Over the course of the next weeks we are planning on highlighting some of the people involved in Asteroid Day, from independent international organisers, experts on asteroids, to key participants in our live broadcast from Luxembourg on June 30.
Today, we are kicking off with Andrés Eloy Martínez Rojas, a Mexican astronomer and regional coordinator of Asteroid Day Mexico. Yesterday, he spoke to Mexican newspaper La Jornada about his involvement in the global event and the search for near-earth objects in Mexico.
Involvement in Mexican Legislation
Andrés Martínez has been a strong advocate of space threats in his country’s civil defense plan. In 2013, he took the lead on proposing a legislative project that treats space hazards as another, new type of natural disaster. His initiative was passed into Mexican law in 2014, establishing a plan of action to monitor solar activity and detect solar flares that could cause communication problems or knock out the entire electric grid. The new law set up measures to safeguard telecommunications systems, public safety and supply lines in an emergency. The same year, Andrés Martínez founded SCiESMEX, the Mexican space weather service, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico to observe such phenomena and operate an early warning system.
But Andrés Martínez does not believe in fear mongering. To him, planetary defense is about preparedness, treating impacts just like any other natural disaster: “It’s not about causing irrational panic. Fortunately, asteroid and meteoroid impacts don’t occur frequently.” Governments should nevertheless use our technological capacities to detect and track these objects, and eventually develop capabilities to deflect them to avoid future disasters, he told the newspaper. “This could be the biggest achievement of humankind.” Explaining why Mexico’s civil defense law (Ley General de Protección Civil) he worked on is close to his heart, Andrés Martínez stated that in a Mexican context an impact of a comparatively small Tunguska-sized meteoroid in the Zócalo main square in Mexico City, would affect an area of 10 km in all directions. “We need to be prepared for this. In many countries there are response protocols for these cases. Mexico only created the ‘astronomical risk’ category in their civil defense plan last year. Through its geophysical institute, the National Autonomous University of Mexico has installed cameras all across the country to keep an eye on meteoroids crossing the sky.”
The astronomer also pointed out that anyone interested can take part in monitoring space, all they need is a medium-sized telescope with an 8 cm aperture, and a lot of patience. “Robotic telescopes search the sky for asteroids autonomously already. Unfortunately, due to their price of more than 40 million pesos (1,949,572 euros or 2,128,351 US dollars) they are not accessible to the majority of the population. Therefore, I believe that projects like Asteroid Day can help to expand the network of observers in Mexico.”
If you want to learn about Asteroid Day in Mexico or take part in a local event, please visit our dedicated Asteroid Day Mexico page. To read the entire Spanish La Jornada article about Andrés Eloy Martínez Rojas, follow this link.