Annihilation from space: the video

Posted by Daniel Pendick
on Friday, January 25, 2008

Duck! There’s another near-Earth asteroid coming!

You may have noted the media reports this week about the asteroid 2007 TU24, which makes a close pass by our home planet next Tuesday (January 29). But don’t worry too much, because I mean “close” in astronomical terms, which in this case is 1.4 lunar distances (334,000 miles).

Or perhaps a friend of yours forwarded a goofball hoax e-mail to you about the government conspiracy (only one?) to hide the fact that OH! MY! GOD! THE ASTEROID IS HEADING RIGHT FOR US!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!! ARRRGGGGHHHH!

Here’s a snippet from the goofball hoax e-mail a friend of mine forwarded to me:
“My friend, who I cannot identify, because of security issues told me that NASA is about 50/50 as to whether this asteroid will impact Earth.”

My favorite part is at the end, where this unidentified friend-of-NASA-contract-worker says, “If you are a praying man or woman I suggest to you that your prayers are directed toward the protection of Earth from this object. If you are not a praying person I suggest to you that you become one. May the Great Spirit protect us all!”

Forget the Great Spirit. What about NASA?

This is just one of the questions examined in a science video by Space Viz Productions, “Planetary Defense.” The 48-minute video — available on DVD from Space VizAmazon.com and the Space Viz web site — was directed, produced, narrated, edited, and scored by M. Moidel.

The video discusses the threat from asteroid and comet strikes, what scientists are doing to better characterize the threat, and what we humans might do to avoid going the way of the dinosaurs if a big asteroid were to threaten us.

I won’t comment much on the “hey, kids, let’s put on a show” lack of technical savvy in this video. You either see the glass half full or half empty. The half-empty perspective might include comments on the poor quality of video and sound in some parts of the video, or the distracting and intrusive music running behind some of the key interview segments.

But the half-full perspective says, “Wow, he did this ALL himself!” As someone now learning how to produce video, I feel Moidel’s pain. Making videos is HARD, and there are a million ways to look silly. (I invite Moidel to view some of my early videos for Astronomy.com and have a good giggle.)

That all said, the video does a good job with the content. It’s basically an educational film, not “infotainment” of the type you would expect on the Discovery Channel. Much to his credit, Moidel digs deep into some of the critical technical issues regarding space defense, such as the different mitigation strategies required to defend Earth against dense, metallic asteroids versus “junkpile” collections of rubble held together by gravity. The DVD also includes extended slide shows about comets & asteroids and Earth impacts. The total content length is 1 hour.

Kudos also to Moidel for the impressive and authoritative lineup of experts he interviewed, including science-fiction pioneer Arthur C. Clark, famous comet-hunter David Levy, and a number of  NASA top brains, including asteroid-scientist Donald Yeomans and astrobiology guru David Morrison.

As for Rusty Schweickart, the former astronaut now tooting the trumpet for space defense internationally, perhaps using heavily pixilated and discolored web-cam footage of him in the video was not such a good idea. I kept staring at the holes winking in and out of Rusty’s forehead instead of listening to him.

Anyway, if you want a slick documentary on space defense, avoid this video. However, if you want a detailed and informative treatment of the space defense issue, watch “Planetary Defense” — but be prepared to pay $49.99. This price is comparable, or lower than, many educational video products on the market. Moidel’s video seems best for schools and libraries rather than general consumers of science media.

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