"A single strike could reshape our world, and the only thing that can stop it is science."
So begins the trailer for the new IMAX film "Asteroid Hunters," which is scheduled to hit theaters on Oct. 8. As its title suggests, the 38-minute documentary introduces viewers to the scientists and engineers working to protect our planet against asteroid strikes, natural disasters that are inevitable and potentially devastating but also preventable.
"I am so very excited to work with IMAX to continue transporting audiences into space," the film's narrator, actress Daisy Ridley of "Star Wars" fame, said in a statement. "'Asteroid Hunters' showcases the brilliant minds of scientists and true planetary defenders working to protect our world, and reminding us what our people are capable of when united by a common goal."
The film's producers revealed the 1.5-minute trailer today (June 30), providing it first to Space.com before giving the sneak peak a widespread release. The unveiling date was chosen advisedly: June 30 is Asteroid Day, an international day of awareness about space rocks and the danger they pose to human civilization and life on Earth.
That danger was hammered home on June 30, 1908, when an object about the size of a football field exploded in the atmosphere above the Tunguska River in Siberia, flattening 770 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) of forest. We got another taste in February 2013, when a smaller airburst occurred over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. The shock wave from the Chelyabinsk event broke countless windows, wounding more than 1,000 people with shards of flying glass.
More such impacts are coming, scientists emphasize. The odds of a catastrophic strike, like the one that dispatched the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, occurring in our lifetime are very low; asteroid hunters have a good handle on the mountain-size near-Earth asteroids, and none of them pose a threat for the foreseeable future. But a truly dangerous rock will come our way eventually, and we therefore need to be ready, experts say.
Readiness requires action on multiple fronts, starting with getting a better understanding of the potentially hazardous asteroid population. There's still a lot of work to do in this area. For example, astronomers have discovered and tracked just one third of the estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects at least 460 feet (140 meters) wide, which would cause devastation on a regional scale if they hit.
Engineers are also working on ways to deflect incoming space rocks away from Earth, from fly-along "gravity tractor" probes to smashup "kinetic impactors" to nuclear warheads. (Nukes would be the option of last resort, pressed into service if we spot a giant asteroid bearing down on us with very little lead time.)
"Asteroid Hunters" will give you a solid grounding in all of this dovetailing planetary-defense work, if the new trailer is any guide.
"IMAX invites you to learn about the science, the technology and the heroes who are Earth's secret weapons," the narrator says at the end of the trailer.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.