Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep and many more famous celebrities played their parts in the 2021 film “Don’t Look Up,” the satirical cinematic piece that represents the political response to climate change and impending doom. The premise follows the future arrival of a comet that is expected to wipe out the human population, and a government and society willing to ignore the threat of extinction (with the eventual adoption of the mantra “Don’t Look Up”).
Fortunately for those on this universe’s Earth, no such danger from space has been discovered as the general population is aware. In fact, the recent astronomical news suggests that the plot of the movie will become less of a threat in the upcoming future. Scientists at NASA have found success in the world’s first planetary defense mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test. In its aim to test the adjustment of asteroid and comet trajectories, the project may have the potential to redirect the course of any future Earth-threatening celestial object. With kinetic impact technique, a spacecraft that has been navigating toward its destination — a small asteroid moonlet Dimorphos — for 10 months has intentionally and successfully collided with its target on Monday, Sept. 26, slightly shifting its path.
While individuals on Earth may never face the same situation as the nearly entire celebrity cast of “Don’t Look Up,” they currently have the opportunity to look to the sky for rare occurrences that are less life-threatening.
Not only are many of the well-known constellations currently visible in the northern hemisphere, including Sagittarius and Scorpius, but there is a possibility for amateur astronomers to witness an event that has not occurred for nearly six decades, according to NASA journalist Beth Ridgeway.
“Jupiter’s opposition occurs every 13 months, making the planet appear larger and brighter than any other time of the year. But that’s not all. Jupiter will also make its closest approach to Earth since 1963,” Ridgeway said.
Opposition occurs when a planet and the sun are on complete opposite ends of the Earth. Due to the planets’ elliptical orbits, the distance between them varies throughout their journeys around the sun. The opposition paired with the close proximity of the planets allows for an extremely bright and visible sight.
“A good pair of binoculars should be enough to catch some details,” NASA tweeted. While the exact point of opposition occurred on the night of Monday, Sept. 26, the planet will continue to shine bright for several days and maybe weeks following.
A few of the rare views of the planets cannot be seen by the naked eye. Neptune’s rings, for example, were recently captured by the James Webb Space Telescope in infrared light. According to NASA, new images of the rings have not been seen in over 30 years, when NASA’s Voyager 2 flew by the planet in 1989. The recently launched telescope also depicts 7 of the distant ice giant’s 14 known moons, including Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Proteus, and Larissa. The most visible of the moons is Triton, which even outshines Neptune itself as a result of its methane rich atmosphere and frozen surface of condensed nitrogen that reflect 70% of sunlight that hits it.
While there has been much discovery in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics, there is potential for even more with the continuous progress in technological advancement. NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket launch is expected to launch in the very near future (the exact date is pending and dependent on weather and launch windows), and the first mission to our closest celestial neighbor since Apollo 17 expands the potential for space exploration and human presence on the moon. With missions such as these and more expected in the years to come, including launches from the expanding spacecraft engineering corporation, SpaceX, the probability of long-term human presence in space increases.
The comets and asteroids that have caused mass extinctions and set the premise for many planet-murdering movies may no longer hold the weight of terror they once did. Instead, the actors of the thriller films may soon find the characters for villain and victim reversed. In a matter of time, humankind will collide with the astronomical objects first.