“I will be talking about the end of the world,” an astronomer announced to his audience on Saturday.
Phil Plait, also known as the “Bad Astronomer,” presented “Death from the Skies” in Loeb Playhouse and provided a humorous perspective on potential threats regarding cosmic objects colliding with Earth by using information from his book, also titled “Death from the Skies.” He has had experience working with the Hubble telescope, NASA, and Bill Nye.
After briefly explaining the precarious position of optimal conditions for humans in our world, he began to explore the possibilities of life on Earth ending due to these collisions.
Quick quips and references to pop culture led the audience to bouts of laughter, but Plait kept his presentation grounded with scientific facts.
Plait talked about asteroids to substantiate his claim. He dissected the complex orbits and physical properties of asteroids and comets in the context of their danger to human life. He cited the Chelyabinsk Meteor in Russia that caused a shock wave, injured many people, and shattered windows.
“The universe is an awful place,” he said.
Plait reasoned that events such as the Chelyabinsk Meteor proved that meteors were serious and dangerous threats if they impacted the Earth. He compared impacts of meteors to that of nuclear weapons.
If a simple grapefruit-sized meteor caused this much destruction, he invited the audience to imagine the repercussions of a slightly bigger or faster meteor strike.
Plait then explored various approaches to deal with large meteors approaching the Earth. He elaborated on one such solution, discussing the possibility of using a satellite with propulsion to slowly draw the meteor into a different orbit. Plait also suggested that magnets could be used to draw the meteor away from the planet.
Eshwar Puvvada, a freshman in the College of Engineering, said the presentation furthered his interest in astronomy.
“He explained his ideas well,” Puvvada said.
He met with Plait after the presentation to ask the author a few questions and have his copy of “Death from the Skies” autographed.
Plait concluded his presentation by leaving Purdue students with one final piece of advice:
“If you get a chance, look up.”