant emergency services are informed. NEOCC will liaison with them, offering information, advice and support. But ESA wants to do more than just bracing for impact. In co-operation with NASA, ESA is organising the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission. As part of that mission, ESA’s Hera-mission will do a “detailed post-impact survey” with the aim of turning

“this grand-scale experiment into a well-understood and repeatable planetary defence technique.”

ESA

So instead of looking at silly clips, just strap on your nerd-goggles, find some appropriate music and read up on cool things in space. Because space is cool. Almost as cool as being Head of Planetary Defence.