Asteroid Day highlights the 109th anniversary of a natural disaster with hands-on activities

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      As Canada approaches its 150th birthday this week, anniversary celebrations are all the rage. But there are a number of smaller annual milestones that are equally worthy of column inches—and not least because of their bizarre histories.

      Take Asteroid Day, for example. A global event that marks the date of the most harmful known asteroid impact on Earth in recent history, 2017’s offering will commemorate the 109th year since a rouge space boulder opened up a giant crater in Tunguska, Siberia, with a power at least 185 times greater than World War Two's atomic bombs. Aiming to raise awareness about what can be done to protect the planet from cosmic threats—which, as the event reminds us, was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs—Asteroid Day attempts to educate the public about the how the giant rocky objects that orbit the sun could be capable of ending all life on the planet.

      The quirky anniversary stems from an even weirder story. Three years ago, Brian May—the guitarist in the rock band Queen, who also happens to be a well-regarded astrophysicist—was working with a filmmaker to create a fictional story of an asteroid impact on London, and the imagined social, economic, and environmental impact of the—well—impact. After the movie found an outlet at the Starmus Festival in 2014, May and the film’s director Grigorij Richters were inspired to co-found the annual event, with astronaut Chris Hadfield, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins, science guy Bill Nye, and British TV superstar professor Brian Cox among those who lent their signatures to the Asteroid Day Declaration.

      Vancouver’s Space Centre has joined the charge this year. Inviting the Pacific Museum of Earth—a UBC-based organization that specializes in hands-on demos of rocks and minerals—to the building, the Space Centre will pass around asteroids and meteorites, and explain how their compositions are unlike anything found on Earth. For kids, the event will screen The Little Prince movie, which features a young girl discovering the extraordinary world of the Little Prince—who just happens to live on an asteroid.

      Meanwhile, adults will have to wrestle with the fact that the asteroid impact that decimated the dinosaurs has been calculated as releasing 10 billion times as much energy as the nuclear bomb dropped on Japan’s Hiroshima in 1945. As if the world wasn’t scary enough already.

      Asteroid Day is at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre (1100 Chestnut Street) on Friday (June 30).

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays