How to How To Kill A Planet

By Phil Plait | April 24, 2009 10:17 am

Last night, National Geographic aired the episode of Naked Science called "How to Kill a Planet", about five ways we can literally and totally destroy the Earth. I was interviewed extensively for it, and contributed to the ideas and some of the script, too.

Take explosives seriously, folks.

We filmed the clips I was in last year, in November and December. This involved a helicopter ride over Niagara Falls, and going to Phoenix, Arizona to detonate explosives and shoot guns.

I took a lot of pictures; they’re posted on Flickr for your enjoyment. It includes people shooting guns, aerial views of Niagara Falls, and an unfortunate shot of an injury I sustained due to holding a .38 pistol the wrong way. Watch out for powder burns!

I also took quite a bit of video, so here’s a little taste of what it’s like to film a documentary on destroying a planet.

FYI, our explosives and gun expert was Cory Starr, who was fun to work with. His assistant Cortney McLeod is in there too. The director of the clips (with the English accent) is Lorne Townend, and assistant producer Nicola Tremain organized all the logistics of the shoot.

And, I’ll add something funny to me. I’ve known astronomer Dan Durda since we were undergrads together at Michigan. We both write and both do a lot of documentaries, but in more than two decades this is the first time we’ve been in a show together! Even though we weren’t together for filming, that was still cool to see.

I’m also doing two more documentary interviews in the coming weeks, including working with Lorne again, so expect to hear more about stuff like this!


Comments (31)

  1. Adam

    Looks like a lot of fun.

    Will this be shown in the UK at any point?

  2. Brando

    Ha! Nice chicken wing with the MP5 ūüėČ

  3. Guysmiley

    Love the H&K diopter sights, very easy to line up on a target.

  4. I like the sunglasses on ya, Phil. They go well on you.

  5. You’ve seen Sam Hughes’ site, right Phil?

  6. Spunk-Monkey

    Sweet, you seem well prepared for the zombie apocalypse!

  7. I didn’t see it, unfortunately. Did you mention anything about the dreaded Anti-Matter bomb? ūüėČ

  8. elgarak


    Three of my favorite things together:

    Explosions, my man-crush Phil Plait, and a Heckler & Koch MP5.

    Maybe there IS a god … If not, there’s a new trinity for you.

  9. elgarak

    BTW: Since I don’t have cable TV, I was hoping to download this episode from iTunes. Any idea when it will show there?

  10. Quiet Desperation

    I find the series disappointing. I watched three episodes and never saw *one* naked person doing science.

  11. Ken

    When I saw the headline I thought it was another pro-Pluto polemic.

  12. QUASAR

    That’s pathetic!

  13. CryoTank

    Oh yeah! Blowing stuff up :)))
    I bet Phil with the MP5 was part of his Space Marines training *g*

  14. CryoTank


    They don’t give the big baddabooms to newbies.
    You have to work your way up level by level, collecting 57 million boom bricks like Super Mario. Then you get to play ūüėČ

  15. Er, Phil. I know these antivaxxers have upset you and all but I don’t think Homeland Security would appreciate your getting paramilitary on their asses.

  16. Joe Meils

    I think Phil is starting to let his “Adam Savage- Man Crush” (TM) get the better of him…

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    But with several known methods that’s child’s play.

    What I want to know is – how do you kill a sun? (For starters.)

  18. MadScientist

    Sounds like fun – but I’ll have to say I’m glad I wasn’t there. Looking at the way folks are holding guns I’d say no one’s ever used one before. I prefer to walk away from a firing range with only the holes I had when I arrived.

    Yeah, explosives are fun, but I have to avoid them these days since I’m always being harassed at airports. Hanging around powder monkeys isn’t what it used to be.

  19. Trucker Doug

    Phil, trying moving your hand on the foregrip forward a little and seat the buttstock more firmly in your shoulder. Also, put your left foot forward a little. These changes will provide a more stable shooting platform for you.

  20. I saw this, and I heartily approve!

    I was surprised there was no mass driver, but I guess there was only time for the four methods. Excavate portions of the planet and use mass drivers (rail guns) to fire them at greater than escape velocity opposite to the direction of the earth’s revolution. This not only slowly decreases the mass of the planet, but due to the reactionary force of driving that mass off, the orbital velocity decreases, spiraling it inwards towards the sun. Actually, it could probably be arranged so that these chunks could be made into your conveyor belt. Muahahaha!

  21. Cindy

    Gee, Phil, and I thought you were such a gentle guy. ūüėČ

    Hmm, going to include that video clip of you firing a gun in your next telescope time proposal?

  22. llewelly

    # Quiet Desperation Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I find the series disappointing. I watched three episodes and never saw *one* naked person doing science.

    Please don’t disturb the rest of us with your bizarre and unnatural nudity fetish.

  23. Mount

    I saw the show, it was awesome.

    I was gonna say something about how you were holding that revolver Phil, but I knew it was too late due to TV lag. You should practice shooting more though. The glasses, the leather jacket, the black gun, it just looked so…. right! Trust me, it’s a wonderfully fulfilling hobby to get into.

    Usually if you have someone with no interest in astronomy look through a telescope they suddenly become amazed, as if there eyes have just been opened. It’s the same way with guns I think. Every “anti-gun” person I’ve ever taken shooting enjoyed it immensely, and some loved it so much that they immediately went out to buy their own.

    I liked the show, but one of your analogies could have been different I’m thinkin. With Niagara Falls, wouldn’t the river bed be like warped space and the water be as matter falling down space into the black hole? Trivial maybe, but that would have made more sense to me.

  24. AP

    Ok Phil – You holding the HK SMG – you should rename the blog – BADA** astronomy!

  25. Ah, the H&K MP5. The scientist’s gun of choice. At least if you’re Gordon Freeman.

  26. Ahh destroying the planet is easy just got to hit it with a rock, something with a bit of heft to it. Say Mars.

  27. Charlie Brown

    Watching it now via TiVo. My first reaction: A silly program. A waste of time.

  28. Chris

    I’m watching the special now and I just have one question for you. What the heck is an astronmer? I know what an astronomer is but every time you are on screen, it says “Dr. Phil Plait, Astronmer and Author.” That drives me a little crazy but I’m strange like that. Fascinating program though.

  29. Charlie in Dayton

    Ahhh….high explosives, firearms, and astronomy…

    Phil, you’re invited along the next time my two younger brothers and I go into the high country west of Flagstaff on vacation…you bring the bombs and the H&K, we’ll bring the sidearms, ammo, and adult beverage for a post-Armageddon libation…



  31. Yay, I finally got to this on my DVR! I’d “taped” it even before I knew the revered Dr. Plait would be on it so it was a happy bonus. Bonus! I said bonus!
    Hooray for science and smart people and explosions!


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