The Real Science Behind the Movie “Don’t Look Up”

The new movie “Don’t Look Up” — now available on Netflix — is not your usual sci-fi disaster film. Instead, it is a biting parody on the general public’s dismissal and indifference to science. While the movie is about a comet on a collision course with Earth, filmmakers originally meant “Don’t Look Up” to be a commentary on climate change denial. But it also is reflective of the current COVID denial and mask/vaccine resistance, as well as our existing political polarization. It also lays bare our preoccupation with social media. While the movie is sometimes funny, it can also be depressing and frustrating.

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This Video of Comet Leonard (with Venus and Mercury) will Blow Your Mind

Since early this year, skywatchers on Earth have been tracking Comet Leonard, a kilometer-wide dirty snowball made of ice, rock and dust. Now, as it heads towards a close encounter with the Sun on January 3, 2022, several spacecraft – with the distinct advantage of having an unobstructed front-row seat to the action – have been keeping an eye on how the comet is changing and evolving as it heats up.

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The Biggest Comet Ever Seen Will get as Close as Saturn in 2031

A mega-comet – potentially the largest ever discovered – is heading from the Oort Cloud towards our direction. Estimated to be 100–200 kilometers across, the unusual celestial wanderer will make its closest approach to the Sun in 2031. However, the closest it will come to Earth is to the orbit of Saturn.

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A Newly-Discovered (Almost) Dwarf Planet Will Come Surprisingly Close in 2031

It’s good to remember how little we know about the outer solar system.  Humans only really began observing it within the past 100 years, and given the constraints on that observations there are still plenty of things we don’t know about.  For example, researchers recently found an object almost the size of a dwarf planet that is inbound to the inner solar system, with an estimated orbital period of over 2 million years, more than six the lifetime of the modern human species.  

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Comets Have Tails of gas, Dust… and Metal?

In outer space, an object’s location has a huge impact on its temperature.  The closer the object is to its star, the hotter it most likely is.  Heat then plays a major role in what materials are present in that object’s atmosphere, if it has one.  Lighter elements such as hydrogen and helium and much easier to take a gaseous state and create an atmosphere.  So it came as a surprise when two different teams found much heavier elements in the atmosphere of comets that were relatively far away from the Sun.  And one of those comets happened to be from another solar system.  

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Extrasolar Object Interceptor Would be Able to Chase Down the Next Oumuamua or Borisov and Actually Return a Sample

What if we had the ability to chase down interstellar objects passing through our Solar System, like Oumuamua or Comet Borisov? Such a spacecraft would need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, with the capacity to increase speed and change direction quickly.

That’s the idea behind a new mission concept called the Extrasolar Object Interceptor and Sample Return spacecraft. It has received exploratory funding from NASA through its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

“Bringing back samples from these objects could fundamentally change our view of the universe and our place in it,” says Christopher Morrison, an engineer from the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation-Tech (USNC-Tech) who submitted the proposal to NIAC.            

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