Don't Forget to Look Up

Don't Forget to Look Up?

In December 2021, Netflix released a movie called “Don’t look up”, about how humanity ignores the threat of an asteroid impact and ultimately suffers the consequences when they do ‘too little, too late’.

In the US, University of California Santa Barbara astronomy professor Phil Lubin had been working on a method of planetary defence he nicknamed PI (π), standing for “Pulverise It”. This technique involves launching small ‘hypervelocity kinetic penetrators’ that pulverize and disassemble an asteroid or small comet before it can collide with Earth.

After seeing the Netflix movie, Lubin and co-author Alexander Cohen published a paper online called “Don’t Forget To Look Up”, where they discussed the real science behind the attempts at planetary defence.

Exploring the science of planetary defence - groupwork project

This educational resource was developed to allow students to learn more about the potential threat posed by asteroid and comet impacts, and to reproduce some of the calculations and decision-making steps that would be required if Earth really did decide to deploy nuclear weapons to try and destroy (pulverise!) an incoming threat.

Students work in small teams to carry out calculations about the nature of the threat (e.g. what is the kinetic energy of the asteroid or comet), the best choice of countermeasure (e.g. what weapons do you fire at the object?), launch vehicle, launch site and timing.

They will then combine their findings to work out how best to defend the Earth from the hypothetical threat.

A groupwork project for physics/maths students aged 16+.

A teacher guide and accompanying resources are available to download here.

If you have any questions, or would like a personal introduction to the science and the materials, then please get in touch with