On June 30th 2017 the world is celebrating the third Asteroid Day. What initially had started as a discussion among the movie makers and astrophysicists, scientists and artists during and around the creation of the end time movie “51 Degrees North” from the German movie director Grigorij S. Richters has become a serious worldwide initiative that brings the world together to raise awareness about asteroids and what can be done to protect our planet.
The threat is real: Asteroid Day is held on the anniversary of the 1908 Siberian Tunguska event. This event is believed to have been caused by an incoming asteroid or a comet, which never actually struck Earth but instead exploded in the atmosphere, causing what is known as an air burst, 5–10 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. It destroyed 2,000 square kilometers of the taiga forest and about 80 million trees in that area.
We don’t have to go back that far in history: on February 15, 2013, the meteor or mini-asteroid that hit Russian Chelyabinsk was the biggest known meteor entering the atmosphere since the Tunguska event. The compression wave it entailed caused a lot of harm – approximately 3700 buildings had been damaged and 1500 people had been hurt. This meteor had a diameter of only 19 meters …
Just this year in April, an Asteroid of 650 meters, bigger than some of the highest skyscrapers on earth, did came quite close to our planet: “2014 JO25” just missed our Earth by 1,8 million kilometers, which – according to NASA – for an asteroid is a really close approximation.
And there is a certain David Meade, author of the book ‘Planet X – The 2017 Arrival’, who believes a star, which will bring with it ‘seven orbiting bodies’, including Nibiru, a large, blue planet referred to as Planet X, is coming “at us towards the south pole” and will hit and destroy our planet in October this year. Conspiracy theory – certainly, massive exaggeration – you bet.
But still – the generic threat is real. To date, officially 725,233 asteroids are known in the solar system, with the actual number likely to be in the millions.
The good news is that, of all likely catastrophes, an asteroid impact might be the best predictable and the best monitored one. During the past decades, our ability to closely observe events in the space has grown immensely.
As an example, NASA’s Asteroid Watch Widget tracks asteroids and comets that will make relatively close approaches to Earth. The Widget displays the date of closest approach, approximate object diameter, relative size and distance from Earth for each encounter. In addition, the options to take action against a potential strike of an asteroid or to assess the potential damage from an asteroid strike—and plan appropriate mitigation strategies—is much faster and more accurate due to trajectory calculations, state-of-the-art impact simulations and risk models run on research supercomputers such as Pleiades from NASA.
And at this point Linux meets Asteroid Day. Pleiades is one of the many supercomputers running on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. SUSE has an established position as one of the leading operating systems for high-performance computing and high availability server operations in general and supercomputers in particular, and this expertise has been brought to bear across numerous research institutions. However, with regard to space research, Pleiades might be the most important supercomputer. NASA uses its supercomputers for many high profile projects in the field of planetary defense, such as the:
- Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM): NASA is developing a first-ever robotic mission to visit a large near-Earth asteroid, collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface, and redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon. Once it’s there, astronauts will explore it and return with samples in the 2020s. In addition, ARM is planned to help NASA to advance these new technologies and spaceflight experience needed for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s.
- Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA): The AIDA mission concept is an international collaboration among NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) – which btw is also a SUSE customer –, the Observatoire de la Côte d´Azur, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. AIDA is designed to be the first demonstration of the kinetic impact technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space. AIDA is a dual-mission concept, involving two independent spacecraft – NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), and ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM).
Collectively, space research projects based on supercomputers running Linux are giving the respective scientific bodies the ability to conduct scientific research in a cost-effective and secure manner. Linux and the Open Source community play a significant role in furthering the cause of science, and make a particularly strong contribution in the field of supercomputing. Research requires the most scalable, reliable, powerful and high-performance computing environments to ensure success, and the vast majority of these environments depend on Linux. Asteroid Day is an opportunity for us to recognize the importance of IT in furthering all scientific causes, regardless of the field.
NASA celebrates International Asteroid Day with a special broadcast. The broadcast will be part of a 24-hour Asteroid Day program from Broadcasting Center Europe, beginning at 9 p.m. June 29 (1 a.m. June 30 GMT) and streaming online at:
And of course we celebrate, too – together with the ‘special guest Linux’.