My asteroid impact talk is now on TED!

By Phil Plait | November 22, 2011 7:00 am

I am extremely honored and pleased to announce that my talk, "An asteroid impact can ruin your whole day", is now featured on the TED website!

I gave this talk in September at TEDxBoulder, and I had a fantastic time. The talks were great, and it was wonderful to be a part of that.

However, I made two errors in this talk. One was logistical; I forgot to say that the "dinosaur space program" line is from science fiction writer Larry Niven, and for that I apologize to him — I usually do credit him, so I’m not sure what happened there.

The second error?

I blew it when I said April 13, 2036 was a Friday! It’s actually a Sunday. When the asteroid Apophis passes on April 13, 2029, though, that’s a Friday. I use that line as a joke — I’m hardly a triskadekaphobe — but I misspoke here. Mea culpa, tempus fugit, et per ardua ad asta.

However, some serious coolness: BA Twitter follower @RossHowell noticed that my video was on the TED iPad app, so I downloaded the app and took the picture here. It’s weird to be on my own iPad. It makes me feel, um, appley.

And finally, more cool news: I’ll be doing a live Q&A on the TED website! I’m talking with them now about it, and I’ll have the date and time soon — I’ll update this post and make sure I put it up on Twitter, Google+ and all that when I have more info.

Related posts:

Europeans are taking the asteroid threat seriously
New study finds giant impacts aren’t periodic
Repeat after me: Apophis is not a danger!


Comments (30)

Links to this Post

  1. Apophis | We Will Be Here | March 16, 2012
  1. Glauco

    Sir, you have the gift of the speech. I’m glad you know how to you use it with important stuff and a good sense of humor, because that brings interest. Too bad not all people can understand english.

  2. Daniel J. Andrews

    Guess that means it is time to brush up on your Mandarin, Phil.

  3. StubbyGB

    Great speech Phil, you are very good at enthusing your audience.

    I only have one dissagreement with you though…. 2 years is not enough time. If we discover a Dino-killer on its way to us now, in two years congress will still be arguing with the senate about how to fund the thing.

  4. Congratulations BA. Well done. :-)

  5. English Pole

    Wow! That’s some seriously awesome stuff. Congratulations Phil! Downloading to my iPhone now.

  6. Dedalus

    A minor correction — “Triskadekaphobia” is a generic fear of the number 13. If you wanna talk fear of Friday the 13th, you may have wanted to use “Paraskavedekatriaphobia,” a far more impressive word (IMHO).

    Onward through the fog!

  7. José Pereira

    Wow Fantastic speech congratulations!

  8. Really fantastic! Loved it!

  9. Paulino

    Great talk, but there was one slide missing (mind the s word):


  10. Rallick

    Excellent speech Phil! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you very much for sharing this.

  11. Matt Polson

    I loved the TED talk, but you made an error in magnitude in saying that the impact event released 1 million times the amount of energy contained in every nuclear weapon ever built at the height of the cold war. The United States alone has built a total of about 70k nuclear warheads. Simplifying somewhat, a sphere 5km radius, density 3.0, impact velocity 20km/sec, kinetic energy is 3.14EE23 joules. 1 ton tnt is approximately 4 gigajoules. KE would therefore be (close enough) 78.5 EE12 tons tnt energy equivalent. One millionth of that is only 78.5 megatons of tnt. At the height of the cold war, 3 soviet SS-18 mod 1 warheads would have about that yield. Still, 3.14EE23 joules impacting earth was very catastrophic. Personally, I see the earth crossers as resources and not threats.

  12. Douglas Troy

    Loved it Phil. Going to share this with my Friends, Circles and anyone else I can think of.

  13. Good talk, Phil! Entertaining and sound.

  14. Great talk! You were even the headliner in the weekly TED email!

  15. stjobe

    A typo there in your latin; it should be “per ardua ad astra”, not “asta”.
    Oh, and great talk!

  16. Asteroid (165347) Philplait makes its closest approach to the Earth (1.396 AU) on the 23rd November, 2011.

  17. Robert T. Permar

    Once again, and I say, once again, the most feasible present day solution for an asteroid threat is a multiple and simultaneous missile strike. Gravity tractor? Yeah, if it’s the freaking “Death Star” or a shuttlecraft cruising at .7 c. Yes, its probably the first time I’ve posted this on Discover but it’s been on enough locations on the internet to be somewhat noticed since it is a solution. “Armageddon” was full of it as far as dismissing a “hundred nukes” as not being able to “make a dent”. That’s approximately 450 megatons impacting a huge airless rock in space. It’s going to make a SERIOUS dent even if you went out of your way to keep it from making a serious dent (projecting bad thoughts, I don’t know). The instanteous heat build up would most likely shatter it in the near absolute zero temperature of space. If that don’t get it, the explosive force of 100 H-Bombs (450 megatons) plus one serious head-on collision (de-bunking Armageddon’s “it’s going too fast” argument) is going to knock the “oomph” out of it at least, ya’d think. If there’s a hang-up about “nukes” in space, extreme high explosive.

    (“Starfish Prime” in 1962 was an experminent in detonating a hydrogen bomb in space. Puts an end to the “it’s just a fizzle” crowd)

    Robert T. Permar
    BA 1980 Midwestern State University

  18. Robert T. Permar

    correction of “typos”: “instaneous” (sic) to “instantaneous”
    “experminent”(sic) to “experiment”

    Robert T. Permar

  19. Randy A.

    The problem with nuking an asteroid is that you might just break it up without changing its trajectory sufficiently…

  20. Left_Wing_Fox

    For those skeptical about life under the ice, I’d like to remind them of an article in the very magazine that hosts this blog:

  21. Robert T. Permar

    To Randy: (sigh) That’s naysaying, not debunking, Randy. Apophis appears to be our most immediate threat. It weighs 30 million tons and is about 300 meters in diameter. For Pity Everlovin’ Heaven’s Sakes, if 500 ICBMS hit it simultaneously with their standard 4.5 megaton yield, the blessed thing’ll be reduced to practically radioactive talcum powder if that much with years, possibly centuries added to arrival time (2 1/4 gigatons are going to seriously slow this thing down, if nothing else). Even if it were just broken up into smaller pieces, they most likely would not pose an appreciable threat to Earth as decades if not centuries would probably be added to the arrival time and they would burn up in the atmosphere when they did arrive or cause negligible destruction if they did impact the Earth’s surface. In general terms, the idea is to throw enough “nukes” at it that there aren’t “chunks” of the thing left large enough to pose an appreciable threat (I’m guessing that early 21st Century science can make those calculations if preciseness is an issue). Cut the nonsense on this. This is the solution, and that’s the way it is.

    Robert T. Permar

  22. Jason Kobos

    Robert do you have math and models to back up your statements?

  23. Robert T. Permar

    No, but I don’t have math and models to back up a claim that 50 sticks of dynamite placed inside a 5′ x 10′ x 8′ wooden shed and detonated would explode it into shards and splinters and completely destroy it either. If “math and models” are what’s holding up the show, um, I’m really hoping that there’s a cool computer simulation program that does this sort of thing. (Okay, guys, there’s a skeptical crowd out there. We gotta make ABSOLUTE sure that 500 4.5 megaton H-bombs is enough to take out a rock in space a little less than 3 football fields across). Yes, I realize that sarcasm doesn’t prove the point, but your question more suggests arguing, hubris, or frankly, ignorance, and is ludicrous and inane. As far as presenting this as a solution to the scientific community, only lack of ethics or arrogance would expect me to present this as theoretical. The technology of blowing up a huge rock floating in space generally exists, and the scientific community could “run with this” and work out the details if we’re genuinely concerned about New York being turned into a crater. Your question more suggests that logistics would defeat this (not enough bombs to go around, etc), not whether the idea has merit scientifically.

    Robert T. Permar

  24. Matt B.

    That’s a very “White Stripes” color scheme there, Phil.

    @ 17 StJobe:
    ‘A typo there in your latin; it should be “per ardua ad astra”, not “asta”.’

    Well, I’m sure Nick and Nora’s dog would enjoy the company.

  25. carbonUnit

    Heh, the Science Channel is running TED presentations. Your talk just played. :)

  26. Robert T. Permar


    I apologize for the abrasive and combative response (realizing a million years or so has passed since this discussion). My sarcasm was more based on the position that my solution was an obvious one, and didn’t require minute calculations to necessarily confirm. The issue with me was whether or not the human race had the technology to eliminate an in-coming asteroid as a threat, and in general terms, the explosive force of hydrogen bombs with conventional rocket and navigation technology is a feasible and practical solution.

    It’s obvious, and it’s frightening that the scientific community didn’t shout “Eureka”. It’s not an issue of vanity, but it’s obviously the solution, and either the scientific community went “dirty”, silent, or brain-dead from alien rays. However, I’m acknowledging that I copped out on the issue of “math and models”, but once again, didn’t see it as needed. The formulaic factors involved are daunting, and each situation is unique. Velocity of the asteroid, velocity of the missile or missiles, size and composition of the asteroid, mass of the missiles, temperature of the asteroid, most likely absolute zero. (-469 degrees F). My argument is that H-Bombs, in general terms, can destroy any known asteroid in the solar system with the means available to deliver them.

    What’s obvious is that the scientific community and public in general really don’t “get” what a hydrogen bomb is, don’t want to, it’s frightening to the point of being terrible. But if the idea is to save humanity, etc., etc.

    Figures about one ( 1) 4.5 megaton Hydrogen Bomb

    1. Generates 69,300,000 degrees Fahrenheit (69 million, 300 thousand degrees F) at center of explosion.

    2. Energy explosive yield: 4,104,504,000,000 (4 trillion, 104 billion, 504 million) joules.

    3. Equivalent to 9,000,000,000 pounds of TNT (9 billion).

    That’s one H-bomb. Just one.

    The MK-82 Snake Eye 500 pound bomb (Mark 82) is a standard jet aircraft dropped “dumb” bomb. It was used in Vietnam and Iraq.

    (I’m acknowledging that this is a mental experiment, but believing that it’s more than overkill)

    2,000 of these could guarantee, 100% guarantee (serious overkill), complete destruction of the Pentagon, a 34 acre 5 story poured concrete and steel reinforced building, “down to the foundation, down to the basement, nothing left but dust and rubble, you won’t even know that there were people inside let alone worry about survivors” kind of destruction. Is there a comment from the USAF? 2,000. Nothing left but rubble and dust down to the foundation.

    One ICBM H-Bomb is equivalent to approximately 40 million MK-82’s, at least 20,000 times what would VERY likely completely “100% money-back guarantee” flatten the Pentagon.

    Now, do we still want to argue about H-bombs not being able to take out asteroids that are half the composition of an average skyscraper? What one could do to Apophis that’s about 300 meters in diameter? 100?

    The “Armageddon” asteroid doesn’t exist if the comment about being the size of Texas was serious. That’s suggesting a diameter of approximately 500 miles. There are moons not that large in the solar system. But regardless, the statement that 100 nukes wouldn’t “make a dent” was insane.

    It’s understood that an ICBM isn’t designed to go into space, but can be easily modified to do so.
    Empty weight of an ICBM runs from 30-50 tons (after fuel exhaustion). It’s velocity would be approximately 7 miles per second upon impact with the asteroid. The asteroid would probably have a velocity of 15 to 19 miles per second. A hundred of these missiles, that much mass, a head-on collision, these velocities, won’t make a dent? The kinetic energy alone would most likely tear the asteroid apart. Explosions? Even without atmosphere, 100 hydrogen bombs, each generating a fireball 70 million degrees F. An asteroid rock frozen to minus 470 degrees F, that won’t make a dent? The heat alone would most likely shatter it. An explosive force equivalent to 900 billion pounds of TNT, over 410 trillion joules, and that won’t make a dent? All these factors combined? To put it simply “Armageddon” writers, the thing wouldn’t exist, let alone not have a dent put in it.

  27. Robert T. Permar

    Correction of figures above:

    Output in joules of a 4.5 Mt H-Bomb:17,080,470,000,000,000 (17 quadrillion, 80 trillion, 470 billion)

    Armageddon figures (output in joules of 1oo H-bombs): 1,708,047,000,000,000,000 (1 quintillion, 708 quadrillion, 47 trillion )

    Famous James T. Kirk line: “Is that a lot?”


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