Question Sheet: Killers from Outer Space


Before reading:

  1. What are asteroids? Why do they exist? 
  2. Do asteroids ever strike Earth? What would happen if one did crash into Earth?

During reading:

  1. What does NEO stand for? Why do astronomers scan the skies for these objects? 
  2. Why are scientists interested in what is going on in our astronomical neighborhood? 
  3. What is the Torino scale? How does it work? 
  4. According to the Torino scale, when should the news media be notified of an asteroid sighting? 
  5. Are scientists worried about a level 10 NEO anytime soon? Why or why not?

After reading:

  1. Governments and scientists are often interested in creating scales or rating risk. Why do you think that is? Come up with two other examples of scales that measure risk. 
  2. Why would a large asteroid hitting Earth change the climate? See

    (MadSci Network) and


    (Department of Energy). 
  3. Do you think many people are afraid of asteroids? What might scare people about asteroids? See


  4. What types of equipment could an astronomer use to assess NEO risk? For some examples, see (European Space Agency), (European Space Agency), or (Southwest Research


  5. Design a poster presenting the Torino scale in an interesting, eye-catching, colorful manner. 
  6. Suppose that a fairly large asteroid is on course to strike Earth. How should people prepare for such an event? What would you do? How should governments and space agencies react? See (NASA).


  1. Why is international cooperation important in assessing and responding to the risk of an asteroid impact? See


  2. What is the Spaceguard Foundation and the Spaceguard System? What is the organization’s history? See and (European Space Agency).


  1. Asteroid impacts have been the subject of a variety of stories, books, movies, and TV shows. How would you start off such a story? How would you create suspense in the opening? What would you focus on to get the reader interested and involved from the beginning? Write the first few paragraphs to illustrate your approach. 
  2. Write a paragraph describing an asteroid that may be on course to crash into Earth in each of three different styles: for an audience of astronomers, for a newspaper intent on scaring people, and for a cartoon TV program.


Light travels through space at 3.0 x 105 kilometers per second. It takes 25 x102 seconds for

light from the sun to reach an asteroid somewhere out between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. How far away is the asteroid?