This is an op-ed piece by Asteroid Day Italy Coordinator, astrophysicist and founder of the Virtual Telescope (an official partner) Dr. Gianluca Masi.
My interest in asteroids dates back to 1997. Late that year I started observing them with my own telescope from Ceccano, my hometown in Central Italy. It was love at first sight. Those small dots of light, slowly moving across the sky, captured my imagination to the point they became one of the topics of my astronomical activities. In the following years I discovered a few dozens of them, making my adventure into this field even more exciting. One is also named “Masi”, after me.
At that time I was a student in astrophysics, so my interest in minor planets contaminated also my professional path. I ended up discussing a thesis on a very special class of near-Earth asteroids, the so-called inner-Earth ones, moving inside the orbit of our planet, closer than us to the sun. Later, I earned a PhD in astronomy with a thesis investigating NEOs by photometry, studying their rotational properties.
But research is only part of my scientific job. I spend a lot of my time doing science communication and public outreach in astronomy and I’ve found, over the years, that asteroids are a great topic of interest for the general public. Of course, also for the potential risk of collision they pose to our planet.
Since I started the Virtual Telescope Project (to learn more about this facility visit: www.virtualtelescope.eu) and its many educational activities, I reserved plenty of attention to near-Earth asteroids, showing the most amazing close encounters with the Earth online, in real time (including the epic case of 2012 DA14), helping the community worldwide to discover what they are and what we can really say about them and their potential impact risk.
This is why I welcomed with plenty of excitement the introduction of Asteroid Day in 2015. I joined it, offering an online show through the Virtual Telescope’s platform. I was happy to learn that Asteroid Day was going to be an annual event and for the 2016 edition I contacted Grig Richters (co-founder of Asteroid Day) offering my help and skills to organise and coordinate Asteroid Day in Italy. Based on my past experience, I was convinced that having a coordinator in a given country, with important, reliable connections within the national astronomical community and the media could be a winning factor to support the goals of Asteroid Day at its best. The response from Grig was very enthusiastic and I started working intensively on this project: Asteroid Day Italia.
I contacted several amateur clubs and media to create a coordinated network. The feedback was amazing and a dozen of clubs enthusiastically joined this pioneering effort, serving as a test for the future of Asteroid Day. The Virtual Telescope offered a specific live feed for Asteroid Day Italia, while the involved clubs organised their own events and the final return was rewarding: tens of thousand of people joined either the online or local Asteroid Day Italia events and without this coordinated work they would have entirely missed the international celebration, according to what some of them told me. That is, they learned about Asteroid Day via its Italian promoter. Asteroid Day Italia was mentioned on all the most important media of my Country. After such a great experience, we are looking forward to the next 2017 edition.
Coordinating Asteroid Day in Italy was a privilege for me (being a fan of Asteroid Day since the very beginning) and a truly rewarding experience. I dedicated plenty of time to this effort, as I believe a lot in it. I think this was easy to perceive, contaminating all the involved partners, bringing their own enthusiasm into this. It was some kind of back-and-forth flux of ideas, energy and excitement. Not an easy task, but I’m so happy for the huge return.
I think, after being the first to test this in Italy in close connection with the Asteroid Day Global team, that having national, motivated coordinators would help a lot to spread Asteroid Day goals and support its mission worldwide. Having individuals knowing their own countries, media and communities will make it possible to better fit each special situation with the maximum return.
To succeed as such a coordinator, you must be truly motivated and “contagious” in your enthusiasm. Of course, you must know your national astronomical community and have good connections with the media and constant feedback with the international team. It is a lot of work, but this is also lot of fun. Engaging clubs will enrich further the experience; you must keep their interest alive, also opening your mind to proposals from them: after all, you are organising all this together.
Working on something you feel close to your vision, making possible to it to reach more and more people in your own community can be very, very exciting. It was for me for sure and I wanted to share my experience with you.
I wish to thank Grig for supporting my ideas and my work in Italy for Asteroid Day.
That said, I’m looking forward to Asteroid Day 2017, and you?