It started with the idea for a film and the realisation that the world is going to end, not with a whimper, but with an almighty bang. This single realisation lead to the creation of a groundbreaking film and the launch of a global awareness-raising initiative supported by the brightest minds in the world today.
In 2010, filmmaker Grigorij Richters watched a BBC documentary called Asteroids: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which examined the devastating threat posed by asteroids to Earth. His time was immediately consumed by research into the potential cataclysm our planet faces at the hands of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). Richters realised that in order to make a subject of this magnitude relatable, he needed to filter it through a human prism. His imagination set alight, he set out to pour all of his passion and research into a feature film called 51 Degrees North.
Through meticulous rehearsal and liberating improvisation, the character of protagonist Damon emerged; a young filmmaker struggling with professional and personal challenges who discovers that an asteroid threatens the imminent destruction of the world. Damon became an autobiographical avatar that could project the alarm and urgency Richters himself had experienced. To underscore the personal impact of the story, an omnipresent handheld camera and innovative use of CCTV footage were used to minutely observe the unravelling of Damon and, subsequently, society.
Dr Brian May, astrophysicist and lead guitarist for legendary rock band Queen, was captivated by the subject matter and agreed to provide the soundtrack for the film. Once the film was finished, May suggested that Richters screen the film at Starmus Festival in Tenerife, an annual astronomy related event combining science, art and music. 51 Degrees North was met with acclaim and inspired Richters, May and some of the most notable names in science to propose the idea of a day dedicated to raising awareness of the asteroid threat around the world.
The proposal for Asteroid Day quickly gained momentum, attracting widespread media interest and garnering the signatures and support of luminaries such as scientists Richard Dawkins, Kip Thorne and Bill Nye; musicians May and Peter Gabriel; and astronauts Chris Hadfield and Jim Lovell, among many others.
Asteroid Day will be held on June 30, 2015, the anniversary of the largest asteroid collision with Earth in recent history, the 1908 Siberian Tunguska impact. What began as a scientifically-minded declaration has captured the popular imagination and is ramping up to be a truly global movement aimed at no less than saving the world from assured destruction.
And it all started with an idea for a film.