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Celebrating Asteroid Day

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Harzardous Asteroids
A visualization of some of the asteroids in our solar system.
Paul Chodas

Today is the first annual Asteroid Day, a worldwide event aiming to increase awareness about asteroids. These rocky bodies are common in our solar system, and reside mostly in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. A few asteroids, though, escape that region, and can pose a threat to our planet—it’s widely accepted that an asteroid impact millions of years ago was responsible for ending the age of dinosaurs and transforming the face of life on Earth.

It’s these near-Earth asteroids, which regularly make close fly-bys of our planet, that Asteroid Day aims to educate people about. That’s why the event is held on the anniversary of the Tunguska event, which occurred on June 30, 1908 when an asteroid or comet exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere, devastating hundreds of square miles of Siberian forest. The Tunguska was the most serious encounter the Earth has had with an asteroid in recorded history, but it was far from the last.

The Ahnighito meteorite. A thirty-four ton mass of iron with a rough bumpy pitted surface. In an exhibition hall with explanation panel in foreground.
The “Ahnighito” meteorite fragment on display in the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites struck the Earth about 10,000 years ago.

Technically, when the asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere, it became a “meteor”—you can learn about the difference between asteroids, meteors, and meteorites here. And that’s just one of many resources the Museum offers for learning more about near-Earth asteroids—and how scientists around the world are studying them and learning how to protect the planet from future impacts.

Today, we posted a new video in which Dr. Denton Ebel, Division Chair and Curator in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, discusses the potential options we might have for deflecting an asteroid and preventing an impact like the one that occurred in Tunguska.

Deflecting Astroids

Deflecting Astroids

Visit the Science Topics Page for Near-Earth Asteroids to explore more research, lectures, and videos presented by the Museum. Here are just a few samples:

- Science Bulletins explains how astronomers are tracking near-Earth asteroids. 

- Museum scientists research the composition of meteorite fragments.

- Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosts a 2013 panel asking how we can defend Earth from asteroid impacts.

And of course, the Museum’s permanent halls, like the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites and the David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth, host many example of these rocky objects from space, as well as interactive exhibits that can help visitors learn more about asteroids.