Dr. Phil Plait
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Dr. Phil Plait

Seattle, Washington, United States

Seattle, Washington, United States
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PHIL PLAIT: Historically we find meteorites all over the world. I have one that was from South America. This fell about 4,000 years ago. And it's iron, it's very heavy, it's the size of my fist, it weighs over a pound. You don't want this thing dropping on your foot if you just let go of it. You certainly don't want it hitting your house when it's moving at 50 times faster than a rifle bullet. That's why astronomers take this threat seriously. It's something that we need to be concerned about.

CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone, Cara Santa Maria here. The recent meteor strike over Chelyabinsk, Russia is reminding all of us just how vulnerable we are to attacks from above. So I reached out to Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy column at Slate magazine. Because who better to talk to about asteroids than the author of a book called "Death From The Skies!" So Phil, inquiring minds want to know, how common are these cosmic projectiles?

PP: The Earth gets hit by about a hundred tons of material every single day, and they're usually about the size of a grain of sand. The bigger something is, the more rare it is. So the Chelyabinsk meteor, this thing that came in over Russia, that was big. That was about 50 feet across. Those are very rare. We estimate they only come in once a century.

CSM: A hundred tons of material a day? Large impacts once a century? You'd think we'd see evidence of that all over our planet. It is 4.5 billion years old, after all. And in fact, Earth is covered in craters, but we can't see many of them anymore, because they've been eroded away by wind and water.

PP: The most famous one is probably in Arizona. (Meteor Crater: it's about a mile across.) The most famous impact would have been the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That was an object 10 kilometers (six miles) across. But you don't have to go back that far. In 1908, on June 30, something 50, 30 yards across--that size, the size of a big house or somebody's yard--came screaming in over Siberia and exploded. It was a very large impact. Something like that happening today would be very bad.

CSM: And if something like that were to happen today, would we be prepared?

PP: If we were to spot an asteroid headed towards Earth tonight that is going to hit us in a year, there's not a lot we can do about it.

CSM: Well that doesn't sound very promising.

PP: But we have a lot of ideas right now, and some of them involve whacking it with a rocket and trying to push it into a safer orbit, or possibly throwing a bomb at it to do the same thing. Putting a space probe near it so that you can use the gravity of the probe to pull on the asteroid and given enough time, as wacky as that sounds, that will actually work. You can use laser beams to heat the thing up. If it's spinning, that can actually help with this bizarre effect where it gives off heat in one direction, to actually act like a little bit of a rocket and push the asteroid into a safe orbit. There are all these plans, and they're all really cool, and we think a lot of them will work, but none of them is here.

CSM: Hmm...well...don't worry too much. We can track large objects years in advance, and we don't have any imminent threats right now. In fact, you can download a widget from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory website that shows all of our upcoming close encounters. But it's the small impacts that we can't track, like the Chelyabinsk meteor. We have no way to see them coming--our instruments just aren't sensitive enough yet.

PP: It came in the day before--just 16 hours before--we were passed by a much larger asteroid (about 50 meters across). And they are totally unrelated. This was a complete coincidence. The asteroid that passed us, 2012 DA14, was on a completely different orbit than this thing that came in over Russia. That right there basically closes the book on any chance they were related.

CSM: Wait wait wait. Asteroid, meteor. I'm confused. What's the difference?

PP: What we call something pretty much depends on where it is. So while something is orbiting the sun it's called an asteroid. As it's entering the Earth's atmosphere, the bit of it that's actually solid--whatever it is, the rock, the metal--we call it a meteoroid. As it's burning up in the Earth's atmosphere and is very bright, we call it a meteor. And if it hits the ground, we call it a meteorite. So an asteroid and a meteoroid and a meteor and a meteorite--yeah that's everything--it just depends on what it's doing and where it is.

CSM: And there are literally billions of asteroids whizzing by us all the time, and eventually, some of them will come crashing to Earth. So let me know what you think. Are you concerned about a threat from the skies? Come on, talk nerdy to me! - Huffington Post


"When I go outside and it's clear? Yeah, I look up. It's a habit. It's something I wish more people did. You may seem something that will profoundly affect you." — Phil Plait

Gazing up at the night sky is simultaneously humbling and utterly thrilling. This hour, we'll hear from TED speakers who share an infectious sense of wonder and curiosity about our place in the universe and what lies beyond our skies. - NPR's TED Radio Hour


Slate‘s resident astronomy blogger brings a sense of humor to prolific space coverage.

Read more: http://techland.time.com/2013/03/25/140-best-twitter-feeds-of-2013/slide/phil-plait/#ixzz2fBDh6BNZ
- TIME


SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - The Clark Planetarium is celebrating its 10 year anniversary and as part of the festivities a world-renowned astronomer is speaking in Salt Lake City Thursday.

Dr. Phil Plait is a former NASA scientist, author and international speaker. His lecture is titled "Death from the Skies" and it illustrates how the universe is trying to kill us.

“I’m going to be talking about asteroid impacts and people know about this from the dinosaurs being wiped out, but you don't need something that big to do a lot of damage,” said Plait.

Plait said you don't have to look further than the meteorite that struck Russia this year. “What fell in Russia was a chunk of rock that was 50 feet across and came in at 50 times the speed of a rifle bullet it was moving very rapidly and it basically blow up high in the atmosphere,” he said. “We're concerned about these things hitting and we're trying to prevent it.”

While trying to prevent the end of the world, Plait said his other passion is getting kids interested in science early which is why he's more than happy to help raise money for the Planetarium. All proceeds from his speaking event support the Planetarium’s educational programs.

“It’s super important to get kids into science young because that's when they are naturally scientists they are curious about everything,” he said. “You bring them to a place like this and you are encouraging it, you are expanding on it.”

There are still ways to help the Planetarium celebrate. There will be a space exploration show Friday in West Jordan and on Saturday the Planetarium will host a host party at the Dimple Dell Recreation Center. - ABC4


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Bio

Dr. Phil Plait
Astronomer, Skeptic, Science Educator, and Author

Bad Astronomy

For as long as he can remember, Dr. Phil Plait has been in love with science.

"When I was maybe four or five years old, my dad brought home a cheapo department store telescope. He aimed it at Saturn that night. One look, and that was it. I was hooked," he says.

After earning his doctorate in astronomy at the University of Virginia, he worked as a NASA contractor at the Goddard Space Flight Center, working with the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Plait began a career in public outreach and education with the 'Bad Astronomy' website and blog, debunking bad science and popular misconceptions. The book Bad Astronomy was released in 2002, to be followed in 2008 by Death From The Skies! His new television series, Phil Plait's Bad Universe, premiered on the Discovery Channel in September 2010.

Dr. Plait has given dozens of talks about science and pseudo-science across the US and internationally. He uses images, audio, and video clips in an entertaining and informative multimedia presentation packed with humor and backed by solid science and critical thinking.

He has spoken at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute (home of Hubble), the Hayden Planetarium in NYC and many other world-class museums and planetaria, conferences, astronomy clubs, colleges & universities, and community groups. He has appeared on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Pax TV, Tech TV, the SciFi Channel, Radio BBC, Air America, NPR, and many other television and internet venues. His writing has appeared in Sky and Telescope, Astronomy magazine, Night Sky magazine, Space.com, Maxim, the Skeptical Inquirer, and the Huffington Post, and more.

Bad Astronomy

In this general discussion of popular science myths, Dr. Plait demolishes a wide array of scientific misconceptions, from standing eggs on end, to blowing up asteroids. Using video clips from several blockbuster movies and television shows including Armageddon, Deep Impact, Enterprise, and The Simpsons, he talks about Hollywood science (or the lack thereof).

Death From The Skies!

Asteroid impacts! Cometary debris! Extinction level events! These are the ways the world might end, and these are the topics of Death from the Skies!, a scientifically-based but fun look at giant impacts from cosmic objects. Phil Plait astronomer, author, and blogger talks about how these events have shaped our history, how they may do so again, and why Hollywood always seems to get them wrong. And lest you think its all doom and gloom, Plait goes into details on how we might prevent the next great impact from ruining our whole day.