International Asteroid Day: What happened on June 30, 1908?


New Delhi: International Asteroid Day, observed on June 30, marks the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska event in Siberia. The day aims to raise awareness about the threat of asteroid impacts and promote global efforts in planetary defence. The Tunguska event was a powerful explosion caused by an asteroid that razed miles of forest to the ground. The United Nations declared June 30 as International Asteroid Day in 2016 to encourage people to learn about asteroids and the technologies being developed to prevent potential future impacts.
What happened 115 years ago?
The Tunguska event occurred at 7:15 a.m. (local time) when an asteroid exploded in the atmosphere over Siberia, Russia. The explosion destroyed 80 million trees over an area of ​​830 square miles and produced a shock wave that was felt hundreds of miles away. Fortunately, there were minimal human casualties due to the remote location, but the event underscored the potential devastation that an asteroid impact can cause. A few reindeer herders from the local Ewenki people witnessed the event, none from less than 20 miles away.

Back in the distance, witnesses reported they saw a large column of smoke rising up into the atmosphere. The asteroid, once called a bolide in Earth's atmosphere, had an estimated diameter of 130 feet, had an entry angle of about 30 degrees based on the trail it left in the sky, and it exploded at an altitude of about 6 miles.
International Asteroid DayIn 2016, the United Nations designated June 30 as International Asteroid Day to highlight the importance of planetary protection. NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) was established to monitor near-Earth objects (NEOs) and develop technologies to mitigate potential impacts.

“A NEO collision with Earth is the only natural disaster we now know how humanity can completely prevent,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer. “We must continue to search for things we know are still out there, and we must continue to research and test planetary defense technologies and capabilities that could one day protect our planet's inhabitants from a catastrophic event.”

One of PDCO's major initiatives is the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which successfully demonstrated asteroid deflection technology. Launched in November 2021, DART struck the asteroid Dimorphos in September 2022, changing its orbit. This mission proved that humanity has the capability to alter the trajectory of potentially hazardous asteroids.

The Tunguska event remains the largest asteroid event recorded on Earth in recent history. However, the planet has seen impacts before that have had devastating consequences. The Chicxulub crater, created by an asteroid impact 65 million years ago in Mexico, is associated with the extinction of the dinosaurs and 75% of Earth's species. More recent impacts, such as the Meteor Crater in Arizona and the Chelyabinsk event in Russia in 2013, continue to remind us of the continuing threat posed by NEOs.

NASA's ongoing efforts to track and study NEOs involve global collaboration and continuing advances in technology. “The recent positive experience with DART shows that techniques exist to mitigate potential NEO impacts on Earth,” Johnson said. “We must remain vigilant and prepared to protect our planet from future threats.”


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