We Earthlings are making progress toward defending our planet from near-Earth objects, which is reason enough for the annual Asteroid Day celebration. Co-founder Danica Remy tells us what to expect, while Detlef Koschny, acting head of the European Space Agency’s Planetary Defence Office, reviews ESA’s expanded efforts. Planetary Society chief scientist Bruce Betts oversees the Society’s deep involvement before he shows us the current night sky.
- Defend Earth, a Planetary Society core enterprise
- Asteroid Day
- Danica Remy
- European Space Agency Planetary Defence
- ESA near-Earth object coordination center
- Detlef Koschny
- 2019 article by Detlef Koschny about the European Space Agency’s planetary defense program
- Planetary Radio: Saving the Planet at the Planetary Defense Conference
- Hera, ESA’s asteroid investigator
- The Downlink
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Mat Kaplan: Happy Asteroid Day. This week on Planetary Radio.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. June 30th is Asteroid Day each year. Not having been hit by a big one is reason enough to celebrate, but we'll hear that there's much more to this United Nations sanctioned event from one of its co-founders, Danica Remy. Then, we'll turn to past guest Detlef Koschny, planetary scientist, impact expert, and acting head of the European Space Agency's Expanding Planetary Defense Effort. Planetary Society Chief Scientist Bruce Betts is another passionate defender of our world. He'll join us for a special What's Up segment that could also be called What's Not Coming Down: At Least Not Tet.
Mat Kaplan: I've got headlines from the latest edition of The Downlink waiting in the wings, but there have been a couple of fresh developments we should mention. Our first visit to a metal asteroid won't be launching this year. The software challenges we heard about from principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton a couple of weeks ago have proved to be too complex to solve during the 2022 launch window. Our sympathy and best wishes go to Lindy and her team. The other news story is a Planetary Society scoop contributed by our correspondent, Andrew Jones. Andrew writes about China's plans for a nuclear powered Neptune orbiter. Make that nuclear reactor powered orbiter. Details are at planetary.org. You can also see the mission profile for China's plans to return a sample from the Moon. That story is in the June 24 issue of The Downlink that is also available for free at planetary.org. And NASA has decided that the latest stress rehearsal for Artemis I, the launch of an uncrewed Orion capsule to the Moon and the first ever launch of that big space launch system rocket, was successful enough. The agency may now be hoping for an August or September countdown.
Mat Kaplan: Anyone who doubts the awesome destructive power of an asteroid or comet has probably not heard what happened in Tunguska, Siberia 114 years ago. They're probably also unaware of the annual event that marks this air burst that obliterated more than 2000 square kilometers or 830 square miles of remote forest. Estimates put the explosive power in the range of a modern ICBM launched hydrogen bomb. Danica Remy might say it's this lack of awareness that inspired the creation of Asteroid Day. Danica and Apollo astronaut, Rusty Schweickart, Queen guitarist and astrophysicist, Brian May, and German filmmaker, Grig Richters, pulled together the first one on June 30th, 2015. It has been growing ever since. With another Asteroid Day upon us, I invited Danica to tell us about this global event.
Mat Kaplan: Danica, welcome to Planetary Radio. Happy Asteroid Day! A few days early as we speak.
Danica Remy: Happy Asteroid Day to you, too, Mat. It's great to be on the show.
Mat Kaplan: I am so glad to have you here. My only regret is that, as this episode of Planetary Radio is published, the day before Asteroid Day, June 30th, 2022. I'm sorry that... Maybe a lot of our listeners, I hope, will have time to tune into some of the other events, including the big home event, which is why you're talking to me from Luxembourg right now. Can you give us an idea of what's in store? Actually, I guess, as people hear this, it's already underway.
Danica Remy: That's correct. That's correct. So, Asteroid Day was founded in 2014. The Planetary Society was one of our founding partners along with the Association of Space Explorers, B612 Foundation, and the California Academy of Science. And a few others. When we created it, we really modeled it after Earth Day. No one owns Earth Day. No one owns Asteroid Day. Already happening all around the world are hundreds of events happening in different countries. Delivered in their language with their asteroid experts or space mission experts. Through local astronomy clubs. Some countries like Brazil and Chile have almost month-long activities that end around Asteroid Day. Chile has had a national writing competition every year for fourth graders to write something that is the exact number of years since the asteroid blew up in Chelyabinsk on June 30th, which is why June 30th is Asteroid Day. Sorry. In Tunguska on June 30th. So, these events happen all over the world just like Earth Day. But here in Luxembourg, where our headquarters are for the Asteroid Foundation, we bring in a lot of astronauts and experts to talk to the public through a broadcast.
Mat Kaplan: I'm glad you made that slip of the tongue and mentioned Chelyabinsk because that was a pretty good reminder of why Asteroid Day and all the activities that go on around planetary defense... why this is so important, right?
Danica Remy: That's correct. In fact, when Chelyabinsk happened, that got several of us talking about what can we do to help educate the world? I mean, asteroids are really interesting, right? They're fantastic celestial objects. They've got a great story about being able to, hopefully in the future, really tell us a lot about how we came to be here as human beings and the rest of our beautiful home planet. Occasionally, they hit our home planet, which we'd like to have not happen. The idea of Chelyabinsk really made it clear that we needed to figure out how to start a global movement to educate the world more. And that's what started the conversation about let's create Asteroid Day.
Mat Kaplan: And what a success it has been ever since the founding. My feeling is it probably just continues to grow. I mean, you're seeing so much activity around the world, as you've already said.
Danica Remy: Yeah. I mean, one of the things is we don't require people to always tell us when they're using our logo or our brand. Groups register at our website. For your listeners around the world, you can go to www.asteroidday.org. Not that you need the WW anymore these days. Search on events and see if there's one registered in your local area. In your country. But what we find after Asteroid Day... Like, last year, we found over 600 events that didn't register. Because they don't have to register. So, the idea has really taken flight. People are interpreting Asteroid Day in so many incredibly wonderful ways.
Mat Kaplan: I love this kind of structure. It's similar to another event that I look forward to every year. Yuri's Night, where there are events around the world and they may or may not report in to Yuri's Night Central and say, yeah, we're doing something over here in Serbia, or whatever. It just seems so brilliantly and purely democratic to make it work this way.
Danica Remy: We like to call it... Really, it's an open source concept. Everything that we publish... We publish toolkits. We publish lesson plans. We publish event reports. The whole idea is, take our idea, please. And do it in your way.
Mat Kaplan: The organization behind this is the Asteroid Foundation, right? Which is what keeps you busy at least on this side of your life, not just getting ready for Asteroid Day each year, but what else does is the Asteroid Foundation up to?
Danica Remy: The Asteroid Foundation was created in 2017. Two years after we had our first Asteroid Day event. The Luxembourg government had laid out a pretty grand strategy for space resource utilization in 50 years. It's not very often where I see the word asteroid and funding next to it. And so I hopped on a plane to this tiny, little, wonderful country and started chatting with folks saying, hey, we already started this worldwide educational movement and maybe it needs a home. With that, the Luxembourg government, now the Luxembourg Space Agency, and a company called SES, which is the largest satellite operator in the world came in as a partner. And so we formed the foundation in 2017.
Danica Remy: Really, our goal is to provide asteroid education, all aspects of it, but also to support the new emerging space economy that's happening both here in Europe and around the rest of the world. We do programs where we bring astronauts and asteroid experts to schools in Romania, to schools here in Luxembourg. We do webcasts with some of our experts with schools in Chile and Africa. We do that kind of educational activity on a year round basis, but our biggest program is what's happening in six days when we have over 10 events in schools. We're doing a big event for the Ukrainian refugee community. We do a global broadcast for four hours. We have a gala. I don't know how many scientists have a gala, but we have an Asteroid Day gala here in Luxembourg complete with an asteroid cake. Yes, every year, we have a fabulous cake to celebrate all of our asteroid scientists around the world, but those that come to Luxembourg.
Mat Kaplan: I want to see pictures of that asteroid cake. We had a Mars cake once for Ray Bradbury's birthday.
Danica Remy: We've had four versions of our Asteroid Day cake and you can find pictures of them on our website.
Mat Kaplan: I will check that out. And, of course, we will put the website up on this week's Planetary Radio episode show page at planetary.org/radio. Hey, for those who can still catch it, what can they expect to see in that big four-hour broadcast that's taking place, like I said, less than a day after this show is published?
Danica Remy: You can watch the show on asteroidday.org. We'll also be streaming it through SES satellites. The satellite tune in instructions are on our website. We'll also be streaming over Twitch TV. You can expect to see a lot of, really, leading scientists who are working on asteroid missions. We've got an exciting mission in Europe called Hera that's set to go off and visit the asteroid that the DART mission, the Double Asteroid Redirect Test mission, is going to be crashing into at the end of this year, which we're all really excited about. We have a series of astronauts who are coming to see us. Ron Garan, Ed Lu, Michelle Tagini, Jean-François Clervoy, and Dorin Prunariu. I think we have five astronauts or cosmonauts with us. Those folks are fantastic because we're going to send them out to schools, but they'll also be talking on the broadcast. And then we've got engineers and scientists that are helping build the guts of either our understanding or some of these mission technologies. We go everything from education to characterization to scientific exploration to the kinds of tools that are helping us understand asteroids as well as what's happening in the new space world.
Mat Kaplan: I'm just going to add into that list my old friend, Phil Plait, who's listed on that lineup for this big broadcast of 2022. There's somebody else. Another one of those astronauts that is sort of near and dear to me. Rusty Schweickart, one of your co-founders of Asteroid Day. What does he bring to this table? I know he's been dedicated to planetary defense for a long time.
Danica Remy: Yes. Rusty, really, is the ultimate networker and brings together amazing ideas. Before we talk about planetary defense, we should highlight the fact that Rusty was really the co-founder and the lead architect of the Association of Space Explorers. That organization was brought together when the US and Russia were not very good friends and the notion that space travelers look at our home planet very differently than people who sit here on the ground. The ASE came together with Rusty's leadership 40 years ago maybe. I'm not sure. Maybe 50 years ago. Something like that. Rusty got the ASE to think of themselves as a community and a club. They have some obligations to take care of our home planet and encourage other people to take care of our home planet. A lot of our astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts, et cetera, really talk about the importance of taking care of our little island in our solar system, our home planet.
Danica Remy: From there, he realized that this issue of asteroid impacts, which do happen, needed to have some attention. And so he worked with Dr. Ed Lu, also an astronaut, and several other astrophysicists to create an organization called the B612 Foundation. Named after the asteroid that the little prince lives on. Not a vitamin. And so that organization is dedicated to protecting the planet from asteroid impacts. I serve as the president of that organization today. But back to Rusty's work. From there, he recognized that the place that we needed to have the real conversation about planetary defense was at the United Nations level. And so through the ASE, he instigated along with others the creation of what's called Action Team 14 that took, I think, 15 years through the UN process to develop, really, the first report, which they delivered in 2014, to the UN. The UN accepted this report that led to the creation of the International Asteroid Warning Network, a UN body, and the Space Mission Planning Group, another UN-based body, to help us work together should we and when we find out that there's an asteroid heading toward us. And so Rusty's been quite instrumental in all of these asteroid conversations.
Mat Kaplan: I have had such fun conversations with Rusty over the years, along with Ed Lu... you already mentioned... his fellow astronaut. I know they're good buddies.
Danica Remy: He's the executive director of the Asteroid Institute, which is a program at B612 Foundation.
Mat Kaplan: You mentioned the United Nations. Hasn't the UN basically smiled on Asteroid Day? Aren't you an officially sanctioned activity?
Danica Remy: We are. And we were very lucky because that work had been done by the ASE at the UN level. When we created Asteroid Day, when The Planetary Society and B612 and the Association of Space Explorers said, we're going to name a day and we're going to pick a date... which is what we did at the end of 2014. Bill Nye was there and a lot of other notables who said we need a day to celebrate and learn about asteroids. And then Dorin Prunariu, who was heading up this team... the first and only Romanian cosmonaut... took this recommendation from the ASE to the United Nations. By 2016, two years after we said it needed to be, the United Nations recognized us.
Mat Kaplan: Absolutely outstanding work. And I don't want to give short shrift to the other terrific partners. You have a long list of partners on the website for Asteroid Day. Again, people can check that out at the website. But I'll just say again. I am so proud that The Planetary Society is and continues to be a partner in this worldwide effort. I'm sure you know that planetary defense is a core initiative of ours. It's so exciting to see this work happening not just among the scientists and engineers who actually get to be in the forefront of avoiding this avoidable disaster, but to making the world aware of it and seeing how we can all come together to prevent it. Do you see progress in that area? Do you see growing awareness?
Danica Remy: Yes. The answer is absolutely yes. I often say to people that I feel like we're entering into the decade of asteroid discovery. I mean, we have so... We've got two fantastic missions with Hayabusa2, OSIRIS-Rex. We've got Lucy and Psyche and a couple of more coming out of both China and the UAE. This is decade we're going to learn a lot about these celestial objects. That's progress. It's progress of knowledge. It's progress of investment. It's progress of learning new things about our closest celestial objects. We want to see more progress and it was part of what... When we launched Asteroid Day, we launched with a declaration called the 100X. The 100X was a call to action that, in a decade, we should be finding a 100000 new near-Earth asteroids a year. Now, we knew it was a stretch goal. We knew it was stretch goal. The second thing that we called for in the 100X was to encourage governments, institutions, and philanthropic organizations to fund asteroid research and planetary defense efforts. And so we've seen a huge increase in funding to the Planetary Defense Coordination Offices budget at NASA. We've seen ESA step up with the supporting of the Hera mission. Standing up of the NEOCCA... I always get the acronym wrong.
Mat Kaplan: Which we're going to talk to Detlef Koschny about in just a few moments.
Danica Remy: That's great. Detlef is fantastic. He's been such a leader, along with Rusty, in this area of planetary defense. What we want to see more of and part of what we wanted the public to do... And you all at The Planetary Society do it. In the United States, we have a mechanism to go lobby our Congress. We can lobby for there to be money in the budgets for things that are important. We as people can say that. The rest of the world isn't structured that way. And so the public support, the call to action, letting your elected officials know that asteroid science and planetary defense is important, is why we created Asteroid Day. So, increase the rate of funding for these kinds of missions, including something like NEO Survey that NASA has proposed. And then the third thing that we had on our 100X Declaration was to create an international day of education and awareness called Asteroid Day. And we've done that one.
Mat Kaplan: And how.
Danica Remy: We're still working on number two and number three.
Mat Kaplan: Of course. And I'm sure that work will continue in part because of this worldwide awareness that you and others like The Planetary Society are generating. Danica, thank you so much for this work. Have a great time next week. I got to ask you one other question because I noticed... and I'm going to bring yet another organization into this because you are a very busy person. I saw that you're involved with something called the Long Now Foundation, which I am just awestruck by the mission of that group and by that clock that is coming together. That 10000-year clock that is coming together in the desert that someday I'm going to hike over to and see if I can wind it a little bit. We don't have time to go into great detail there, but as the Long Now Foundation looks ahead at the next 10000 years, it seems like a pretty good idea to make sure humanity is going to be around and not wiped out by an asteroid to be able to enjoy Asteroid Day in another 10000.
Danica Remy: I do joke with my colleagues on the board that the problem set that we're working on with Asteroid Day and at B612 is exactly the poster child of thinking long term or thinking about tomorrow. Because it could be either. For your listeners, Long Now is dedicated to fostering long-term thinking along the 10000 year continuum, that which is beyond our lifetimes and more at an ecological scale, and has been really trying to help foster a new network of people who think beyond an election cycle, who think beyond a decade, where we're really starting to think about legacies that go beyond what we currently think about when we think about long-term thinking.
Mat Kaplan: Danica, once again, thank you for thinking not just about our present challenges, but those in the distant future. Have a wonderful time at that big worldwide party. We'll be with you in spirit if not in person.
Danica Remy: Thank you for having me, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: That's Danica Remy. I'll be right back with Detlef Koschny, leader of the European Space Agency's planetary defense program.
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Mat Kaplan: We last heard from Detlef Koschny in 2015. He was among the all stars at that year's Planetary Defense Conference in Frascati, Italy. He joined us on stage for Planetary Radio Live from the headquarters of the Italian Space Agency. We've got a link to that special show on this week's episode page at planetary.org/radio, along with his 2019 article for The Planetary Society. It's about the European Space Agency's planetary defense program. A lot has happened in the years since. Detlef, who is now acting head of ESA's efforts, is a planetary scientist who has been part of missions including Rosetta, Venus Express, Bepi Colombo, Cassini-Huygens, India's Chandrayaan-1, and even Mars Pathfinder, the mission that is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Detlef teaches a course about near-Earth objects at the Technical University Munich.
Mat Kaplan: Detlef, welcome back to Planetary Radio. I bring you greetings from your old Caltech classmate, Bruce Betts. He says hi.
Detlef Koschny: Yeah, Mat, great talking to you. Even so this time it's not in person. And please give my best regards back to Bruce.
Mat Kaplan: I will be happy to. Of course. So let's get right into it. How would you describe humanity's progress toward being able to defend itself from these space rocks, asteroids, comets, near-Earth objects, that want to kill us?
Detlef Koschny: That's actually the good news here. I think the progress is really good. We are making a lot of progress. When I started in this whole business... That was... Let me think. It was like 15 years ago. I remember a statement by somebody who I will not name now, but a famous scientist in our field who I respect highly. He was saying we're basically unprepared. I think that changed significantly over the last 15 years. We're still not quite there. There's still a bit of way to go, but we have observational capabilities, which are at least in the basic setup, fulfilling our needs. We know whom to talk to if something happens. Who do we actually warn and things like that. It's not 100% there. I would say we're 70% there. But it's much better than 15 years ago.
Mat Kaplan: I'll say, yeah. I hear this from so many people. And we'll get into some of those details. You wrote a great article for our website, The Planetary Society website, back in 2019 that described, at that point, ESA, the European Space Agency's planetary defense work. We'll link to that from this week's show page at planetary.org/radio, along with some other great resources. But I found a more recent article that says, ESA stepped up its game last October, including things like a new Near-Earth Object Coordination Center in that great, little town of Frascati, Italy. Tell us what this means. Take us through this.
Detlef Koschny: We already had a large presence of colleagues at our Italian location, which we call ESRIN, which stands for something. I forgot. It's an acronym. But it's one of our ESA instantiations in Europe. We've been there for a while now. We already had something we called Near-Earth Object Coordination Center, but it was more the people that were there. Now, we actually get a fantastic building with it. We have a small building. It hosts 15 people max. But it's super modern. It has this moss from Iceland on the wall, which is making the sound quality fantastic. The climate in the building is great. So, we really have a center there with big screens on the wall. That's where most of our people are located now that deal with this topic of observing asteroids, computing their orbits, and warning the emergency response agencies.
Mat Kaplan: It was clear from this article that ESA is doing much, much more than creating this coordination center. Can you take us through some of these activities?
Detlef Koschny: I think one of the important steps that we did last year was that we really became independent in terms of orbit computation. I would say the cradle of orbit computation tools for asteroids... That, to me, is in Pisa in Italy. At the university there, Professor Milani a long time ago developed this concept that we need to compute orbits into the future. How complicated that is he found out and he solved many of these issues. Until last year still, we were relying, in a lot of our ESA orbit computations, on the group in Pisa. We are working closely with them, but now we have our own orbit computation system. It's called AstOD. We will give it a nice fancy name probably on Asteroid Day. It will be announced then. That is now really on par with, say, the JPL Sentry computation system, which does essentially the same thing. Always, we have been coordinating and double-checking, talking to each other, comparing results, but now we can say we're really truly independent.
Mat Kaplan: And it's good to hear. You don't want, I would think, just one major group determining these orbits because it is notoriously difficult. It takes an enormous amount of computing. There are so many factors to consider. Nice to have you guys being able to compare results and data.
Detlef Koschny: It's always been like that in a sense between the group in Pisa and JPL. That was always there. Now, we tried to bring this long-term stability of rather than having a university or a small company doing this, we have now another agency that's really behind that. I think that's really the big step forward.
Mat Kaplan: Well, kudos to the folks at the University of Pisa for being the real pioneers in developing this work. I'm also thinking of... I mean, ESA has so many other activities underway. The search for, the characterization of, and the tracking of these objects. I'm also thinking of the other research that's underway just to determine what happens when one of these objects strikes our planet. Isn't that something that you've done a lot of work with in your own research?
Detlef Koschny: Indeed. Me personally, I started out with doing impact experiments. That's when I was at Caltech in 1988 with Tom Ahrens. I always kept doing this. I'll go back even doing more already next month. Back to my old university in Munich. That is something where also we now have much more involvement of the agency, of the European Union, and also national funding to support this research. Part of that is triggered definitely by the American DART mission, which will impact asteroid Dimorphos in September this year. ESA is building a follow-up mission called Hara, which will go to the same asteroid and then look in detail at what really happened there. That motivated a lot of funding agencies in Europe to put money into this question. What happens if you have an impact?
Mat Kaplan: Makes a big difference, right? I mean, depending on the angle of attack, but also what that asteroid is made of. I think of those big metal asteroids like the one the Psyche mission will hopefully be leaving for. Can probably do a lot more damage, right, than one of these fluffy ones?
Detlef Koschny: Exactly. This is correct. The question really is how do objects behave when they enter the Earth's atmosphere? To me, the big puzzle is still... I was told long time ago any rocky object say larger than... sorry... smaller than 40 or 50 meters, it will completely fragment in the atmosphere. That's why we don't see an impact crater from the Tunguska event, for example, or from Chelyabinsk. But then there was this strange event in Peru in 2007, I think it was, where an object came down all the way to the ground, made a 15-meter sized crater. It was one and a half meters in size and it was made of rock. There are still things which we do not understand. There are still many things that we need to look into more.
Mat Kaplan: Wow. Always room to develop models further, I suppose. I'm so glad that you brought up Hera and I hope that you can say a little bit more about that mission because it's just fascinating that it's going to go out and take a look at this big rock, Dimorphos, that DART will have slammed into... What? A couple of years before? More like four years before, I suppose. What's the current progress? Is it safely headed towards launch in 2024?
Detlef Koschny: Yes, it is. Everything is on its track. With the usual hiccups, sometimes there are delays, but of course we are used to that. It's planned in. I saw engineering models already of some of the instrumentation. We have some in the corridor downstairs where the Hera office is located. I often go there just to see what kind of new hardware they have. Tests are ongoing also in our facility on instrument level for the Hera mission. So that is proceeding nicely.
Mat Kaplan: A little bit more about DART because it is so intriguing to think of this first test of actually being able to deflect an asteroid. It is a NASA mission, of course, but, but it sounds like ESA is taking great interest.
Detlef Koschny: Well, we are of course following this interest. What's happening there. Because, if it fails, then of course the question comes up. Why the hell do we go there? It's a very critical thing. Now, I'm convinced that it will not fail, of course. Otherwise, we wouldn't even have started with the Hera mission. But no, seriously. There are also a lot of European scientists already involved in the DART mission. ESA, per se, is not directly participating in the mission, but of course on the science level, there is a lot of collaboration. Also, on the technical level, there is exchange. It depends a bit, for example, what size you would expect the crater to be. That would drive the resolution of your imaging system. It's important that we talk to each other. I can happily report that this is indeed the case. We do talk to each other a lot.
Mat Kaplan: Let me ask you about something else that we hope at The Planetary Society, and a lot of other folks, will happen in space. And that is this long-proposed, long in development NEO Surveyor infrared telescope that will hopefully be finding many more of these dark objects that cross the path of our planet. Does ESA have a position on that mission, which has struggled a bit to find the funding it needs to get up there and start doing its work?
Detlef Koschny: We think it's really the next logical step. Some people even say it should have been the first logical step before even thinking about a deflection mission. We want to find these object before they find us. Some of our old JPL colleagues was coining that phrase. Now, it looks like the NEO Surveyor mission will happen and that's good news. We talked about that a lot with our NASA colleagues a couple of years ago when we were doing an internal study on whether we could actually contribute to that mission. It turned out that was, for technical reasons, actually not something which we followed further. But currently we do a very detailed study, including industrial studies, on a similar space based infrared mission, which we will propose to our delegates. Those people that make the money available for ESA. There's a high interest there in the ESA member countries to pursue that project. That could be the next big mission after Hera. That we also in Europe have an infrared mission.
Detlef Koschny: Now, would that be a duplication or redundancy? No. Because we go in a similar direction as we do with ground-based telescopes. The big surveys are currently all NASA funded. We are building something which we call the fly's eye telescope, which is focusing on the close objects. On those that might hit in three weeks or in six weeks. We're not aiming at surveying the complete solar system, but we are focusing on the objects which are close, but there, we want to see all of them. Even if they're smaller than 140 meters. We came up with a similar scenario for our European infrared mission, which is currently called NEOMIR, NEOMIR, which stands for NEO Mission in the Infrared. The idea there is similar. That NEO Surveyor would scan the whole solar system. It's like the deep survey. And our mission focuses on the vicinity close to earth, on the space close to earth, to discover those objects that come from the direction of the Sun, they're difficult to see from the ground, and they will hit or could hit the Earth in the next few weeks.
Mat Kaplan: We have seen recently how difficult it is to catch these objects. There have been some successes recently where they've been discovered... In some cases, what?Just days or hours before they impact?
Detlef Koschny: Yeah. The last one was just a few weeks ago... or now, it's already a couple of months, I think. It was the fifth event ever where an asteroid was discovered in space predicted to impact the Earth... Actually, let's call it enter the Earth's atmosphere because it didn't hit the ground. It was too small for that. That was just a few hours before that happened. Interestingly enough, it was not discovered by one of the big surveys, but by a group of amateur astronomers in Hungary. And then we did follow-up observations all over the world, that happened, and then we could quickly determine the impact location. There is even ground-based video evidence for the light flash that happened when this asteroid generated a fireball. It's not a direct image of the fireball, but you can see the reflected light of the fireball in some [inaudible 00:36:23] images of the surface that happen north of Iceland. Interesting event. We think this will happen more and more often, so ESA has actually planning a workshop to prepare. How do we inform each other? There will be a workshop in December on that topic, but that's a different story.
Mat Kaplan: I think this also indicates the continuing importance, even as we talk about observations from space, of ground-based telescopes by not just amateurs, but by professional astronomers at perhaps some of the larger observatories that we have down here on the surface. Do you also see it that way? That this is going to be an important partnership between space-based and ground-based telescopes?
Detlef Koschny: Definitely yes because... I mean, space-based, you don't have many telescopes. Something like NEO Surveyor or [inaudible 00:37:17] if we get the funding for our European mission. That's even in an earlier stage than NEO Surveyor. Then, we might have two, but they have a limited field of view. They can only look at one direction at a time. If I now find something which is in some other direction, we will not change the survey strategy of this mission and then point somewhere else because we'd constantly pointing randomly in space. That's where the ground-based telescopes come in. That's why we need them. If it's possible to see the object from ground, they would be much easier redirected in pointing. So, yeah. There is a lot of synergy that will happen there.
Mat Kaplan: I want to go back to one of the points you made toward the beginning of this conversation. Let's say we have this network of space-based and ground-based resources, telescopes, and they find a threat. It sounds like there has been pretty good progress about, okay, now what do we do? I'm thinking of that group started... I guess put together by the UN. The International Asteroid Warning Network. Tell us about that.
Detlef Koschny: Correct. There are two groups that we established. If I remember correctly, 2013 or '14. Something like that. After six years of discussion, the International Asteroid Warning Network is a network, as the name says, of basically everybody who is involved in observing asteroids, predicting their effects if they enter the earth atmosphere, orbit computers. They also have the task to inform, say, affected countries, for example. There's a second group, which works in parallel, which is called Space Mission Planning Advisory Group. The acronym is SMPAG. We pronounce that same page. That's just nicer to pronounce. That's now a group... it's not a network... where only invited participants are discussing. And they come from space agencies. That's an advisory group where the space agency representatives discuss how would we deflect an asteroid?
Detlef Koschny: The good thing is both these groups are working together with the Secretariat, which is the Office of Outer Space Affairs, which is located in the United Nations. So if we really had, say, a warning where we would say, okay, something happens over a country, A, B, C, and we don't have any direct relations to that country, we can simply inform the Office of Outer Space Affairs. They have official political contact with all the member countries and they would then inform. That's the mechanism that we have set up. This is why I said we are not yet 100% there. We still have to exercise that. Right now, it's defined, but we are currently working on exercising this whole thing. Let's take an example case and really play it through and inform somebody or are we saying, okay, this is just a game right now.
Mat Kaplan: I nevertheless find it extremely comforting that these international structures are being put in place. That there actually are plans to deal with this not if it happens, but when it happens, I mean, it could be tomorrow. It could be in a thousand years. But we know it's going to happen. There was a great fictional depiction of what could happen, very much a worst case situation, not long ago. Did you see the movie Don't Look Up?
Detlef Koschny: Yeah, I saw it three times. And it's not just me. Actually, my wife asked to see it several times. She really liked that very much. And when I say like, I have to say that doesn't mean it's just a funny movie. I think, unfortunately, there are many points in there which make me start thinking, oh, is it really like that? Unfortunately, most of the time my answer was, yep, it's really like that. Definitely a movie to watch. I will be giving a short presentation about asteroids and everything in Berlin next weekend and I was asked to refer to that movie. My reference is, yes, planetary defenses offices exist and this is the logo of the European version.
Mat Kaplan: I love that shirt. For the radio audience, it's an ESA shirt with a terrific logo, planetary defense logo, showing our beautiful pale blue dot being protected by a blue shield from an approaching asteroid. Great work. Great stuff. Detlef, it is great to hear about all of this activity underway at the European Space Agency. I have just one other question for you. Did your own fascination with the sky start with stolen... pardon me... borrowed binoculars?
Detlef Koschny: Who told you that?
Mat Kaplan: You could find many, many interesting things online.
Detlef Koschny: Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was 12. I read in the newspaper... Well, actually I didn't read. I saw a picture. A circle with dots in it. It turned out there is... In the local newspaper we had, there is a monthly star chart. And then somebody writes, okay, you can see in the constellation Orion or whatever... Andromeda. You can see the Andromeda galaxy. And it's visible with a pair of binoculars. And I thought, gee, that's cool. I wish I had a pair of binoculars. Next weekend, my father opens the cupboard in the living room and what do I see in there? A pair of binoculars! I said, "Can I borrow those?" And he said, "Nope." Guess what happened the next evening when it was clear? I sneaked into the living room, took these binoculars, went outside. I have to admit. It took me two weeks to find the Andromeda galaxy, but I was hooked.
Mat Kaplan: I'm not surprised. What a great story about... from one space geek to our audience full of space geeks... sneaking into the home cupboard not to steal alcohol, but to grab a pair of binoculars to go on a personal voyage of discovery. Detlef, I am very glad that you and others like you at ESA are still on that voyage of discovery that... who knows... may someday just save the world.
Detlef Koschny: We will never stop with our voyage here.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you so much, Detlef. Great to talk to you again.
Detlef Koschny: Thank you for having me, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: It is time for What's Up with the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, Dr. Bruce Betts. That also means that he runs all of our programmatic type planetary defense stuff, so I imagine you're pretty happy to hear that that has been the topic already today.
Bruce Betts: I am! I'm a passionate believer in asteroid defense as is The Planetary Society. It's one of those things that doesn't happen very often, but it will happen. And here's the key point. We can actually do something about it. We can't stop a hurricane, but we can stop an asteroid if we work at it.
Mat Kaplan: I should tell you because you haven't heard the conversation yet. Detlef Koschny. I told him that you sent your greetings as a former Caltech classmate. He was very nice. He smiled and said, "Bruce who?" No, actually, he was very nice. He said give you his regards.
Bruce Betts: To be clear, he was a postdoc. I was a graduate student. And he's looked down on me ever since. Then again, most people do. It has nothing to do with that. Nevermind. No, no. I enjoyed Detlef. He's a good guy. Oh, and I also wanted to say how happy I am with our involvement with Asteroid Day.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you bringing that up. Yeah, yeah. It was very nice of Danica to bring that up as well. I appreciate hearing what's going on in the night sky, too. Not much of a segue, but it's the best I can do. It's hot here.
Bruce Betts: Oh, it's beautiful. It's hot. You look like you're on Venus. Speaking of Venus... See, that's a segue.
Mat Kaplan: That's a segue.
Bruce Betts: Speaking of Venus, Venus is slow in the east in the pre dawn. All those planets, all five planets you can see with just your eyes, are still there, although they're spreading out across the sky. Mercury will be setting soon, but in the next few days, you can pick up Mercury if you've got a clear view to the eastern horizon before dawn. Mercury is below Venus. They're all in a nice little order. Still going across the sky. Like the order from the Sun. Going Mercury to Venus, go up higher... Well, you can look down and look at your feet and see the Earth. But then you look up and you see reddish Mars, which by the way, will be brightening significantly over the coming months, so keep an eye on it. And then we've got those other planets. Bright Jupiter, yellowish Saturn. But they're really starting to spread out. In fact, we've got Saturn rising in the late evening now and Jupiter rising in the middle of the night. They'll just keep rising earlier and earlier. Oh, and one other point. July 4th. The Earth is at aphelion, our farthest point in our orbit from the Sun. In our somewhat elliptical orbit.
Mat Kaplan: Does that shift a bit from year to year? Does aphelion come on different days?
Bruce Betts: Not much. I mean, Leap Day affects it more than anything. It does over long periods of time as the orbit precesses, rotates, whatever. Anyway, it does, but basically it's a similar date every time. It's that proof that, yes indeed, for the Northern Hemisphere and Mat sitting there sweltering in the heat, the summer is not dominated by how close we are to the Sun but the angle of our axial tilt compared to where the Sun is. But we all knew that, right, Mat?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah!
Bruce Betts: All right. Onto this week in space history. You may have noticed that, in 1908, was the Tunguska impact. June 30th. Had something to do with something. Asteroid Day. That's it. More recently, 2005, Deep Impact slammed into a comet. That was cool. We did Comet Bash. We did a program and it was live. It threw material out and it was good stuff. 1997. 25th anniversary of the Pathfinder landing on Mars. Pathfinder and the first rover on Mars, Sojourner.
Mat Kaplan: And we celebrate that in the June solstice issue of the Planetary Report. We talked about that. Was it last week or a couple of weeks ago? Last week, I guess. That you'll find at planetary.org. Looking back over that 25 years of extraordinary Mars exploration. TPR.
Bruce Betts: Yes. The restart of Mars exploration. Onto random space fact!
Mat Kaplan: That would've been my line, I guess. It really is hot here.
Bruce Betts: We can see video of here and Mat just keeps... He's doing a Louis Armstrong with the handkerchief or something and blotting his head. I'm glad-
Mat Kaplan: (singing).
Bruce Betts: I've got a good random space fact. I'm really proud of this one. This is something I dug up. I was looking at Apophis, the large asteroid that will do a close fly-by not but hit Earth in 2029. It turns out the longest side of Apophis is about the same length as the height of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park in California.
Mat Kaplan: Wow.
Bruce Betts: And so if you turn it on its long end next to Half Dome, it would roughly be the same height as Half Dome is above the valley floor. If you aren't familiar with Yosemite and Half Dome, take a look online. It's impressive. Around 440, 450 meters.
Mat Kaplan: I am very familiar with Yosemite and Yosemite Valley where Half Dome sits. That really brings home how big that space rock is. Because Half Dome is no shrinking violet. It's big. It's big. Take my word for it. It's really big.
Bruce Betts: Have you free climbed, did a free solo, up to to the top?
Mat Kaplan: No. Not without a jet pack. But I have hiked up to the top of Half Dome.
Bruce Betts: Nice job.
Mat Kaplan: That was strenuous enough for me.
Bruce Betts: I've seen it from the valley floor. Very impressive. It's much more impressive than if you hike up. That's what I heard. We move on to the trivia contest quickly. I asked you who was the first woman to fly in space twice?
Mat Kaplan: I'm going to give you the answer from Gene Lewin first. Gene Lewin in Washington. Not only did she fly there, she took a stroll about the heavens. A three plus hour EVA. A female first from Salyut 7. She's held many records. A hero of the USSR. Svetlana Savitskaya. First woman twice to touch the stars.
Bruce Betts: Indeed! Indeed. That is correct. Svetlana Savitskaya.
Mat Kaplan: She was amazingly accomplished. Do you have some of the stuff about her. I mean, I got it from some of the listeners, of course.
Bruce Betts: Well, I rely on our listeners for all of that. Share. Share with us.
Mat Kaplan: Norman Casoon. I don't know his source. Norman in the UK said, "Without the knowledge of her parents, Savitskaya began parachuting at the age of 16. Her father realized her unknown extracurricular activity upon discovery of a parachute knife in his daughter's schoolbag. Over the next year, she led record stratosphere jumps. 13800 meters, 14250 meters. Over the course of her flying experience, Savitskaya achieved three world record jumps from the stratosphere. 15 world record jumps from jet planes. In her flight experience, she became the first woman to reach 2683 kilometers per hour on a MiG-25. An experienced and highly educated female in the Soviet space program, she was reportedly an extremely serious, unbending, steely-eyed woman." It sounds like it. And I believe she's still around.
Bruce Betts: Yes, she is. She was also, I should note, the second woman in space. After a 20-year gap from the first woman, Tereshkova, and shortly before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.
Mat Kaplan: Mark Little added... Mark in northern Ireland... that she held 14 world records in aviation. At that time, of course. Pretty impressive.
Bruce Betts: That's amazing. How many do you hold now, Mat?
Mat Kaplan: Oh, I think she's got me beat. Last I checked, I think it was 12. But most of those have to do with things you can do in an airline cabin.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. There's that thing with jello. I never really understood that one. Anyway, go on.
Mat Kaplan: Here's our winner. He's a first-time winner and it was his first attempt, his first entry, into the contest.
Bruce Betts: You're making other people weep out there.
Mat Kaplan: I know. They're tearing their hair out, I'm sure. Todd Barn in Arizona. Todd said, yeah, Svetlana Savitskaya. '82 and '84. He said it's his first time actually entering the contest. Even though I'm a member of the society and have been listening for years. I just really want a copy of this book. Well, Todd, you're going to get this book. From Psyche principal investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Portrait of the Scientist as Young Woman. Got a lot of nice compliments on that conversation that I had with Lindy a couple of weeks ago. It was very special. And we are sorry to... We were sorry to learn, as we mentioned at the top of show, that it looks like Psyche's not going to be launched this year. They're not going to be able to work out those software problems yet. But space is hard. Right, Bruce?
Bruce Betts: Oh, it sure is. Believe me. I know. Ready for the next one?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Bruce Betts: What are the names of the two cameras on LICIACube, the Italian CubeSat companion to the DART mission? What are the cameras named? I enjoyed the answers, so that's why I'm sharing. Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.
Mat Kaplan: You have until the 6th. That'll be Wednesday, July 6th, at 8:00 AM Pacific Time. Here's the prize once again. Another really good book. It's by Dr. Bruce Betts. It's Solar System Reference for Teens.
Bruce Betts: What?
Mat Kaplan: Oh, yeah. We had another signed copy. I neglected to mention that last week. This will be a signed copy. He's already signed several copies. A fascinating guide to our planets, moons, space programs, and more. And who's it published by? I don't have it open to that page.
Bruce Betts: Rockridge Press.
Mat Kaplan: You're right. It is published by Rockridge Press. Give that man an asteroid.
Bruce Betts: Hey!
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. We're done.
Bruce Betts: All right. Go out there, look at the night sky, and think how we can help cool Mat off for the rest of the summer. Thank you and goodnight.
Mat Kaplan: Everybody, look for my Kickstarter to buy Mat a window air conditioner. Just kidding! Just kidding. I can't trust you people. Somebody out there might start one. That was Bruce Betts, who I'm looking at in his air conditioned home up there in Pasadena near the headquarters of The Planetary Society. He is the chief scientist of the Society who joins us every week here for What's Up.
Mat Kaplan: Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possibly by its members, who are heroes of planetary defense. Make an impact with them at planetary.org/join. Mark Hilverda and Rae Paoletta are our associate producers. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. Ad astra.