from The New Yorker

The Age of Asteroids


A view of the asteroid Lutetia from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft.A view of the asteroid Lutetia from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft. CREDITIMAGE FROM THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY

Brian May, the longtime guitarist of the rock band Queen, is also an astrophysicist. He started his career, in 1970, as a Ph.D. student at Imperial College, London, but four years later, after Queen released its second album, he put his studies on hold. In 2008, he finally finished his doctorate, with a thesis on zodiacal light, the faint patch of interstellar radiance that’s sometimes visible on the horizon at night. Last Wednesday, May joined Lord Martin Rees, the U.K.’s Astronomer Royal, at London’s Science Museum to discuss asteroids and the threats they pose to life on Earth.

“The more we learn about asteroid impacts, the clearer it becomes that the human race has been living on borrowed time,” May said. About a million near-Earth asteroids are thought to be on a possible collision course with our planet, but only ten thousand or so have actually been charted. May and Rees were among a hundred scientists, astronauts, artists, and technologists calling for a worldwide campaign to identify, and eventually deflect, these asteroids. “In astronomical terms, this is very down home, very much on our back doorstep,” Rees said. The advocacy campaign is united around what is known as the 100x Declaration, which aims to persuade governments and the private sector to discover and track a hundred thousand asteroids each year over the next decade. The declaration calls for the adoption of a global Asteroid Day on June 30, 2015, the hundred and seventh anniversary of the Tunguska event, in which a small asteroid exploded over Siberia, destroying eight hundred square miles of remote forest and releasing a hundred and eighty-five times as much energy as the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

[ click to continue reading at The New Yorker ]