Asteroid scientist Amy Mainzer has found herself in a unique position over the past few months: chatting with Leonardo DiCaprio about science and asteroids.
Mainzer served as a scientific advisor to Netflix’s new movie”Don’t look up, “a disaster comedy that hits theaters on December 10 (and on December 24 on Netflix). It continues a long legacy of films featuring menacing space rocks. Earth, as “Greenland” of 2020, of 2012 “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and the famous duo of 1998: “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon.”
One Official trailer for “Don’t Look Up” from September shows DiCaprio (who plays astronomer Randall Mindy) and Jennifer Lawrence (who plays astronomer Kate Dibiasky) trying to convince fictional White House officials that there is a giant. comet straight to Earth. Skeptic Jonah Hill (chief of staff Jason Orlean) told the duo that he often hears apocalyptic scenarios and that they are “boring.”
“I hope people realize this isn’t just a disaster movie, it’s actually more commentary on how we react to news we don’t like,” Mainzer told Space.com. or don’t want to know.
In addition to her occasional work as a science consultant (which extends to the PBS Kids program “Ready Jet Go!”), Mainzer is a professor in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona and a principal investigator for NASA. NEO Surveyor’s Duties, One The mission is set to launch in 2026 to search for asteroids. Mainzer is also the principal investigator of NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting phase of NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Exploration mission.
With “Don’t Look Up,” Mainzer worked with the cast and crew, first explaining the technical aspects of the show. small planet. She explains how scientists have cataloged and tracked thousands of these rocky worlds, but that regular sky scans show no imminent threat to Earth.
Director Adam McKay (“Anchorman” and “The Other Guys”) also asked Mainzer about the scientists’ work, she said. “When we were looking at what’s both good news and bad news about science, he really wanted to get into the minds of scientists and try to understand, how do we think? And we trying to communicate what we’re doing” learned with everyone else? “Mainzer said.
Mainzer added that she emphasized to the group that scientists are just human beings trying to do their best in making science-based decisions and trying to help society make decisions based on science as well. on science. The film shows how we listen to what scientists are saying and how we interpret that information, especially when it comes to “bad news,” she said.
“It’s a comedy. It’s meant to poke fun at the many ways these communications work and don’t work. Hopefully this is a movie that will make you laugh and make you think, and hopefully Hopefully, it will stick with you in good ways,” says Mainzer.
She added that she hopes (and expects, based on seeing the film) that even audiences who may not know much about asteroids or space can still dismiss that message. “Science tells us what we’re learning about the world, the physical properties of the world, how the laws of physics work around us, right? But art, they help us. explain our feelings about what we’re learning. That’s also important because we’re human and we have feelings about these things,” she said.
During his work on the film, Mainzer had many conversations with the actors, sometimes even by message or Zoom. Much of her time is spent working with DiCaprio, an actor whose career has spanned historical comedies like “Django Unchained” (also a commentary on racism and slavery). ) to biopics like “The Aviator” (which follows the life of Howard Hughes, including the business mogul’s mental illness.)
Chat with DiCaprio
With DiCaprio, Mainzer focused on explaining what happens when a scientist might be faced with bad news.
“There’s always a dichotomy about what you do with the stuff you’re learning,” Mainzer said, relaying what she told him. “Do you try to work within the system? Or do you try to work against the system? We’ve had a lot of really good conversations about that: Trying to influence change when you know what’s going on? What does that mean?”
There is a balance between telling a Hollywood story while respecting truth and reality, and a long list of movies about asteroids and comets Over the decades, many attempts have been made to find that balance. For example, “Armageddon” has been popular with science fiction fans because of how unscientific it is, even though the film has praised by astronomer Phil Plait for its entertainment value. By contrast, “Greenland” director Ric Roman Waugh did his own research into comet science, going further than talking to asteroid researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to verify his work.
Mainzer pointed out that the new film is clearly deviating from reality quite immediately as it portrays a threatening comet rapidly darting towards Earth, something that humanity has never faced. on such a large scale. “It can be difficult to extrapolate [reactions] “She acknowledges that scientists also have difficulty dealing with uncertainty because the entire asteroid population is not known.
In real life, the discovery system is very transparent, she said. Observations of asteroids and comets were immediately relayed to Small Planet Center, an official agency of the International Astronomical Union. The center uses automated software to “connect the dots and see if something is a potential new discovery,” she said. at this JPL site.
“Then we started having a ‘dog-pump’ to get as many observations as we could of a particular object,” Mainzer said of the astronomy community, referring to the astronomy community. refers to the extreme excitement spent after telescope time to verify the new object’s orbit. Naturally, updates are posted publicly as soon as they are verified.
A good example of this system in action occurred in 2008, when a very small asteroid called 2008 TC3 Mainzer said it was detected and was in a collision orbit with Earth within 24 hours. It was the first object ever found before hitting our planet, and within a short time after it was posted online, hundreds of observers contributed observations.
One of the most remarkable space rock observations came from two airplane pilots: KLM captain Ron de Poorter and co-pilot Coen van Uden. During flight KL-592 over Chad, they were warned by the company to keep an eye on the horizon, and they rebroadcast their observations, comparing the flashes they saw “with artillery fire or lightning in the distance”, an Report of Aviation & Space Magazine from the said time. Mainzer added in her Space.com interview that such involvement by amateurs shows that “the system was set up to be transparent and it was enforced.”
While the film pokes fun at everything from how scientists react to bad news (DiCaprio introduces some seriously exaggerated information through much of the trailer from September) to how public officials Powers may not understand such a threat despite the evidence, but Mainzer says her goal as a scientist has always been to show those in power “how to take action based on recommendations.” our scientific proposal.”
You’ll have to watch the movie to see how successful the scientists are in that endeavor, she said, adding that it’s clear the fictional astronomers are following what science is telling them and like herself, “they have no choice” in doing so.
“Science is happening to us whether we like it or not, so it’s in our best interest to respond, make decisions that take into account the laws of physics,” she said.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
https://www.space.com/dont-look-up-asteroid-movie-science-amy-mainzer-interview Science Advisor Amy Mainzer Talks Asteroid And New Netflix Movie “Don’t Look Up”