First Near Earth Asteroid Threat Workshop in Denmark

NEOShield-2 Agent Jordi conducts the First Near Earth Asteroid Threat Workshop in Denmark

Our NEOShield-2 Agents are proud ambassadors and important part of the NEOShield-2 Project Public Outreach Activities.

Agent Jordi successfully held the first workshop in Denmark, where the goal of the event was to increase public awareness and teach the citizens in Denmark about near-earth asteroids and comets science and the threat to Earth which might be imposed by them.

What we as a global civilization can do to protect our ecosystems, cities and families from space hazards like near-earth asteroids has been addressed as well.

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The event was composed of three talks. The first two were held by Jordi in collaboration with the European Space Agency and then in collaboration with the NEOShield-2 team respectively.

The third talk was held by Eric Christensen, director of the Catalina Sky Survey from the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona.

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There were 22 attendees for the workshop in the beautiful evening in Måløv .

The audience was very receptive and inquisitive, the questions asked during the Q & A session were very interesting and valuable!

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Then, to give the audience a practical experience, a solar telescope was installed outside the auditorium and the audience could observe the afternoon summer Sun like they never did before!

Jordi was really motivated after the event, especially when the entire audience was Thankful to him to have held this one of a kind event in Denmark.

His and most of the attendees opinions were that Space Research Occupies a very little place in Danish Economy; we believe & are optimistic this would change with time with budding and energetic young people like Jordi taking initiatives and creating a change!

Read more: Jordi’s entire report of the event is available here below.

ASTEROID DAY 2016

Denmark event

Reported on November 2016

Special thanks to my beloved wife Ditte Forteza for her patience and kind help & to my mother in law Carin Larsen for her kind help too.

The Asteroid Day 2016 event in Denmark was the first of its kind to be held on danish soil. The main goal of the event was to inform and teach the citizens in Denmark about the science of asteroids and comets, what we as a global civilisation can do to protect our ecosystems, cities and families from space hazards like asteroids. At last, it was also to get an example of what one of the world leading observatories are doing to discover, track and catalog asteroids in general, as well as potentially hazardous Near Earth Asteroids.

The event was a “lecture” series composed by three talks. The first two were held by myself in collaboration with the European Space Agency (through their open source slides uploaded to Asteroid Day’s organisers network) and then in collaboration with the NEO-Shield 2 project respectively. The third talk was held by Eric Christensen, director of the Catalina Sky Survey from the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona. He was kind to agree to participate through videoconference. He prepared a whole presentation with slides especially made for the event in Måløv. I was delighted about that, and I didn’t expect that level of participation, both from himself, but also from the audience. Eric talked for about three quarters of an hour overall. It was a long talk followed by a 15 min. Q&A with the audience.

Besides of this, I also recorded the entire event on video, so that I can edit it and produce a video summary in Danish & English, in order to reach out to more people. Not just in Måløv, the small town where I live in, but also to the World Wide Web through YouTube. I expect to finish the video in the upcoming months.

BACKGROUND & MOTIVATION

I have a background in astronomy. First as an amateur observer doing serious and semi-professional work on asteroids & comets on the island of Mallorca, where I’m from. Later on (very much later on) I took some courses in Physics, Astrophysics and Space Engineering from both The University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark, respectively. But sadly enough, I never completed my studies due to financial challenges and an overall poor economy. Let’s got it clear, I have been very sad and disappointed about quitting my dream studies. Also about the fact of being left with nothing but a huge student loan to pay back (that never served it’s purpose). But this is another story. Today I work as a Bus Driver in Copenhagen and to be honest, I enjoy it every day I’m out! My interest in astronomy has not vanished at all. I must say, that the day I discovered Asteroid Day & the NEOShield Project, my interest in astronomy came back to my head many times stronger! This is after all the best hobby I ever had, and will continue to be so the rest of my days. Besides of that, I’m also crazy about airplanes & aviation in general.

But hey! Enough about me and my crushes. Regarding the events, I had too much in my mind and too little time to do it. That was for sure the main challenge! Short after discovering both Asteroid Day and the NEOShield in February 2016, I decided to do something about it. It was also a delicate time, because I had just quitted college, I was unemployed, hugely in debt and I had no education. To be honest, the only thing that kept me “alive” when I was home alone, were the talks I wanted to prepare in June. The other motivation was the fact, that I wanted to inspire new generations and the public in general about the wonders of space. I thought, that if I couldn’t work in the space field (no matter how hard I’ve tried), maybe I could inspire others to follow this path. That will make me feel useful and happy.

PREPARATION

The thing that kickstarted my decision to organise an event for Asteroid Day came from NEOShield’s Star Quiz Challenge. After entering some info for a contest, I decided to contact the NEOShield itself in order to ask for an informal collaboration for the talks. Some time later you replied positively, and I was glad!

I also contacted some danish Astronomy & Space institutions for help a couple of months before June 30. It was mainly for advice and for an informal collaboration. But they were not interested in collaborating with an individual. Then, I decided to go solo with the NEOShield. It was very useful to get through all their slides, that I was going to use for presenting the NEOShield project at my Asteroid Day event.

The timeframe that I had to prepare for the talks, the venue and the advertisement of the event was very short. Too short in my opinion. Besides of that, I acted alone and on a budget equal to zero! But that was fully on my own decision and a product of my inexperience. I advertised the event as good a I possibly could. With paper wall in three local libraries, flyers I made and distributed on the Måløv train station, promoting on Facebook and Twitter. I also got to write a whole article on the local newspaper of the municipality of Ballerup, Ballerup Bladet.

The idea of asking Eric Christensen for help on holding a short Q&A with an expert came not out of the blue. It came from the Catalina Sky Survey’s (CSS) website. I was looking at an acknowledgement site, where the CSS listed a couple of observatories, and thanked them for doing quality follow-up observations over the years. One of the observatories was Consell Observatory (MPC code 176) in Mallorca, the one I observed from 10 years ago with my friends Àngel López & Rafael Pacheco. That was funny, and I decided to contact Eric. The idea of holding a Q&A with him developed into a whole talk, also with the Q&A! I didn’t expect that from Eric. But I am very grateful, that it developed this way. After all, I gave my talks as introductions to the main attraction of the event, Eric Christensen’s talk about Near Earth Asteroids.

DEVELOPMENT

The event was formed by three parts:

1) Science: Understanding our solar system, what we know about asteroids & comets, what we need to know to deflect and mitigate the risk. One of the most creative things I used in order to make most of the audience understand what the concept of gravity is was a low-budget solution. Not a video, not boring math, but a hola-hop ring with a piece of linen attached to it, a 3D print of asteroid Eros and a glass bead. With the model of the asteroid placed in the middle, we let go the bead a long it’s side. As the bead rolled, the trajectory changed a long the path. The more weight there was, the more bended was the trajectory of the bead. It worked! …They understood the principles of Einstein’s general relativity using Newtonian physics at work and no math. I Also talked a little bit about the Hayabusa 1 & 2 missions and the upcoming Osiris-Rex mission.

2) Technology: An insight into the NEOShield & NEOShield-2 projects. What is the motivation? What are the options of a deflection depending of the time of action and the size of the asteroid in question? What are the consequences of an impact depending of the size of the asteroid? What are the procedures and responses? Why is this preliminary work so important?

3) Special guest talk: How to find Near Earth Asteroids (and why we should care) by Eric Christensen. This talk was also to show the audience a first hand example of a World Class Early Warning System like the Catalina Sky Survey.

THE AUDIENCE

There were 22 attendees for the Asteroid Day evening in Måløv. After the first talk, the number dropped by 5 or so. That’s almost unavoidable when something new happens in town. Some came just to see what it was, and that’s natural. But in particular for my event, I guess that the fact that I didn’t made dedicated activities for children, that was a thing that did not match their expectations. Again because I had too many things I wanted to do, and too little time to prepare it properly.

The rest of the audience stayed and were delighted by the two remaining talks. Especially by Eric’s talk and Q&A. I felt very honoured to have Eric Christensen as the event’s special guest. I enjoyed seeing the audience listening to Eric’s explanations, filled with enthusiasm from both sides. The questions that popped up from the audience after his talk were also very interesting and good questions!

There was a break after each talk, where people could enjoy a sandwich, Danish butter cookies, tea and coffee, all that made possible by my mother in law and my beloved wife. After the second talk, the Sun came out from the clouds. Then, I installed the solar telescope outside the auditorium and the audience could observe the afternoon summer Sun like they never have seen it before. Not through pictures, nor videos, but through the solar telescope, that I borrowed from The Astrophysics Student Union from The University of Copenhagen. People liked that! Funny enough the telescope was made in the USA by Tucson.

After the event, almost all of the remaining audience passed by my side to thank me for a great evening before they headed home. I met some of them afterwards at the train station, or at the supermarket or even accidentally by phone in a work related phone call. Once again they thanked me for that evening. These little things makes me happy! Despite of the hard work, hours and hours of preparation and the expenditure of my own money, I must say that it paid off. People were more aware about asteroids, they were more concerned and willing to do something about it, like signing the Asteroid Day 100X declaration.

FUTURE EVENTS & MOTIVATIONS

See, the other thing that motivated me to organise an Asteroid Day event in the summer of 2016, was the fact that Space occupies a very little place in the economy of Denmark. Hence also on the public opinion. The country does contribute to EU in terms of funding scientific projects like the NEOShield. It also takes part in the European Space Agency, and so on…But the fact is that it does not invest as much as it could on space related projects. There’s no Danish Space Agency, so the Space sector in Denmark is very limited. It is NOT because there’s no talent in the country. It is simply because of the lack of political will. I think that the Danish government should pay more attention to the fact that, for every krona Denmark puts into ESA, there comes five krona back in the form of work positions, contracts, spin-off technologies applicable to enhance the lives of the general public, etc… In my opinion, Denmark has been overseeing a huge opportunity to take an active role in Space once and for all. The country does have very qualified people, internationally respected and produces useful space instruments aboard many NASA & ESA spacecrafts. etc… Still the country is missing a very good chance on putting an end to it’s many years long welfare crisis and boosting it’s economy like never before.

This is the reason why I think, that it is important to organise events like Asteroid Day in countries like Denmark. The goal is to give the public something to fight for, something that gives a good economic pay-off for the society an for a common purpose. To put some money on solving a problem that concerns the whole planet truly is worthwhile. I believe that every person likes the idea of protecting his or her backyard from dangers, then why is it that our government does not do all what it is necessary?

By November 2015, while I still was an engineering student at DTU, I did write with the Esben Lunde Larsen, the minister of Science & Education of the Danish government in person back then, and I asked him how much money does the country send to ESA each year. He said about 200 million krona per year (27 million EUR). I found out that this was by far not enough, because experts from Danish Industry (DI), and the whole Danish Space sector have fought (and are still fighting) for at least 400 million krona (54 million EUR) per year. That would give a pay-off of about 2 billion krona!! (270 million EUR!) per year in a reasonable time-frame, every time this proper amount is invested! Think about the possibilities for the Danish economy and the work places that could be created. Not only in Space industry, but in many other sectors! Think for instance, about how many infrared space telescopes we could build and put into orbit around the Sun, in order to find and track all of the potentially hazardous asteroids of the inner solar system, with just three times that ideal minimum amount of 400 million!

In the mean time, the Danish government has allowed the expenditure of 20 billion krona (2.6 billion EUR) by 2016 to buy 27 new F-35 fighter planes for the military. This is a total of 56 billion krona (7.5 billion EUR) over all the lifetime of the these jets! How many people are going to suffer from this? How many jobs are going to be lost from this? I personally think this is a quite serious paradox! Funny enough, three times the minimum amount of 400 million krona for the Space sector is still just about 16 times less than the amount the Danish government is spending on the F-35 jets! This is just to get an idea about the brutality of the difference we are talking about.

That’s why I am going to focus my attention on Science & Engineering students as audiences, as well as Danish politicians on my future Asteroid Day events in 2017 and also in 2018. I am not going to do it alone! To help and to guide new generations into safer and more reliable futures is an important task.

My experience with both Asteroid Day, the European Space Agency, DTU Space and the NEOShield-2 project, tells me that concerned citizens truly can help make a difference. Regarding their backgrounds and interests, they can inform the public in an interesting, sometimes funny and always plane way.

Hopefully the public can be better informed and more concerned, so that they can act with more consciousness in the type of democracy they live in, either participative of representative democracy.

Finally, I think that this model of collaboration between large governmental organisations and regular citizens, like NEOShield-2’s agent programme can be exportable to many other sectors.

About the author: P R