The threat of a catastrophic impact from an asteroid or comet is a staple of popular culture. If there was a dinosaur killer in Earthís past, is there a human killer in our future? What are the chances and how do we assess the risks? For that matter, what are asteroids, comets, and meteorites, and where do they come from?
While Asteroids and comets are popular subjects for movies like Armageddon
and Deep Impact
, they are also playing their own starring roles in NASA research. In 2001, NASAís NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft dramatically landed on the asteroid Eros. In 2005, NASAís Deep Impactís probe collided with Tempel 1, exploring beneath the cometís surface. In 2007, NASA launched the Dawn spacecraft to the Main Asteroid Belt. With all this interest, asteroids and comets are compelling subjects for an exhibition.
The Space Science Instituteís National Center for Interactive Learning
, with funding from the National Science Foundation and NASA, has developed a national traveling exhibition program called Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, and Meteors
. The project includes two exhibits (3,500 sq. ft. and 1500 sq. ft.), an education program for museum educators and docents, an outreach program to engage amateur astronomers, a public website (www.killerasteroids.org
), and this exhibit website.