Film and TV

Doomsday countdown, day four: Project Icarus and the asteroid that didn't destroy earth -- yet

Every sensible person knows that when Earth is eventually destroyed, it will be by a huge asteroid like the one that killed all the dinosaurs. We learned this mostly from Jerry Bruckheimer, but Jerry Bruckheimer probably learned it from the 1979 classic Meteor, the first movie ever about humans saving Planet Earth, specifically America, by blowing up space-shit with nuclear bombs -- and Meteor, in turn, had learned it from research done twelve years before that by the good scientists of MIT.

Shortly after scientists figured out radar, they also figured out that large chunks of space debris are continually careening around the solar system like fucking Pong. Such was the case with 1566 Icarus, an asteroid that mostly hangs out near the sun, but every so often takes a swing near earth; at some point during 1967, they realized that on June 14, 1968, Icarus would be coming awfully close to Earth. Too close.

In the spring of 1967, MIT Professor Paul Sandorff came up with an assignment: Figure out how to make that asteroid not hit earth. Kind of like this:

But it wasn't as simple as Michael Bay makes it seem: The students calculated it would take a 100-megaton bomb to even knock the thing off course, and at the time, nothing of that scale had ever been developed -- nor was at all possible to develop within the year. The plan they did come up with, which involved several smaller bombs attached to Saturn IV rockets, almost certainly would not have worked. Luckily, it didn't have to; Icarus never got closer than about 4 million miles away. But Time magazine did a story on the project and a small panic ensued, and that story went on to provide the inspiration for Meteor...and the rest, as they say, is history.

The saga also provided the premise for Le Tigre's "Phanta," which provides us with this doomsday scenario's one tenuous Colorado connection, the opener: "On the morning of June 14, 1968, a group of hippies fled into the mountains of Colorado to wait for doomsday." Whether that actually happened is not debatable; it's in a Le Tigre song!

The moral of this story is obviously that apocalyptic predictions, even if they don't pan out, can inspire many things. Like Harold Camping's prediction that the rapture would happen on May 21, 2011 -- a scenario, filmmakers Ivan Suvanjieff and Dawn Engle realized, that would put dual messiahs Jesus Chist and Bono in town on the same day, and inspired the two to make Jesus vs. Bono.

And Harold Camping's not giving up yet. Not to be discouraged, he's now predicting that the world will end tomorrow; not coincidentally, Jesus vs. Bono also premieres tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. And so this series, in which we take a highly scientific look back at some other apocalyptic predictions with Colorado connections, will wrap up tomorrow with a real shocker -- if, you know, the world doesn't end first. So stay tuned.

Related content: Doomsday countdown, day one Doomsday countdown, day two Doomsday countdown, day three

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte