UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Exploring the importance of International Asteroid Day

Why should we care about asteroids? Our student Mayukh answers this question and talks about space research in the blog marking International Asteroid Day.

International Asteroid Day

30 June 2024

Amidst black holes, quasars, and the Big Bang, something equally intriguing caught my attention as I studied the module, “Modern Physics, Astronomy and Cosmology” at UCL: asteroids. Yep, those seemingly harmless space rocks have a lot more going on than meets the eye. 

Enter International Asteroid Day, a global initiative that aims to raise public awareness about the potential hazards of asteroid impacts and inform us about what to do in case a near-Earth Object (NEO) decides to pay us an uninvited visit.

Why should we care about asteroids?

Asteroids might sound like the stuff of sci-fi movies, but they’re very real and can pose serious risks to our planet. These space rocks range from tiny pebbles to giant boulders stretching several kilometres. 

While most hang out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, some take a detour and head our way due to gravitational interactions with planets or other asteroids, altering their orbits. And when they do, they can cause quite a ruckus.

Remember the dinosaurs? Their untimely demise 66 million years ago was partly thanks to a massive asteroid impact. More recently, in 2013, a small asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, injuring over 1,000 people. So, understanding these threats isn’t just for scientists — it’s for all of us.

What’s International Asteroid Day all about?

International Asteroid Day,  marked each year on 30 June, is like humanity’s annual wake-up call about asteroids. This date marks the anniversary of the Tunguska event in 1908, when an asteroid flattened about 80 million trees in Siberia. That’s a pretty big hint that we should take these things seriously.

This day brings together experts from around the globe — astronomers, physicists, disaster management pros — to share their knowledge and strategies for spotting and dealing with potential threats. It’s a chance for all of us to get clued up on what’s out there and what we can do about it.

Teamwork makes the dream work

One of the coolest things I’ve learned in my studies with UCL Physics and Astronomy is how international cooperation is at the heart of space research. Agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) aren’t just staring at the stars — they’re working tirelessly to keep us safe. Using advanced telescopes, satellites, and radar systems, they track asteroids and predict their paths.

If a threat is detected, these organisations have detailed plans to inform the public and coordinate a response. Think of it as a global neighbourhood watch, but for space rocks. They’ve even got plans for deflecting or destroying dangerous asteroids, just in case.

The future of space defence

Despite all the progress, we can’t afford to sit back and relax. Continuous research and investment in space technology are essential. Take NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission, for instance. Launched in November 2021, DART successfully demonstrated the ability to change the orbit of an asteroid in September 2022 by crashing into the moonlet Dimorphos of the asteroid Didymos. This historic achievement proved that with the right technology, we can alter the path of an asteroid and potentially prevent a catastrophic impact on Earth. Pretty cool, right?

My studies have shown me how interconnected and collaborative space research is. It’s a field that needs global cooperation, constant learning, and public support. Through initiatives like International Asteroid Day, we can help ensure these efforts get the attention and funding they deserve.

Whether you’re a student like me, a space enthusiast, or just curious about the cosmos, there’s always more to discover and contribute. International Asteroid Day isn’t just about acknowledging a potential threat — it’s about celebrating our collective achievements in protecting our planet and inspiring future generations. Let’s stay curious, stay informed, and stay prepared. After all, the universe is a big place, and who knows what’s out there waiting to be discovered?

Mayukh Das
MSci Chemistry student (Department of Chemistry)