Duncan Steel’s lecture on asteroids and the potential for deep impact

The Raven’s Science Café has always appealed to me.  I guess it’s the romantic in me which imagined a cluster of academics debating and discussing current theories in such civilised surrounding as the Raven Pub.  It was not, as I’m sure you can anticipate, anything like this, however I was not to be disappointed.  The event was much more popular than I had envisioned with the top floor entirely full.  It was also much more professionally run with all the hall marks of a modern university lecture.  However this should not put you off as Prof Steels’ talk was highly amusing and accessible even for someone like myself, who didn’t know the difference between a meteor and an asteroid (just in case you also didn’t know – the former is just the light you can see, whereas the latter is the actual lump of rock). 

Unfortunately I had to leave during the break between the lecture and the questions however I can thoroughly recommend both Duncan’s talks and the Raven’s Science Café [http://bathsciencecafe.org/].  Some of the things I picked up include:

– Asteroids are not round, as seen in many cartoon, unless over 2km wide (when their own gravitational pull draws them to a sphere).

– Never trust Wikipedia (as if we didn’t know this already), particularly as many scientists sons are prone to sabotaging their own father’s pages when bored!

– There is a belt of giant asteroids (easily big enough to wipe us off the planet) just outside Neptune.  Occasionally (we’re talking ‘occasionally’ in astronomical terms here rather than once a fortnight kinda time scale) Neptune’s gravitational pull acts as a giant slingshot and flings them into the inner solar system (where we are).  If this wasn’t daunting enough, they often break up into smaller asteroids, so instead on one massive one we’d be dealing with millions of them!

– It’s not like it is in the movies.  Although these events are predictable at the moment we don’t spot them coming very accurately till either the last minute or after it’s already passed us!  Duncan thought that to have any chance of dealing with a large asteroid we’d need decades of warning.

– No funding is awarded by the UK or the Australian (where is Duncan is based) governments for developing early warning systems.


There was loads of other interesting tit bits that I haven’t included, so I’ll definitely be popping back for next months installment.


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