Netflix’s best apocalypse movie reveals the truth about planet-killing asteroids

don’t look now – but we are currently experiencing a flurry of stories about a coming global catastrophe. But unlike reports of pandemics and climate change, this global catastrophe is produced by the impact of a giant asteroid. Or comet. Or both.

This may seem very disturbing given the events of the recent Netflix movie. Don’t look up, in which the Earth is threatened by a “planet killer” asteroid.

But how much should we really worry – and what would happen if such a body actually hit us?

In my experience, killer asteroids tend to strike during the summer months when news is scarce on the ground. Perhaps we’re so tired of the grim news about the spread of the omicron variant Covid and associated problems that a killer asteroid (or comet) brings a refreshing change.

Some British newspapers turned to Nostradamus, the 16th century astrologer. A couple posted stories at the end of 2021 about 2022 being the year in which Nostradamus predicted the world would end in a giant impact with a space body. This hook has resulted in tabulations of objects that may (or, more likely, will not) come close to Earth in 2022.

My favorite list was published by the Sun journal, which described five asteroids heading towards Earth in January alone.

The chilling headline and accompanying image of an Earth in apparent danger are somewhat undermined by the sentences following the image, in which the newspaper states that “all asteroids predicted this year will pass by Earth at a significant distance and it is very unlikely that they will strike our planet”.

We’ve already missed (or missed) the first two asteroids on this list (2021 YQ and 2021 YX) which hurtled past Earth on January 5 at distances of 1.3 and 2.4 million miles, respectively.

Aerial photo of Barringer Crater.USGS/wikimedia

No, I haven’t noticed them either — and I study asteroids. There are three other asteroids expected to pass between one and five million miles from Earth in the next few days, ranging in size from that of a car to that of the Statue of Liberty. Whoever gets closest will still be four times farther away than the Moon, so not exactly close calls.

East Don’t look up realistic?

Don’t Look Up is an allegory, using the catastrophic global impact of a “planet killer” for the catastrophic global impact of climate change. It is a story of corruption, venality, and political and corporate interests placed before the health and well-being of humanity. It’s also very funny.

Without revealing too many details, the plot focuses on two astronomers (a graduate student and her professor) who discover a comet that will collide with Earth in six months. They try to tell the President of the United States (gloriously played by Meryl Streep), but she’s more concerned about the midterm elections.

The film pokes fun at right-wing American politics, the influence of political party donations on politics (and politicians), the growing ability of modern technology to collect information about health, habits and lifestyle. of life, and the use of this information by technology. giants.

This doesn’t mock science, though: the comet discovery is (sort of) realistic. That’s as it should be, since Amy Mainzer, principal investigator of NASA’s NEOWISE asteroid tracking program, served as the production science advisor.

In the film, astronomers report their findings to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which, as the film shows, is an actual organization run by NASA.

So is the film realistic? Earth has been hit by large asteroids in the past – that’s why there are no huge dinosaurs roaming the planet today. And it is bombarded every day by tons of dust and meteorites.

Certainly a “planet killer” is written in the future (although it happens at most once every 50 million years) – and this is taken much more seriously by international governments than this which is shown in the film.

There is a well-tested protocol for reporting new asteroids and comets, which is how we know which ones pass Earth this month.

It is also planned to mitigate the potential consequences of an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. These usually rely on deflecting the asteroid’s path, as trying to shoot it down at the last minute is not possible – that would take too much energy. The November launch of NASA’s DART mission, a technology test mission, will further shed light on how best to deflect asteroids threatening Earth.

But where Don’t look up strikes a chord is the lack of preparedness for an emergency if (when) it does eventually occur and mitigation plans have failed. I return here to the allegory of climate change. There is no plan B. In the film, the slogan “Don’t Look Up” is a denial that an approaching comet will destroy the planet – it is portrayed as fake news.

I thought it was a great movie. It’s entertainment. But this is not fake news. We are a global community and we must act together.

This article was originally published on The conversation through Monica Grady at the Open University. Read it original article here.

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