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Speiriscope: Killer asteroids

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What with swatting mosquitoes the size of canned hams, you probably have not had time to worry about being crushed to death by a Killer Asteroid from Outer Space.

Fortunately, we ha e been doing that for you.

What you need to know is, earlier this month, an asteroid the size of a small truck -- Asteroid 2013 LR6 -- zipped past Earth four times closer than the moon.

It was only the latest in a parade of scary celestial visitors.

On May 31, the 2.7-kilometre-wide Asteroid 1998 QE2, with its own moon in tow, passed within 5.8 million kilometres of Earth, while on Feb. 15, a small asteroid blasted through the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia, leaving more than 1,500 people injured by flying glass and debris.

What do scientists have to say about all this? They say there's nothing to worry about. What does that mean? It means we are all going to die. If science won't save us from cosmic catastrophe, we'll have to rely on Hollywood, because movie-makers have been doing it for years, such as in these five masterpieces:

5) Deep Impact (1998): In the first of 1998's two blockbusters, astronaut Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall) leads a joint U.S.-Russian team to save the planet from an 11-kilometre-long meteor that will wipe out humanity if it hits the planet. Instead of knocking it off course, nuclear weapons buried beneath the surface split the comet into two smaller rocks, one of which slams into the Atlantic Ocean, creating a mega-tsunami. With the second set to hit Western Canada -- ruining the Jets' chances of winning the Cup -- there is considerable hand-wringing, and the plucky space crew undertakes a kamikaze-style suicide mission with their nuclear weapons to save the day.

4) Armageddon (1998): In the second blockbuster, an asteroid the size of Texas is on a collision course with Earth towing this alarming tagline: "It's closer than you think!" Our only hope is for a misfit band of deep-drilling experts headed by Bruce Willis to blast off in a souped-up space shuttle and blow the asteroid up from the inside with bad acting. In the heart-wrenching finale, Ben Affleck is picked to stay behind and detonate the bomb manually, but Willis rips off Ben's air hose, shoves him back inside and tells him he's the son he never had and he should marry his daughter, Liv Tyler. After the goodbyes, Willis pushes the button at the last minute and -- you will not have seen this coming -- his life passes before his eyes in a heart-tugging montage.

3) Doomsday Rock (1997): This made-for-TV flick features a noted astronomer (William Devane) who predicts an asteroid is going to wipe out the Earth based -- and this makes perfect sense to us -- on his study of an ancient civilization's prophetic legend Earth will end via a "Demon Rock" near the end of the 20th century. Surprisingly, no one in authority believes him, so he and a band of followers take over a missile silo to solve the problem themselves. Amid canoodling between the astronomer's daughter (Connie Selleca) and an FBI agent (Ed Marinaro), missiles are launched at the last moment and the asteroid is vaporized. Everyone is happy, except film critics.

2) Meteor (1979): The action begins with an asteroid colliding with a comet, sending an eight-kilometre chunk of debris towards us, bearing the advertising tagline: "There's no place on Earth to hide!" In the end, the world is saved by Sean Connery, who had taken a few minutes off from playing James Bond. With less-than-spectacular special effects, U.S. and U.S.S.R. super-secret orbiting missile satellites team up to launch a massive barrage of nukes that obliterate the threat, but only after much of New York is reduced to bite-sized pieces.

1) The Day the Sky Exploded (1958): This low-budget Italian sci-fi film is the great-granddaddy of the killer-asteroid flicks. In a confusing nutshell, an atomic rocket blasts into space, something goes wrong, the astronaut bails out in the escape capsule, but the rocket keeps going and eventually explodes, causing a bunch of small asteroids to fuse into a giant monster asteroid, which is heading towards Earth. While the world's animals flee inland via the timely use of stock footage, the major nations slap all their nuclear weapons on top of all their space rockets and the world is made safe for bad movies.

Of course, modern scientists tell us we have nothing to fear from killer asteroids. Maybe they could explain that to their friendly neighbourhood dinosaur.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 D2

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