More than 100 years have passed since the first film was shown in movie theatres that depicted events surrounding a rock from space making an impact with Earth. In that case, it was a comet rather than an asteroid. The movie, a silent film called The End of the World (1916), was inspired by the passage of two comets in 1910 – the so-called Great Daylight Comet of 1910 closely followed by Halley’s Comet – and the hysteria that accompanied these two events.
The apparition of Halley’s Comet certainly made an impact on people around the world, some of whom started popping pills being peddled by conmen as protection from the potentially poisonous cyanogen gas that had been detected by astronomers to be present in the comet’s coma.
Since then, we have been inundated with fictional depictions of asteroids and comets threatening to impact the Earth in extinction level events. This article provides a list of 78 movies and TV shows (actually 70 dramas plus a handful of movies re-released with different titles or cuts) which feature an impact threat, or which encompass other aspects of my previous discussions about asteroids, annihilations, comets and catastrophes as well as meteoroids, meteors and meteorites. The list covers cinema films, made-for-TV movies, internet movies, miniseries, a handful of single TV show episodes, and a truly phenomenal dramatized documentary which is unmissable (unlike Earth in this instance).
But before I start on the list, I want to say one thing…
“It’s the size of Texas!”
When our astronomer declares the incoming antagonist to be “the size of Texas” (which seems to be the favoured size comparison in certain well known asteroid disaster movies), what does that size actually mean? Does the asteroid have a width, length or mean geometric diameter the size of Texas, or is its flat face the size of Texas, or do we wrap Texas around the asteroid?
As a guide, Texas measures at its extremes roughly 1,250 km x 1,270 km, so a size announced a split second after our astronomer spots her asteroid for the first time could simply refer to the asteroid having a diameter of around that size, say 1,260 km. But Texas covers an area of around 696,000 km². If the announced size refers to the flat face of the asteroid as we see it (i.e. its cross-sectional area), the mean diameter is 830 km and this seems to be what they mean in Deadly Skies (2006) (a movie also known as Force of Impact). But if the declared size refers to the surface area (i.e. wrapped around the asteroid) as it seems to from a draft script of Armageddon (1998) the mean diameter is 470 km. So an asteroid “the size of Texas” could have a diameter of 1,260 km, 830 km or 470 km, depending on the context.
For comparison, the mean diameters of the four largest known asteroids are: 946 km ( 1 Ceres ), 525 km (4 Vesta), 512 km (2 Pallas) and 431 km (10 Hygiea). The largest known comets (meaning cometary nuclei) whose trajectories have taken them inside the orbit of Saturn include the Comet of 1729 (100 km), Hale-Bopp (60 km) and 109P/Swift-Tuttle (26 km), but most comets may be smaller than around 16 km (10 miles) – for example, the mean diameter of the nucleus of Halley’s Comet is about 11 km and that of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is about 4 km.
Some of the movies and shows on the list below use metric units, some use imperial units, and some use both interchangeably. In any event, convert using 1 mile = 1.6 km thereabouts.
The disaster mitigation efforts you are about to encounter cover everything from using nuclear warheads on surface to air missiles, space-based missiles, sub-sea missiles, in deep core drilling on the asteroid or deploying them in trenches and volcanoes on Earth, to kinetic impactors, gravity tractors, zero-gravity levitation devices, carbon-fibre mesh trawlers, magnetic rail guns, triangulated laser guns, light sails, self-sealing nanomaterials, super-heated surfaces, reflective paint, repulsive energy-field devices on weaponised asteroids, hijacked space probes, clandestine trajectory alterations, EM drives, super weapons with theoretical energy sources, homemade rockets with chemical concoctions, sheltering in underground bunkers, building arks, joining cults, mass evacuation, even planetary evacuation, making the Earth intangible, shifting the Earth out of the way with the rocket effect or a massive artificially-induced tectonic displacement, and when all else fails just standing on a beach and waiting for the impact to happen.
And there’s always a fated reporter on the trail.
The list below provides a summary of each story, but many entries include the option to open more in-depth synopses. With so many titles to get through, it’ll be a labour of love to read and watch. Don’t take it all too seriously, it’s just science fiction and most of the mitigation attempts are technologically impossible, at least for now.
This list will be maintained, so although the post was originally written in 2019, it will always up-to-date.
Lights, camera and asteroid!
A Day on the Asteroid (2009). If you ever make it through this list you will be spending vastly more than a day on the asteroid. So my list starts not with a disaster movie but with this lower-than-low budget internet film about an Inspector who is sent to investigate increasing disturbances in the space-time continuum related to wormhole activities on an asteroid mining colony.
For a taster, go straight to 4:20 and watch the musical number There’s Something Going Down on this Asteroid, which is delivered by a Neil Young soundalike and Groucho Marx lookalike asteroid inspector who is on his way to the asteroid mining colony Palermus IV to investigate increasing disturbances in the space-time continuum related to wormhole activities on the asteroid.
Don’t be put off by your first impressions of the digital quality of the movie. Give it a watch.
A Fire in the Sky (1978). TV movie in which a Jupiter-family comet is on course to impact Earth in the Arizona desert. After a failed military nuclear intercept, mass evacuation of Phoenix and the surrounding area is the only option before the city is obliterated.
POTUS instructs the military to ready a nuclear warhead to be mobilized if and when the risk of impact looks likely. Assuming the comet holds its present speed and trajectory, the chances are it will impact in 8 days. The Governor of Arizona has the seemingly impossible task of planning a mass evacuation while POTUS issues instructions to keep everything secret to avoid mass panic.
A TV reporter realises something is awry and is out to find out why, forcing the Governor to go public during which he plays down the risk. The comet is estimated to be a quarter of a mile wide and a fragment of an earlier disintegrated comet and, like those fragments, unlikely to break up en route or in the atmosphere. The NEO expert goes on air to tell it like it is, following which some of the city evacuate in panic.
The military intercept operation is launched and broadcast live to the nation. With the rocket’s margin of error of less than 1 second and a dodgy onboard gyro, the missiles fail to intercept the comet travelling at 40,000 km/second, detonating in the tail. Civil Defense orders a mass evacuation of Phoenix with plans for sheltering the remainers in the city’s basements, while looters go on the rampage above. The fated NEO expert heads for the projected impact site in the desert to deploy geophysics equipment. The astronomer heads to safety in Tucson. The husband and wife TV and news reporter team carry on as normal in the city.
As the fireball descends, anyone who looks at it is permanently blinded and everyone within 12 miles of the impact point is immediately vaporized, including the NEO expert. The airburst sets off a shock wave blasting through Phoenix, devastating the city and everything within 100 miles. The reporters in the city actually survive to tell the tale and there’s romance in the rubble.
The special effects of the destruction of Phoenix are not too bad at all considering when it was made.
I wonder: Would the astronomer really never have heard of the Tunguska event, and was it wise for her and the NEO expert to be drinking on the job?
Anna’s Storm (2007) see Hell’s Rain (2007).
Apocalypse, CA (2011). TV movie. A group of friends are on a comedic romp through the desert en route to Palm Springs, intentionally towards the predicted impact site of an asteroid that will destroy the Earth in five days’ time. I admit, I haven’t watched this one but it may well be a disaster.
Apocalypse Tomorrow (2014) see Zodiac: Signs of the Apocalypse (2014).
Armageddon (1998). A blockbuster (literally) about a team of deep core drillers tasked by NASA to go and plant a nuclear bomb on an asteroid the size of Texas that is on course to impact in the Pacific Ocean. There’s more than one nod to The Right Stuff in this movie.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis is taken out by a swarm of meteoroids and a series of impacts hit the US Atlantic Seaboard. Meanwhile a lone astronomer spots an anomaly further out in space and informs NASA. Using the Hubble Space Telescope they find an asteroid “the size of Texas” heading towards Earth at 22,000 miles per hour. It was struck by a rogue comet passing through the asteroid belt and perturbed along with hundreds of smaller rocks into an orbital trajectory that crosses Earth’s.
In a scene lifted straight out of The Right Stuff, we follow a researcher’s feet running down the lengths of NASA’s corridors and into the Command Room to deliver the words that, in this movie, they don’t want to hear: they have 18 days. To be precise: 431 hours, 15 minutes and 18 seconds to save the world from an extinction-level event that will destroy everything on Earth, including bacteria.
Impacting in the Pacific Ocean, the asteroid will hit bedrock, flash-boiling millions of gallons of seawater, creating a tidal wave 3 miles high that travels out at 1,000 miles per hour. Striking the US coast it will travel inland for more than a third of the width of the USA to wipe out California to Denver. To the west is will destroy Japan and Australia. Half the world’s population will be incinerated by the blast and the other half will perish in the global freeze that follows. Until the asteroid is much closer, only nine telescopes in the world can see it and NASA controls all but one. POTUS insists the threat remains top secret to prevent any global panic and mass hysteria.
NASA scientists are throwing in ideas as to how to mitigate the threat. The military’s suggestion to send 150 nuclear warheads to blast the asteroid apart or change its trajectory is rejected based on the asteroid’s composition, dimensions, and velocity. A spread-focus laser generator to heat the asteroid until it fractures is rejected, as is a seemingly futile plan for a fleet of spacecraft to deploy gigantic Mylar solar sails to harness the solar wind to push the asteroid away. Targeting the rock from the outside won’t work; they have to think inside the asteroid. They track down the world’s best deep core driller on an oil rig in the South China Sea who has drilled every supposedly undrillable terrain on Earth.
NASA requests him to train their astronauts who have secretly, and unsuccessfully, been trying to use his patented rig design for eight months. The plan is to send them to drill an 800 ft (0.25 km) shaft on the asteroid and plant a nuclear bomb. Deeming it an impossible task to train the astronauts to become drillers in time, he agrees to go with his own team.
An FBI hunt ensues to track down his motley crew dispersed across the continent: a cowboy, a mobster, a couple of ex-convicts, an unstable genius geologist, and an ex-Air Force Commando. He goes himself to find the hotshot rookie he just fired for dating his daughter, during which we get the best quote in the movie: ‘You know…, there’s not a job on the planet that I would want you to work with me on, and I mean that’.
Another not insignificant nod to The Right Stuff follows as the crew undergoes physical and psychological tests and are classified as having the wrong stuff by the astronauts who will accompany them.
In the draft script, NASA agrees to pay $70 million to use the patented rig, but in the movie NASA uses it saying that patents don’t apply in space, instead agreeing to lists of relatively insignificant demands, the culmination of which being that if the drillers make it back, none of them want to pay taxes ever again.
There are two X-71 Space Shuttle teams, Freedom and Independence, each comprising 3 NASA astronauts and 4 drillers, and carrying a nuclear bomb and an Armadillo truck to operate the rig. The teams will land on separate parts of the asteroid and whichever team reaches 800 ft first will plant the bomb, to be remotely detonated by the Military back at Mission Control.
With 6 days to impact, advance debris is detected coming in at 30,000 miles per hour heading for the South Pacific with 11 minutes warning for impact. It destroys Shanghai, killing 50,000 people. POTUS goes public, the world gets to know about the impending extinction level threat, and there’s frantic coverage by the global media. The mitigation project is the largest mission ever undertaken in history and now a joint venture between the US, Russia, Japan, and France.
An hour after the Shuttles depart they dock and refuel at the Russian Space Station, but inadvertently blow it up and the sole cosmonaut occupant joins the Independence team. After two and a half days, the Shuttles slingshot around the Moon accelerating with an 11 g-force. Travelling at 22,500 miles per hour they intercept the asteroid now passing around the other side of the Moon. But the lunar close encounter sets the asteroid tumbling erratically on all three axes. As they try to land on the razor-sharp rocks, the asteroid is violently erupting gas through massive fissures and Independence is apparently lost. Freedom overshoots its target area by 26 miles, landing on a surface of compressed iron ferrite rather than the softer rock they had planned for. Intermittent communication with Freedom means Mission Control may have to bounce signals off a Russian military satellite when the time comes to remotely detonate the bomb.
Although the asteroid has some gravity, the crew has new generation spacesuits with directional accelerant thrusters to prevent them bouncing on the asteroid. Freedom gets to work drilling the shaft, but the transmission is soon ruined by the resistant ferrite rock.
With 5 hours to impact, the asteroid is half the Moon’s distance from Earth and drilling is only at 60 ft, 140 ft behind schedule. With a risk of losing all communication to remote detonate at all, the Military overrides the system and initiates secondary protocol to evacuate the asteroid and remotely detonate the bomb on the surface instead. The detonation has to be done before the asteroid reaches a critical distance from Earth, so that the two fragments they plan the blast to create are deflected far enough to pass safely either side of the Earth. But the crew overrides the override with less than 3 seconds to spare, convinced they can reach the target depth in time.
With 2 hours to impact, NORAD detects four smaller meteoroids heading for Europe and one destroys Paris. Martial law is declared in 42 countries.
At 550 ft drill depth and Freedom now out of drill bits and no transmission left, the surviving crew of the Independence emerges in its Armadillo with a new transmission and drill head just in time. The borehole depth is reached, but a violent rock storm erupts on the asteroid and the bomb’s remote detonator is damaged, meaning someone has to stay behind and detonate the bomb. Freedom leaves the asteroid without the team leader, who stays behind to detonate the bomb with seconds to spare. The asteroid splits in two just before the critical distance is reached. The two fragments deflect past Earth missing by 400 miles and the smaller fragments are vaporized. Only half the original team make it back to Earth.
This movie was released two months after Deep Impact. Very briefly, how do they compare? Well, there is a key father-daughter relationship in both, which I’m not going into here, but which are loosely similar in both. And the Earth is, of course, saved from the extinction level event in both, but not from national catastrophes. The key differences are that this one is about an asteroid that was struck by a comet and is now heading to Earth, whereas the other one is about a comet that has been perturbed into Earth’s orbit, by what we are not told. The primary target in this movie is the Pacific Ocean, whereas in the other movie it’s the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, this movie shows a more global perspective, whereas the other is limited to a US national level. The main character in this story is the drill team leader on the mission to save the world, whereas in the other movie the main character is a TV reporter who has been tasked with covering the mission to save the world. As for action, this movie might have been too much of an onslaught if it hadn’t been for the charismatic calm of Billy Bob Thornton’s unflappable NASA Flight Director (bar one outburst when he tries to prevent secondary protocol being invoked). The other movie is strangely calm throughout. This one is visually stunning, but the other one is easier to watch. I cry when I watch this movie because everyone is telling everyone else how much they love each other and the music is conducive to it. I cry as soon as I see the inescapable tidal wave in the other movie and barely stop after that.
Asteroid (1997). TV miniseries. Two asteroids are perturbed from the asteroid belt by the return of a long-period comet. Kansas City and Dallas are the impact targets. With insufficient warning and a failed nuclear intercept attempt, mass evacuation is the only option.
Asteroid: Final Impact (2015) aka Meteor Assault (2015). TV movie. A whistleblower scientist who used to run an asteroid tracking program that was clandestinely being used as a spy satellite, reactivates it to locate a dark asteroid on course to hit the western continental US within hours in a catastrophic impact. With a homemade rocket he fires a chemical compound into the asteroid which implodes in an instantaneous chain reaction.
Trailer | Watch
Asteroid vs Earth (2014). TV movie. An asteroid one quarter the size of the Moon is on course to collide with Earth. A geophysicist is tasked with inducing a massive tectonic displacement using nuclear weapons to move Earth out of the way. A deep sea trench and an island volcano are the two routes to get the missiles into the Earth’s core.
Alerted by an anomalous spectroscopic osmium spike, an intern on the night shift at the Keck Observatory discovers a new meteor (asteroid) travelling at 7 million miles per hour on a collision course with Earth. Massive supercells and rampant floods are the first signs on Earth that something is awry. The asteroid’s composition is unknown, but the intern’s simulation suggests it has a diameter one quarter that of the Moon, so that makes it 830 km, and a mass 0.4% of the Earth (the script says 0.04%, but the actor says 0.4% on the day of the shoot). Either way, that’s a mass that’s either the same or an order of magnitude larger than all the asteroids in the asteroid belt combined.
As the asteroid closes in, the size is estimated at 200 miles (320 km) based on its orbital deviation. A coordinated meteor interdiction by the US, Europe, Russia and China, launches warheads to intercept the rock. But the intern’s simulations indicate that the asteroid can’t be destroyed or deflected with the available resources and it will impact the Earth in 8 days. The only option is to move the Earth out of the way with a giant tectonic shift. So a marine geophysicist on a US submarine sends an HROV down the Yap Trench armed with nuclear bombs to induce a swarm of earthquakes along the Pacific Ring of Fire. It may kill 50% of the planet but the alternative will kill the planet.
Meanwhile, the US missile fired as part of the coordinated meteor interdiction has sheared fragments off the asteroid and sped up its arrival by 3 days. One fragment impacts southern China and northern China retaliates by launching missiles at the US submarine which is attempting to mitigate the asteroid disaster from below the waves.
I particularly like the geophysicist’s unwavering statement on numerous occasions that she must ‘puncture the protruding crust of the Yap Trench in order to pierce the asthenosphere and expose the Earth’s core and induce tectonic displacement.’ The lines are delivered to perfection every time; it’s just a shame the plan didn’t work. In fact, none of the explosions, coordinated or retaliated, create the cumulative magnitude 18 earthquakes required to shift the Earth.
In the final countdown, the last resort to create the crucial commotion in the core is to deploy bombs down the Saipan volcano.
Before the Fall (2008) aka Tres Días (2008). Movie. An asteroid will impact Earth in 72 hours in a catastrophic collision that no-one is expected to survive. In its final hours, the world is gripped by chaos and mass panic. A serial killer escapes from prison and holds a family hostage, making their final hours even more unbearable. It’s violent and destructive even before the impact, so maybe do what the asteroid won’t and give this one a miss.
Trailer | DVD
Collision Earth (2011). TV movie. The Sun momentarily becomes a magnetar, magnetising Mercury and knocking it onto a collision course with Earth. An abandoned weaponised asteroid project is resurrected to deflect it. The asteroid isn’t the threat here, but there’s an impact threat to Earth nevertheless.
Meanwhile, the USS Nautilus spacecraft en route to Mercury is damaged and knocked off course. Mercury’s gravitational and magnetic influence is pulling it in, as well as causing massive disruption on Earth. A pair of pirate radio station hams start broadcasting about a conspiracy and pick up the distress call from Nautilus on their valve radio, but no-one believes them so they go in search of scientists. The scientists (one an astronomer, the other an ex-Government employee, now a community college lecturer, and husband of the one remaining Nautilus crew member) have discovered that the Sun had become a momentary Magnetar, emitting one of the most powerful bursts of magnetic energy in the universe. Massive meteorites impacting the Earth are found to be highly magnetized fragments of Mercury. Now, like two opposing magnets, Mercury and Earth will collide.
Meanwhile Seattle is being hit by earthquakes and massive electromagnetic events are pulling all the metal objects on the surface up into space that re-impact as giant meteorites in a series of gigantic car crashes. SPEAR plans to initiate Operation Recourse to deflect Mercury with a series of coordinated nuclear explosions, but the college lecturer says the magnetic interference will prevent synchronising the missiles and may deflect them to Earth. SPEAR calculates the intervals between the electromagnetic wave peaks and fires the missiles in between, but the missiles are deflected to blow themselves up.
Meanwhile, the lecturer claims to have fixed Project Seven’s defective code and can make the system work to deflect Mercury. But Project Seven’s guidance system is taken out by a magnetic surge and Nautilus has to go and tether it to its own, after pulling itself free of Mercury via a slingshot manoeuvre. The one remaining crew member manages to fly to the project’s weaponised asteroid 87695-Z. As a molten Mercury emerges from the clouds over Earth, the one remaining scientist and the one remaining radio ham break into the Government facility to upload the new code to initiate the asteroid’s energy field, which succeeds in diverting Mercury away from Earth. Best quote: “Magnetism is too unpredictable.”
Cosmic Shock (1997) see Doomsday Rock (1997).
Crash of the Moons (1954). TV movie (three episode story of a TV series). The planet Ophecius is in the collisional path of one of a binary pair of gypsy moons. The inhabitants of the planet and the colliding moon, as well as a nearby space station, must all be evacuated before the impact due to take place within days.
A pair of orbiting gypsy moons, Poseta and Nergato, will soon be entering the Solar System. The space station OW9 will soon find itself engulfed in the so-called atmosphere chain that links the two moons. The space station was built to withstand the general space environment and may well be destroyed by the sudden impact of the atmosphere chain so must be evacuated. A refuelling spacecraft has just left and is too far away to return, so Rocky Jones, commander of the Orbit Jet spacecraft, must go and evacuate OW9 before the atmosphere chain reaches it.
At this point in the movie, we are told that the Orbit Jet spacecraft has been involved in things like this before, in particular: ‘a possible crash of moons, a stray meteor clobbering a planet, exploding small meteors with atomic missiles, and blasting big ones to spin out of the danger orbit. But those were just hunks of ore with no life on them – these moons are inhabited and they have no idea about what will happen to them,’ because, as Rocky Jones says, ‘without a fixed position we are unable to make astronomy an exact science’.
Not only does Poesta threaten the space station, but it is also on course to collide with the planet Ophecius, a world governed by a pair of hostile rulers. Hours earlier the Ophecians had threatened to destroy an envoy on the Orbit Jet sent on a peace mission to encourage Ophecius to join the United Worlds of the Solar System. But the Ophecians believe that with a unified planet there will be no race of Ophecians and so they refuse to join.
When informed of the impending impact of the moon Poesta with their planet, the rulers of Ophecius send a spaceship to try to bombard Poseta out of its orbit using tritanic missiles, before the inhabitants of Poseta have been evacuated. The Orbit Jet retaliates, crippling the Ophecian spaceship and manages to evacuate the inhabitants of Poseta to its binary Nergato. The Orbit Jet then attempts to destroy Poseta to save Ophecius. But the tritanic missiles they use fail and it is now certain that Poesta will collide with Ophecius in a few days’ time.
The rulers of Ophecius think it’s all a plot of the United Worlds to make the Ophecians a lost race. The Orbit Jet is sent to encourage the Ophecians to evacuate. The Ophecians launch a failed attempt to storm and take over the Orbit Jet, but they are overcome and utlimately agree to the evacuation of their planet.
A series of spaceships are sent to start the evacuation of Ophecius in the days leading up to the collision, with the Orbit Jet conducting the final evacuation just before impact. They watch the crash of the moons from the Orbit Jet as Poseta impacts into Ophecius and both planetary bodies are destroyed.
At times this movie feels like a cross between a space western and a haunted house farce, with people coming and going in and out of rooms, and in and out of spaceships, dodging each other, spying through peep holes, and strangely being gassed to send them to sleep at night. There’s even a baby trying to warn people of what’s happening with funny little hand and mouth movements strangely reminiscent of the baby in Meet The Fockers. Everyone has a silly, cutesy name like Rocky, Winky, Trinka, Bobby, and Vena, and there’s also Cleolanta, Kortanda, Atlasan, and Bavaro. There’s also a Professor who refers to his biggest blunder by having taken his friends to OW9 without considering the effect of the atmosphere chain. But he’s not called Einstein, he’s called Newton.
All in all it’s a very odd experience and probably worth a watch for education on the type of TV show people used to enjoy in the 1950s.
Danny Phantom “Phantom Planet” (2007). Animated TV series [S3, Ep 12–13]. A haunt of ghosts make the Earth intangible so that an Ectoranium asteroid can pass right through.
Deadly Skies (2006). TV movie. An astronomer tracks a number of meteoroid strikes to an asteroid the size of Texas which has been knocked onto a collision course with Earth by another rogue asteroid. An ex-Air Force Major resurrects an aborted secret ground-based laser weapon to deflect it.
An astronomer at NEATS (Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Society) and her assistant, trace three meteoroid strikes in Switzerland, Africa and California to Rickenbach 10-31, a near-Earth asteroid “the size of Texas”. Previously due to pass safely by Earth at a lunar distance, Rickenbach 10-31 is nudged into a collision course with Earth by an unseen rogue asteroid and will impact in less than 2 days.
Unable to convince the military of the impending catastrophic impact, the astronomer tracks down a ridiculously handsome former Air Force Major who had worked on a now aborted top secret ground-based laser weapon for Project Dark Skies. He agrees, along with his ex-colleague, to help them infiltrate the Air Force base and activate the laser to blow up the asteroid. The laser powers up just in time to break up the asteroid before the target area rotates out of view. The fragments fall as a shower of non-threatening meteors.
Deep Impact (1998). Movie about a comet heading for Earth, a failed nuclear intercept mission, and a lottery to decide which citizens will be allotted shelter in underground bunkers before the comet fragments impact. Told largely from the viewpoint of a reporter on a US TV news network, who chooses beach over bunker when the tsunami strikes.
A reporter from a US TV network is investigating the resignation of a senior US Government official amidst secretive liaisons involving “Ellie”. Bluffing that she knows more than she (thinks she) does, the reporter confronts the individual about the affair. He refers to it as “the biggest story in history”, which she thinks is somewhat egoistic. Then she is arrested by the FBI and confronted by POTUS who says the plan was to go public about the E.L.E. in two weeks’ time, but agrees to go public in two days’ time instead and give her the first question at the press briefing. Back in the office, she has the startling realisation that E.L.E. refers to Extinction Level Event.
POTUS informs the press and the nation that a year earlier, a comet (now named Wolf-Biederman) was discovered to be on an orbital trajectory that crosses Earth’s orbit. It is 7 miles long (larger than Mount Everest) and weighs 500 billion tonnes. If the speed and trajectory remain unchanged, there is a chance the comet will collide with Earth in a year’s time, on 16 August, and all US troops have been recalled from abroad for domestic security purposes.
For eight months, the US and Russia have been building The Messiah spacecraft on an orbiting platform above Earth as part of a mitigation attempt to destroy the comet. It’s a US Orion spacecraft propelled using Russian technology and carrying eight 5,000 kiloton nuclear bombs on devices that will self-drill into the comet and detonate at 100 metre depth.
Five months later, Messiah launches to the comet and from the start there is inter-crew conflict, with the sole Apollo veteran believing the other six are hotshots whose simulator training is tantamount to video gaming. Fast forward and as they arrive at the comet the TV reporter is promoted to the news anchor desk to cover the story with images being live fed from the mission. The comet is 16 times the Earth-Moon distance away and images are taking 20 seconds to reach Earth.
With four of the crew on the surface deploying the bombs, the operation is time sensitive and they must leave before the Sun rises over the comet’s horizon when the temperature will quickly rise to 350 degrees and the surface will start explosively outgassing. Most of the crew make it back to The Messiah.
When the bombs detonate they split the comet into two pieces: one larger (6 miles) and one smaller (1.5 miles) and both are still on course to impact Earth in a few days.
A state of martial law and a national curfew are declared. The Government announces it has built an ark in a network of caves in the mountains in Missouri to house one million people and animals for two years until it’s safe to re-emerge. One fifth of the individuals are notified on 9 August, pre-selected as having specialist skills crucial for mankind’s survival. The other 800,000 are notified on 10 August, under-50’s chosen at random in a social security number national lottery. Other nations make similar arrangements.
With 14 hours to go before the arrival of the two comet fragments, a last ditch mitigation attempt is launched: a dozen Titan missiles are fired at the comet but fail to stop it.
The smaller comet impacts 12 hours later in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia, setting off a 100 ft tidal wave in the ocean rushing out to hit land at 1,100 miles per hour as well as a massive shock wave and hypercane winds that spread out over hundreds of miles. As the tidal wave hits the US Eastern Seaboard, it rises up to 3,500 ft in some places and travels inland for some 650 miles, reportedly as far as the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys. Washington DC, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Atlanta are all devastated. The wave also reaches Africa and Europe. (All this action kicks off 18 minutes before the movie ends, so go to 1:43:10. It’s both spectacular and distressing to watch). The news anchor has by this stage travelled to her family beach house to spend her final moments with her father on the beach as the tidal wave hits land (see the image below).
The larger fragment is due to arrive 3 hours later, impacting on land in western Canada. This is the E.L.E. because dust from the impact will block out all sunlight for two years, leaving all plants dead within a month, and all animal life dead a few months after.
But the crew of The Messiah realise they can probably destroy the larger fragment by detonating the four remaining nuclear bombs down one of the large fissures caused by the comet’s outgassing. They deliver the bombs manually by flying The Messiah directly down into the comet. It breaks up the comet fragment into millions of metre-sized pieces that burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, witnessed by survivors of the tidal wave as a spectacular but harmless meteor shower.
What I particularly like about the end of this movie is that when the tidal wave is rushing inland, it’s shown smashing into an oil rig – it feels very much like the film is delivering a slap in the face to Armageddon. See what you think.
Don’t Look Up! (due for release on Netflix late 2020). Movie. Two astronomers discover that an asteroid is on course to hit Earth in six months’ time but no-one believes them (a hazard of the job with this movie genre). They decide to embark on a massive media tour to get people’s attention.
Doomsday Rock (1997) aka Cosmic Shock (1997). TV movie. An astrophysicist-anthropologist takes over a military missile silo to try to intercept an asteroid he believes will collide with Earth based on a prediction he discovered in a series of ancient Aboriginal cave paintings. The authorities approach his daughter to try and stop him. But his predictions turn out to be correct.
His theory on Nemesis is based on the discovery of dozens of cave paintings by an ancient Aboriginal savant depicting a timeline of significant terrestrial events throughout history, including the destruction Pompeii, the building of the Great Wall of China, the Black Death, the returns of Halley’s Comet, the Tunguska event, and the Holocaust. The final event shows a planet being destroyed by a demon rock.
He sends a file of his complete findings and calculations to NASA, who dismiss it as ludicrous based on Space Scan’s calculations that the asteroid will miss by half a million miles, and pass the document to the FBI. The astrophysicist’s calculations suggest that Nemesis will impact with the force of 30 atomic bombs and destroy everything in a 1,200 mile radius, then deposit a blanket of molten rock and acid rain over the entire Earth, eradicating all life except for a few viruses.
The day before the predicted impact and unable to convince the scientific community of the threat, he decides to prevent the global disaster himself. With half a dozen highly-trained eco-mercenaries, he hijacks an underground military nuclear missile silo with the plan to launch two missiles to intercept the asteroid, holding the military staff hostage. After he launches an unarmed missile as a warning, the Pentagon gives in to his demands to use the Hubble Telescope to pinpoint his two real asteroid strikes.
Meanwhile, the Russians interpret the launch as a hostile attack and plan to retaliate to any future launches. The Pentagon plans to blow up the silo with an atomic weapon unless the FBI can convince the astrophysicist’s daughter (herself an astronomer) to convince her father to give himself up. If they bomb the silo and miss the shaft, their missile could destroy a 300 mile radius including Denver.
After visiting Space Scan, the daughter agrees that the asteroid – a 7 mile long chunk of almost pure iron ferrite travelling at 50,000 miles/hour – will miss Earth by half a million miles. But after studying her father’s research, she realises that the Earth will be struck – because a long-period comet, currently on its return passage past Earth, is about to split in two and the larger fragment will strike the asteroid and divert its trajectory onto a collision course with Earth.
Now she must convince the authorities, but first she must convince the FBI agent who arrested her to take her to the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to prove it. With a few hours to go she arrives at Arecibo and watches the comet split in two, collide with the asteroid, and vaporize. It changes the trajectory of the asteroid which will now impact the Caribbean Sea in less than half an hour.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has deployed its fighter jets to the silo, and the silo is set to deploy its missile to the asteroid, the hostages are battling the eco-mercenaries, and Arecibo is trying to convince the Pentagon to abort the attack, which they do, with seconds to spare. The silo launches its missile, and the Russians launch theirs (to the asteroid, to everyone’s relief) and the asteroid is destroyed with less than a minute to impact.
Earthfall (2015). TV movie. A close gravitational encounter with a rogue planet travelling at 300,000 miles per hour drastically changes Earth’s tilt, rotation and orbit. Half the planet is plunged into perpetual night, the other half into perpetual day. A group of civilians stumble upon a secret Government facility that is working on a nuclear mitigation plan which will either restore Earth’s orbit around the Sun, or end things for good.
Trailer | Watch
Earth Storm (2006). TV movie. When the Moon is struck by an asteroid, a fragment breaks off and impacts Earth. The unstable Moon creates major disruption to Earth’s weather and tides. Now a massive fault poses the risk of even larger lunar fragments hitting Earth with devastating consequences. A demolition specialist is sent to implode the Moon using an unproven EM pulse machine to recharge the magnetic field being generated in the core and close up the fault.
Trailer | Watch
Evolution (2001). Comedy movie about a meteorite impact in the Arizona desert that contains the building blocks of alien life which goes through exponential evolution of hundreds of millions of years in a matter of days. Two college professors try to find out what is going on to the annoyance of the military.
Force of Impact (2006) aka Ultimate Limit (2006). TV movie. An astronomer tracks a number of meteoroid strikes to an asteroid the size of Texas which has been knocked onto a collision course with Earth by another rogue asteroid. An ex-Air Force Major resurrects an aborted secret ground-based laser weapon to deflect it.
An astronomer at NEATS (Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Society) and her assistant, trace three meteoroid strikes in Switzerland, Africa and California to Rickenbach 10-31, a near-Earth asteroid “the size of Texas”. Previously due to pass safely by Earth at a lunar distance, Rickenbach 10-31 is nudged into a collision course with Earth by an unseen rogue asteroid and will impact in less than 2 days.
Unable to convince the military of the impending catastrophic impact, the astronomer tracks down a ridiculously handsome former Air Force Major who had worked on a now aborted top secret ground-based laser weapon for Project Dark Skies. He agrees, along with his ex-colleague, to help them infiltrate the Air Force base and activate the laser to blow up the asteroid. The laser powers up just in time to break up the asteroid before the target area rotates out of view. The fragments fall as a shower of non-threatening meteors.
Futurama: “A Big Piece of Garbage” (1999). Animated TV sitcom [S1, Ep 8]. Spoof of Armageddon (1998). Earth is in the path of a giant ball of garbage from Old New York launched into space by the mob in the 21st Century. An attempt to plant a bomb into a fault line fails, so a second ball of garbage is launched to deflect it.
Futureshock: Comet Impact (2007) aka Impact Earth (2008). TV movie. A comet impacts off the coast of Ireland creating a devastating tsunami. The astronomer who failed to detect it receives NASA funding to develop a reliable NEO observation program. He discovers the comet was part of a chain that will strike the USA in a K-T size event. The military plan a nuclear deflection, the astronomer warns against it and the world goes into economic meltdown in anticipation.
Gorath (1962). Japanese Movie. Not an asteroid, but what turns out to be a collapsed star, threatens to destroy Earth in a gravitational collision. In a global collaboration, massive rocket thrusters are installed at the South Pole to move Earth out of its path – and then move it back when the object has passed. Environmental catastrophes and a monstrous walrus momentarily threaten the success of the ambitious project.
The mass of the object will cause catastrophic tectonic disruptions on Earth with devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and will probably strip away the atmosphere. As the star rushes through the Solar System, Pluto is ripped out of its orbit and the JX-1 spaceship is destroyed.
When the data reaches Earth, scientists realise that Gorath will collide with Earth in two years’ time. With no way to destroy or deflect the object, the only way to save the Earth is to move the Earth out of the way. Then, when it’s all over, they’ll have to move the Earth back into its original orbit. How will they do it? A massive global collaboration is convened to design the plan known as The South Pole Operation.
The plan involves building and installing a mass of hydrogen rocket thrusters at the South Pole, to provide a force equivalent to 6.6 billion megatons to gradually change the Earth’s orbit. The thrusters will be buried half a kilometre below the icy surface in caverns excavated by heat-generating burrowing machines, covering an area of 600 kilometres.
The force will shift the Earth by 400,000 kilometres from its current orbit over a few months so that it is out of the path of the incoming object and far enough away so as not to be affected by its gravity.
A second spaceship sent to collect further data, confirms that the object is becoming more massive as it makes its way through the Solar System pulling more and more matter into its core.
The first operational thruster test, which is broadcast live around the world and monitored from an orbiting space station, successfully shifts the Earth from its orbit, but the intense heat and vibrations disturb the monstrous prehistoric walrus-like creature Maguma from below the ice that momentarily threaten the success of the whole operation. But the creature is killed by a powerful laser gun fortuitously installed on a nearby cargo ship.
As Gorath becomes visible with the naked eye from Earth, it destroys the Moon and starts disrupting Earth’s atmosphere. Soon Earth is being ravaged by earthquakes and tsunamis. The success of the whole operation is once again threatened as some of the thrusters are extinguished. But the operation eventually succeeds and Earth is diverted safely away from a collision. And when the threat is over, its orbit is restored.
Greenland (2020). Movie. An interstellar comet named Clarke is on course to impact the Earth. When the first fragment strikes, Florida is wiped off the map. On discovering that military flights are being tracked to an underground bunker in Greenland, a man sets off with his family to find safety in the bunker and escape what is predicted will be an extinction level event as further fragments hit.
Hell’s Rain (2007) aka Anna’s Storm. (2007). TV movie. The town of Cottonwood, Colorado is caught up in a meteor storm that rains debris down across the state without warning. Residents struggle to survive the meteorite falls and as the Mayor tries to calm the residents, she receives psychic messages from her dead son. The meteorites are just the precursor to a larger asteroid threat.
Trailer | Watch
Hope (2016). Six minute film. A lone scientist believes that the Earth will be destroyed in a series of catastrophic asteroid impacts. No-one believes him so he builds his own space station, Hope, to use as an ark to preserve hundreds of specimens of life on Earth, then watches alone from space as the asteroid fragments rain down below.
His wife refuses to leave Earth, so he ends up alone on the space station, with a cargo of hundreds of preserved specimens of life on Earth, watching from space as the asteroids bombard the Earth.
He has enough provisions to last a lifetime, but a faulty component threatens to destroy the onboard specimens, so he reroutes the power from his own life support system to power that of the specimens. He spends his last 6 days crying into a bottle of malt whisky.
Some 100,000 years later, his body is found by a passing spaceship. A recorded message from him expresses his relief that Hope was a success.
Icetastrophe (2014). TV movie. A meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere and splits in two. A small hot fragment impacts in the mountains and a larger icy fragment strikes the town of Lennox where a flash freeze icetastrophe ensues. Only by bringing the two meteorites back together can the balance of nature be restored.
Watch | DVD
Impact (2008). Movie. While the Earth is in the path of spectacular meteor shower, a brown dwarf impacts the Moon setting off a series of extreme electromagnetic and gravitational events on Earth. Now the increased mass is pulling the Earth onto a collision course with the Moon. Two civilian scientists are sent to the Moon to eject the object.
An ex-NASA astronomer at the National Space Observatory in New Mexico is logging the meteors (meteoroids) in the main field which Palomar has calculated is at a distance of 2.7 million km, the largest of which has a diameter of 6 km. Later on, a previously undiscovered 19 km diameter dark object emerges from behind the main field now 420,000 km away. It is heading straight for the Moon.
Meanwhile an astrophysicist who used to work on anti-gravity devices for NASA is observing the event from his backyard with his young children, and an ESA lunar scientist is observing the event from his backyard with his pregnant girlfriend.
The dark object impacts the Moon, creating a massive fracture and ejecting debris at 360,000 km per hour that reaches Earth within an hour. Fireballs, bolides and impacts are reported around the globe. A 100 metre chunk of the Moon was also ejected in the impact and will hit the Earth in 14 hours. It impacts off the coast of Australia with an energy of 40 mega tonnes, triggering a devastating tsunami that hits Australia and Indonesia.
The impact on the Moon offset some of its forward velocity causing it to be drawn in by Earth’s gravity and it is now 30,000 km closer, but scientists say its orbit is stable. With no solution to hand, POTUS decides not to tell the public about any potential danger. Now bizarre isolated anomalies are happening around the globe: erratic tides, electrical surges, massive static charges, cellphone disruption, drained car batteries, spinning compasses, and confused geese migrating south at the wrong time of year.
In every movie there is a journalist on the trail of the scientist, and this movie is no exception, only this time it is the NASA astronomer’s ex-husband trying to get an exclusive.
The Moon’s magnetic field and closer distance are not strong enough to cause the electromagnetic and gravitational effects. Something must have dramatically altered the Moon’s mass and magnetism. When the lunar scientist arrives at one of the meteorite impact sites, he finds a stone the size of a tennis ball, highly magnetized, and so dense he can’t move it without the use of a forklift truck. He concludes it is a fragment of a brown dwarf and that a collision with another brown dwarf must have propelled it into our neighbourhood. With deep sub-surface fissures being detected on the Moon, the lunar scientist concludes that a massive piece of the brown dwarf must have become lodged inside the Moon. Not only is the Moon now twice the mass of Earth, it is also a giant magnet. But the scientist says it is stable.
This movie presents (either unintentionally, or deliberately as a bit of fun) an array of confusion of terms. First we have the old meteoroids-meteors-meteorites issue. They even make a point of explaining the difference between meteors and meteorites, but get it wrong saying that in space it’s a meteor and if it makes it through the atmosphere it’s a meteorite. That explanation is half right: a meteor is the light phenomenon we see as a meteoroid travels through the atmosphere – there are no meteors travelling through space because those are meteoroids, whether asteroids or comets. Then there is the statement they make that: the asteroid that hit the Moon was a brown dwarf, the remnant of a dead star. What is it they want to say? Was it an asteroid, a brown dwarf, or the remnant of a dead star. It can’t be all three, not even two of those!
Meanwhile, the Earth-Moon distance has reduced by another 95,000 km to 265,000 km and is now orbiting on an elliptical orbit. Scientists say this one is not stable. With each successive orbit, the Moon’s orbital velocity will increase, bringing it closer on each pass, increasing the disturbances and anomalies on Earth. As the electromagnetic surges override gravity, it causes local fluctuations and there are reports of massive objects like trains and ships being lifted high up off the ground.
A task force is formed onto which the astronomer, the astrophysicist, and the lunar scientist are drafted to work with NASA, ESA, POTUS’s adviser and the Military.
With the Moon’s orbital velocity increasing, scientists conclude it will collide with Earth in 39 days. This will be a planetary annihilation event. What can they do?
The astronomers suggest detonating nuclear weapons in the path of the Moon to nudge it far enough away so that the brown dwarf in its core will be gravitationally attracted towards the Sun to put the Moon in a new safe orbit around Earth. They would launch a series of nuclear weapons on CT6 converted Atlas rockets: 1,100 nuclear weapons, 20 mega tonnes each, detonated in 2 minutes intervals at a distance of 100 km, creating a continual exponential outward force to accelerate the Moon away from the Earth without fragmenting it. But the US would have to share its technology with the Chinese and the Russians if it were to work and the Military are not happy about that.
The Military have another plan: detonating nuclear weapons along the new fissure on the Moon to penetrate the already weakened fault lines, breaking the Moon apart. For that they need only 87 nuclear weapons and can do it alone. They claim the brown dwarf will be disintegrated in the blast but the lunar scientist thinks the brown dwarf will be released and impact Earth, although the debris created by missiles will be devastating enough to Earth.
Every member of the team has external worries and there’s too much drinking on the job for my liking. The astrophysicist’s family has gone missing en route to meet him at the Washington task force HQ and the lunar scientist’s pregnant girlfriend is missing in Munich, busy rescuing passengers from the levitated train she was in.
The astronomer’s ex-husband reporter finds out about the impending impact and spills the beans live on the TV that the Moon will impact Earth in 36 days. This forces POTUS to go public and confirm the impact threat. The Military’s mitigation plan is swiftly implemented but fails. The weapons detonate but cause the Moon to tumble erratically, increasing its velocity and speeding up the impact date by 5 days.
Although it is never explained why, the astronomers’ plan is never put into action, but presumably because of the technology-sharing caveat. Instead the lunar scientist comes up with a third plan. He thinks the Moon is now tumbling because the explosion dislodged the brown dwarf closer to the surface. He suggests resurrecting a zero-gravity propulsion EM machine project that the astrophysicist worked on at NASA. It manipulates electromagnetic energy, generating an extreme current that could magnetize the Moon’s core. This would create a momentary reverse-polarity so that the core and brown dwarf repel each other, expelling the brown dwarf. If this is done when the Moon is furthest from Earth, the brown dwarf will be drawn into the Sun’s gravitational field.
But this machine doesn’t yet exist and will need to be built, mostly on Earth at various location (US, Japan, Brazil, France, Germany) with final assembly on the Moon. To reach the core the machine will drill down using Military steel carbon fullerene nano-wires as a conductor attached to a converted cruise missile (converted to a copper plasma-based warhead) with the other end connected to the EM machine, using the military’s American Space Elevator Prototype. They can use the delayed ESA Soyuz mission to get to the Moon.
Some of the fissures and canyons on the Moon now run deep down to the core, but it’s impossible to make detailed thermal readings inside them from Earth to determine the best site into which to launch the missile, so the astronauts will have to determine that on the Moon. And someone will have to go into the fissure in a jet-propelled rover to get detailed sub-surface terrain mapping data for the guidance system that will direct the missile into the core. The missile launch will be controlled from the lunar module. Once embedded in the core, the missile’s copper liner will melt and release a plasma jet into the core to transfer the electric current, reverse the polarity of the core, and expel the brown dwarf.
POTUS orders everyone to get to work. There are 16 days to launch if they are to reach the Moon at the optimum time and execute the plan.
Because the two-way Moon-Earth communication will be sketchy, ESA want someone with expert knowledge of the EM machine to assemble it and carry out the task. They also want a lunar geologist with a vast understanding of what has happened since the impact. So in a cruel twist of fate, the two scientists who devised the plan, the astrophysicist and the lunar scientist, are both asked to volunteer. It will probably be a one-way trip as they are unlikely to get back to module before the core is magnetized and the lunar module is unlikely to be able to escape the magnetic field. They are not happy, but they have no choice if the world is to be saved.
The mission is launched. Hovering above the Moon, the lunar scientist identifies the best crevice for the missile launch. At this point, his pregnant girlfriend and the astrophysicist’s children are found and delivered to Mission Control, where they all find out their loved ones are probably not coming home.
The lunar module lands on the surface and the astrophysicist starts assembling the machine with 6 hours until the Moon reaches the required axis peak. Of course nothing goes to plan and a coil doesn’t work which takes 5 hours to replace.
Meanwhile the jet-propelled rover is launched into the fissure to start sub-surface mapping but crashes onto a ledge inside and one astronaut is lost. On the surface, the EM machine is finished and powered up, waiting for the mapping sequence. With no way out of the fissure, the lunar scientist manages to transmit the mapping data with minutes to spare and the missile is fired into the fissure. He is left behind as the module leaves the surface with the astrophysicist and another astronaut on board.
The missile detonates and the reverse polarity expels the brown dwarf from the core and out to be captured by the Sun’s gravitational field. The explosion breaks the Moon in two along its vast complex of fault lines, but a scientist says it is stable. Famous last words in this movie.
Impact Earth (2008) see Futureshock: Comet Impact (2007).
Impact Earth (2015). TV movie. A student discovers an asteroid on a collision course with Earth and tells her supervisor, a disgraced former NASA asteroid tracker. But no-one else believes that the threat is real, so she publishes a video warning to the world. When the military realise the threat is real they plan to nuke the rock. Meanwhile from an underground shelter a game of space billiards ensues as she reprograms a satellite to strike a smaller meteoroid into the path of the incoming asteroid to deflect it.
After scrutinising her work, he realises the threat is real and tries to warn his mentor about the impending impact. But no-one is going to believe him because he is still tainted by a bad call made a decade earlier when he worked at NASA after he predicted a devastating impact that then never occurred but caused civil unrest on the streets in the run-up to the non-event. So the assistant publishes a video explaining the impact threat, which gets people’s attention.
Then the scientist, his family and his assistant (with whom his is now having an inappropriate affair) all embark on a hazardous journey to his mentor’s fall-out shelter a hundred miles away. Thousands of meteoroids start to impact causing destruction and mass panic. The scientists are forced off the road and continue their journey on foot through a forest, pursued by bandits, all the time under the threat of incoming impacts.
From a control room in the fall-out shelter, they undertake their own deflection attempt using a satellite as a billiard ball to strike another asteroid into the path of the potential impacting asteroid and deflect it away.
Note: I could not find a full-length English language version of this movie so had to write my synopsis based on the English language trailer and a French-dubbed full-length version of the movie. I hope my synopsis is accurate enough!
Judgment Day (1999). Movie. A small asteroid destroys a village in Bolivia but a second one a thousand times larger is due to arrive within days. Unfortunately, the Government scientist who designed the only weapon capable of preventing the impact has been kidnapped by a delusional cult leader. A dangerous criminal who knows his whereabouts is released from prison to assist the FBI track him down.
Trailer | DVD
La Fin du Monde (1931). Movie. A wealthy gentleman astronomer detects that on its next passage by Earth, Lexell’s Comet will most likely strike and the world will end in 114 days. Acquiring a newspaper and radio station, he announces the event to the world, causing the global economy to collapse and the world to descend into chaos. The astronomer is accused of creating a hoax to destroy the economy – until the comet comes into view. Although it passes safely by, the world has already been devastated by the global panic.
Melancholia (2011). Movie. Not an asteroid but a previously undetected rogue planet called Melancholia enters the Solar System from behind the Sun, making a close approach and ultimately colliding with the Earth. The film follows the strained relationship between two sisters, who shelter in a magic cave when the planet collides with Earth.
Trailer | Watch
Meteor (1979). Movie. A main belt asteroid is struck by a comet, deflecting it towards Earth. It will hit within a week. The force of impact will be ten orders of magnitude larger than the largest earthquake ever recorded. The US and Russia must first admit to owning space-based nuclear weapons, and then combine their stockpiles if there is to be any hope of preventing the catastrophe. Operations are controlled from a bunker beneath AT&T New York.
The main belt asteroid Orpheus is hit by a 480 km comet perturbed into the main belt by Jupiter. A 5 mile-wide fragment of Orpheus is sheared off and is hurtling towards Earth at 30,000 miles/hr. It’s 5 million miles away will impact in 7 days with the destructive power of 2,500,000 megatons of TNT and ten orders of magnitude larger than the largest earthquake ever recorded. (I make that equivalent to 156,000,000 Hiroshima bombs (1 bomb = 16 kilotons), but that’s what the scientist said).
America and Russia must combine their nuclear weapons if there is to be any hope of stopping the meteor (asteroid). It’s still the Cold War and neither side is admitting to owning space-based missiles, and they’re aimed at each other rather than outer space. The BBC breaks the story of the impending meteor, and POTUS declares the existence of their space missiles in the hope the Russians will too. Which they do, theoretically, in a series of English-Russian conversations via an interpreter (understatedly portrayed by the exquisite Natalia Zakharenko in what would be one of her last movie roles before her untimely and mysterious death).
Three days to impact. Mission control gets to work aligning the two nations’ combined 30 megaton warhead satellites from a bunker beneath AT&T New York. Fragments of Orpheus impact around the world; there’s an avalanche in the Alps, a tidal wave over Hong Kong, and the centre of New York is destroyed. A Towering Inferno Poseidon Adventure ensues as the bunker collapses and mission control treks an escape through the subway system as the Hudson River breaks through the walls. Meanwhile, Orpheus is destroyed by the autonomous missiles, with minutes to spare.
Meteor (2009). Two part TV movie. A collision in the asteroid belt with a passing comet splits asteroid 114 Kassandra in two and puts it on a collision course with Earth. While the emergency Task Force plans the missile interventions, a lone astronomer on the road to the command center has to find a way to transmit the data they need, while all forms of communication are being taken out by the meteor storm.
Meanwhile, the US Near-Earth Object Emergency Response Task Force has been convened because what they think is an interplanetary dust storm has been detected heading for Earth. There have also been multiple meteorite strikes along the west coast of the United States, a dozen or more other impacts in the Pacific Ocean, and meteor storms are being observed in the sky all over the country. The professor’s JPL contact arrives at the Task Force and realises that this is all attributed to debris from the collision between the comet and asteroid Kassandra that the professor had tried to warn him about.
If Kassandra impacts Earth it will be a planet killer, but trying to destroy it when it’s too low in the atmosphere, the debris fall out would be catastrophic in itself. They need to intercept it sooner. But the only person with the up-to-date trajectory coordinates is the professor who is en route to JPL and there is no signal in the desert because of the meteor storm, which means the Task Force is about to launch a missile intervention to the wrong coordinates. But a key satellite they are using is taken out before they can launch, so the launch has to be aborted.
After the professor is killed in a car accident, his assistant is stranded in the desert and is now the only one who knows the algorithm to calculate the correct trajectory coordinates for the asteroid. After extricating herself from a Mexican police station where the lawless officials had sinister plans for her, she steals a police car and heads for the border to try and get to JPL but is arrested and detained at the border.
Meanwhile, the Task Force starts to receive ground radar images of Kassandra’s meteoroid field – although in the movie it’s not radar images they show, but visible wavelength multi-spectral images of asteroids 951 Gaspra, 243 Ida, 25143 Itokawa, and 433 Eros.
Every ground-based missile facility is put on alert to shoot down any incoming object prior to impact and mobile missile battery teams are on high alert in the cities. In preparation for the debris fall out after the upcoming missile intervention, all flights are grounded and people are evacuated to shelters around the country.
The professor’s assistant eventually convinces the border official to get her a phone to contact the Task Force and she manages to run the professor’s algorithm on Kassandra’s trajectory and upload it to them with a minute to spare before the missile launch. The Task Force reprograms the co-ordinates and launch the missile strike at Kassandra. The asteroid is destroyed, although the debris fall out will have its own destructive effects on Earth. Satellites are knocked out by the debris and the only reliable mode of communication is now shortwave radio.
The professor’s assistant suddenly realises that the professor had failed to spot that Kassandra had been split in two and therefore a second, larger fragment is on its way. Meanwhile she has been ordered by the Vice President to report to Edwards Air Force Base, but on the way the car she is in crashes and she is once again stranded in the desert.
The Task Force (which gets an unexplained named change halfway through, from the US Near-Earth Object Emergency Response Task Force, to the US Meteor Response Task Force) don’t yet know that Kassandra was split in two and think they destroyed the asteroid and it’s all over. But they have used up most of their missiles on only half the asteroid. They start receiving reports of more incoming meteors and realise it’s not fall out from the first missile strike because the meteors are too big. The professor’s assistant finally makes it to a phone and informs the Task Force that the professor’s calculations were off, that he miscalculated the mass, and the asteroid they blew up was only part of Kassandra and the other fragment is bigger. When asked why near-Earth radar didn’t pick up the other part, she says that the first half of Kassandra was shadowing the radar. She runs another asymmetric trajectory algorithm to get the updated coordinates.
In the meantime, the Task Force has managed to get a radar image of Kassandra and we’re told it is 900 sq ft (not sure if that means surface area or cross-sectional area) but of all the places it could hit, it impacts right on top of the Task Force building as they are trying to sorting out the trajectory coordinates. Strikes are also reported in Siberia, Iceland, and the Sinai Desert.
Without any satellites no-one on Earth can now track the asteroid, but the Task Force manage to make contact via Morse code with astronauts on the Space Station, who have a visual on the asteroid. But without sufficient missiles there is nothing the Task Force can do anyway, so they make contact via shortwave radio with the Russians and the Chinese to plan a coordinated launch. There’s 30 minutes before the second piece of Kassandra enters the atmosphere and the Russians, who are now radar blind, refuse to cooperate. So the Task Force tells them that Kassandra is heading their way and they won’t get the co-ordinates unless they agree to a coordinated missile launch. So they agree to combine weapons.
Kassandra reaches the top of Earth’s atmosphere. Launching a missile now will cause devastating fall out effects on Earth, but there is no choice. The Task Force receives reports that San Diego, Los Angeles and Seattle all have visuals on the asteroid so they start triangulating the position vectors.
The professor’s assistant finds herself in the town of Taft and heads for its radio tower and microwave transmitter to make contact with the Task Force. She says she has an idea that will prevent any fall out debris, but gets cut off before she can get the asteroid’s descent vector from the Task Force to implement her plan. So the Task Force has no choice but to go ahead with the launch sequence for the existing plan. With 90 seconds to impact, the professor’s assistant manages to make contact again. She gets the Task Force to reprogram the new coordinates and set all missiles to self-destruct just before impact. This deflects the asteroid out of Earth’s atmosphere, with no break-up and no fall out.
But it’s not over for the professor’s assistant, because in 18 years’ time, in 2027, she knows there will be another close call with asteroid AN 1999, which will pass within about 200,000 miles of Earth – unless something knocks that asteroid off course or the trajectory estimates are out by even a degree, in which case she’ll be doing this all over again.
There are a lot of drawn out side stories to this two-part movie that I’ve left out concerning how incidental characters deal with the events, which is often not very well. The professor’s assistant definitely meets some very dodgy characters along the way.
Meteor Apocalypse (2010). TV movie. A comet on a collision course with Earth is intercepted by a global nuclear intervention. But the fragments raining down on Earth contaminate the groundwater and poison the population. One man with a possible antidote is on a cross-state journey to find his family and administer the antidote.
Meteor Assault (2015) see Asteroid: Final Impact (2015).
Meteorites! (1998). TV movie. Just as the small town of Leroy is about to hold its lucrative annual UFO Festival, it is battered by a series of massive meteorite strikes as Earth passes through some cometary debris. People believe that aliens landed in Leroy back in the 1950’s and the town’s Mayor refuses to cancel the festival, meteorites or no meteorites!
This is all taking place at the exact time Leroy is holding its 20th annual UFO Festival. People believe that aliens landed in Leroy back in the 1950’s and the festival is a major source of income, so it won’t be cancelled, meteorites or no meteorites! One meteorite is found by magnetic attraction to the spade being used to dig for it, noting “a fusion crust, tiny flakes of iron, chondrules embedded in the grey matter…a genuine stony meteorite!” The chance of three strikes in a row is then declared to be “exponentially astronomical” which, of course, is exactly the outcome. What starts out as an impressive meteor shower results in the town’s own late night heavy bombardment, from which the locals shelter in a disused mine on the outskirts of town.
This is no Deep Impact but enjoyable to watch on a rainy afternoon if you’re not looking to watch a movie about comets. And it is worth asking: would cometary meteorites, rare as they are, resemble chondritic meteorites? The 1999-2006 Stardust mission collected CR-like chondrules from the tail of comet 81P/Wild 2, and in 2019 a supposed comet fragment was reported in the CR chondrite meteorite LAP 02342, suggesting that the CR chondrite parent body was impacted with, or otherwise incorporated, cometary material. So would a cometary meteorite contain chondrules? And let’s ignore how the science teacher chooses to pronounce the little spheres that characterize the meteorite falls.
Meteor Storm (2010). TV movie. Millions of years ago a dense meteorite composed of element 120 Unbinilium impacted into what is now the San Francisco bay. Now it is altering the paths of near Earth objects. The passage of a comet creates an intense meteor storm on San Francisco and perturbs the orbit of asteroid Apophis onto a collision course with Earth. A nuclear intervention succeeds.
Mutant World (2014). Movie. A doomsday prepper discovers that an asteroid will impact Earth in a potentially apocalyptic event and there’s a nuclear reactor at the impact site. A group takes shelter in a former missile silo. Ten years later they venture outside to find that anyone who was exposed to the radiation becomes a mutant cannibal after dark. The first 7 minutes is about the impact; the rest of the movie is about mutants.
Night of the Comet (1984). Comedy horror movie. A teenage girl spends the evening in the projection room at a cinema with her boyfriend while the world watches a comet that is returning after 65 million years. They emerge the next day to a red haze and find that those who were not reduced to piles of red dust are now zombies. I’ve only included this for the title.
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One-Punch Man: “The Ultimate Disciple” (2015). Anime episode [S1, Ep.7]. Superheroes Genos and Metal Knight fail to destroy a meteor on a collision course with City-Z. Superhero Saitama destroys it in one punch but it fragments and devastates the city anyway.
Polar Storm (2009). Movie. A fragment of comet Copernicus impacts Earth and knocks it off its axis. A geomagnetic reversal follows, but when the magnetic field declines to zero the solar wind will strip away Earth’s atmosphere. A quarter of a million people perish in the impact and now all life on Earth is threatened by the reversal. With two days to go, only one scientist knows how to realign the poles using some strategically placed nuclear weapons.
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Post Impact (2004). Movie. The Earth is in the aftermath of a massive comet impact. Most of the northern hemisphere has been plunged into an ice age as a result of the atmospheric dust. An experimental microwave-beam power station satellite, secretly designed as a lethal weapon, is the key to Earth’s future. But whoever gains control of the satellite gains control of the planet.
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Salvation (2017–18). TV drama series. An MIT student discovers an asteroid on a collision course with Earth that will impact in six months’ time causing an extinction level event. He approaches a power-hungry tech giant scientist who tries to save the world with money he doesn’t quite have, radioactive material he can’t legally get and technology that doesn’t quite exist. This story throws everything you can think of about asteroid mitigation at you. And, yes, there’s a fated reporter on the trail.
But the Pentagon already knows about the asteroid that they call Samson, and is working on a secret plan to mitigate the disaster without the use of nuclear bombs that could create more fragments to rain down on Earth. Their idea is to send a gravity tractor to perturb the asteroid’s orbit to miss Earth, but their launch technology keeps failing.
So instead they have to think about reassigning the Io probe at Jupiter to impact the asteroid, which, like nuclear bombs, might create an influx of cataclysmic fragments. So in comes tech giant Darius Tanz – a bit Elon Musk, a bit Tony Stark – with a different plan. Actually, quite a few plans.
Tanz’s first suggestion is to use one of his own Goliath-2 rockets to launch a revolutionary EM drive attached to the gravity tractor which can reach the asteroid much sooner than anything the Pentagon is currently working on. The drive functionality was solved by the MIT student and the professor to work if running at one particular microwave frequency collimated through an array of icosahedrite crystals that coat the lining of the drive. But the crystals are only found in one particular rare meteorite – the Kapoeta meteorite – and the whole drive project will cost $2 billion to develop in time.
Tanz’s second plan starts out a secret: a bunker 100 metres underground that houses Salvation, an ark that can send 160 handpicked colonizers off the planet with supplies to last for years to come. But that requires 100 kg of enriched uranium to run.
Meanwhile the Russians with the help of the MIT professor have stolen the prototype EM drive and threaten to shoot down anything the US launches, over retribution for Project Atlas, which involved a US weaponised-asteroid strike on Russia – also known as the Chelyabinsk meteor event.
So Russia has a prototype drive for their gravity tractor, and the US has a full working drive but no way of launching it without starting WW3. They need each other, but can’t collaborate. But the Russia-US conflict is nothing compared to what ensues.
POTUS is poisoned and overthrown by a rival just as she is about to spill the beans about the asteroid threat to the nation. A fated journalist being mislead with fake information is on everyone’s heels and manages to decipher POTUS’s coded script just before she dies in an office fire. Now everyone is going to the dark side and every potential mitigation plan is running on fumes.
The extremist group RESYST led by the mysterious Nero is indiscriminately hijacking space probes, inciting nuclear war between the superpowers, and taking the world hostage with its own plans to infiltrate the White House, all with the intention of saving and then taking control over the world. It compromises the bunker where Salvation is housed and ensconces itself at the Tanz HQ, hijacking 30 scientists including the professor and the MIT student who has developed Stockholm Syndrome.
Worse, it seems Samson has an iron core and its density means the gravity tractor won’t work, nor will attaching a solar sail to it, nor trawling it away with a carbon-fibre mesh, nor superheating the surface to shunt it aside like a rocket, nor painting it white. So, what now?
With the overthrown POTUS now reinstated in The Oval Office as the resistance, the tech giant (now assigned as VP to POTUS) has devised a new plan to save the world: to repurpose the Rekyavik supercollider as a rail gun to magnetically hyper-accelerate a thousand bullets at the asteroid to knock it off course. But not just any bullets, a thousand dense depleted uranium-encased iron sabot one tonne bullets. The test will be carried out on a smaller asteroid, 2013 AU17, but the ferrous metal in the ground causes the accelerator tunnel to buckle when switched on, so the tunnel needs to be lined.
Meanwhile, RESYST is working on a laser light sail to divert the asteroid, and the rival POTUS has other plans – for both the asteroid and the country and is mobilising the rebellion on social media. The US is now at war with itself and the decision of who is the legitimate POTUS is with The Supreme Court Judge who has been hospitalised by a rebellion bomb. But the incumbent POTUS has ordered The Pentagon to shut down the internet’s DNS servers to constrain the rebellion. Unfortunately, this takes The White House down, prevents the Judge’s filmed decision from being delivered, triggers a failsafe protocol of the satellite that will release ICBM warheads on the 13 major cities on Earth within 2 hours, and, worse, temporarily prevents the internet itself from being brought back online to prevent it. But that disaster is averted with minutes to spare.
RESYST’s laser light sail runs out of fabric and Tanz’s rail gun has hit a brick wall. Can RESYST track down a missing nanomaterials specialist in time? Can Tanz resign as VP in time to finish work on the rail gun? And what is the real target of the rail gun? Can they join forces and supply half of the power each? Why is there $10m in a BitCoin account run by POTUS’s now deceased advisor? RESYST agree to use the rail gun but want it turned over to them otherwise they will nuke New York within hours. The hostaged scientists led by the MIT scientist rebel against RESYST.
With rebel POTUS assassinated in his cell, and the incumbent POTUS assassinated on her rally, and before Tanz can resign as VP, Tanz unwillingly becomes POTUS. The real target of his rail gun is revealed to be not the asteroid, but RESYST’s nuclear weapons and when the MIT student comes to negotiate with POTUS, he is arrested for treason. POTUS is now inciting RESYST to go ahead and retaliate on New York and his staff are resigning one by one. Meanwhile everyone is moving to a darker side of the dark side. And is there another player in the game, other than RESYST?
RESYST lies about disarming the nukes to get the MIT student released. They track down the mysterious nanomaterials specialist who provides them with the formula for a super-self-healing fabric for its laser light sail, and POTUS goes AWOL ahead of his rail gun test on RESYST’s weapons. Not only is Tanz POTUS, turns out he’s also the mysterious nanomaterials specialist. The rail gun test is fired, the MIT student disarms RESYST’s computer system and its nukes. RESYST is gone and Tanz (POTUS) had his HQ back. Now who is Q17?
Q17 is being funded by various shell corporations, including POTUS’s uncle (owner of the meteorite, remember?) and other powerful members of his billionaire’s club. So POTUS approaches him with an ulterior motive, but finds out he is the one being manipulated by them: they killed the real POTUS and rebel POTUS to make Tanz POTUS. So POTUS plans to bring them down financially and uses an ex-RESYST worker to hack their accounts and appropriate their $21 billion.
Meanwhile, the ligh tsail is launched successfully. And although the rail gun is stabilised and successfully firing hypersonic bullets, they are missing the target. Unfortunately, POTUS’s assistant has passed the secret plans about the rail gun to the Children of Planet Earth cult leader and the hunt is on to find him and his compound before they hold a sinister end of the world celebration. But the cult leader is off compound and in the throws of blowing up the rail gun to encourage the world’s destruction by the asteroid.
It’s now just 53 days to impact and with the rail gun destroyed and no time to build another, the light sail and the Salvation ark may be Earth’s last hope. So Tanz resigns as POTUS to focus on the new project. But the new POTUS is proposing a Doomsday project to detonate all the world’s nuclear weapons at the asteroid before it breaches the atmosphere, despite the risk of creating multiple fragments that will still rain down on Earth. But Tanz’s plan is to attach multiple EM drives to the Salvation ark and use it as a kinetic impactor to nudge the asteroid’s orbital path out of Earth’s. But for that he needs more icosahedrite crystals to line the EM drive and collimate the microwaves, and that’s only available from his uncle’s Kapoeta meteorite and his uncle will not play ball. Uncle wants the ark in exchange for the meteorite, but Tanz need the ark and the meteorite. What to do? Instead, the uncle demands to be freed from his imprisonment, to which Tanz (still POTUS at this stage) agrees.
But the calculations for Salvation’s trajectory are off; the simulations show that the ark will miss the asteroid and no-one can find the glitch. The only way to be able to react is to remove the variable of distance – effectively to send one person in the Salvation to drive the last minute trajectory of the ark into the asteroid: a suicide mission.
Tanz’s uncle and the cult leader together kidnap Tanz to steal Salvation. Tanz is held for weeks and debilitated by means of a sonic weapon, coming round only 3 days before Samson is about to impact. The uncle and the cult leader manage to steal Salvation and the cult escapes the Earth. Meanwhile, the White House has to revert to far from ideal plans to nuke the asteroid, which risks creating countless dangerous fragments.
In a moment of clarity, Tanz then claims that dark matter is perturbing the asteroid’s orbit and that it won’t, after all, hit the Earth. But he can’t prove it until he can solve for X and is also hallucinating metaphorical hummingbirds. A call to Antarctica to check the Ice T data confirms neutrino spikes did occur in the ecliptic and in Leo, and from within, not outside, the Solar System. In the meantime, RESYST’s leader Nero has agreed to hack and intercept the nuclear weapons being planned by The Pentagon. although he later reneges and in return gets shelter in one of the Pentagon’s bunkers.
Tanz then realises that Samson isn’t an asteroid after all and is somehow knowingly dodging all effects to intercept it – like a hummingbird. So The Pentagon calls off the nukes at the last minute and agrees to just let the asteroid arrive. The meteor streaks through Earth’s atmosphere and miraculously comes to a halt between the Earth and the Moon, eclipsing the Moon.
No-one knows what it is, and we are left with the five main cast members staring up at the object in awe and realising that whatever it is, it is here now. And that’s it, the series was cancelled by Netflix after two seasons, so we’ll will never know.
There are, in fact, many other movies mixed into this TV series. What came to my mind first was that there’s more than just a smattering of Meteor (1997) and of the launch ramp and ark that we see in When Worlds Collide (1951). And there are hints of The X-Files with a disruptive Mulder and Scully type duo, neck-implanted metal chips, and an underlying theme to Trust No One. There’s also a nod to Contact (1998) with a second secret fully working EM drive revealed after the first one is sabotaged by a misguided saviour, as well as its underlying theme of hope and a very similar soundtrack. There’s also a stated reference to The Manchurian Candidate (1962; 2004) in the way Tanz is installed as POTUS. There is the familiar theme of Robert Heinlein’s book Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), in the form of the Children of Planet Earth cult which POTUS’s aptly named assistant (and MIT student’s on-off girlfriend) Jillian attends, led by its charismatic leader Bass Shepherd taking the book’s role of Valentine Michael Smith. Then there is the arrival of the is-it-or-isn’t-it-an-asteroid, Samson, reminiscent of the arrival of The Great Evil in The Fifth Element (1997) – although unlike the planetoid in that movie, we will now never know whether Samson’s purpose was destructive or not, as the series wax cancelled after Season 2.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012). Romcom movie. Asteroid Mathilde will impact the Earth in three weeks’ time. Two characters embark on a roadtrip, one to find his high school sweetheart and the other to find her family. It’s a lighthearted Melancholia.
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Sliders: “Last Days” (1995). TV series episode [S1, Ep 3]. The sliders team arrive on an alternate Earth two days before a predicted asteroid impact and three days before their next slide. Nuclear weapons have never been invented so they have to get to work inventing the atom bomb to deflect the asteroid before it’s too late.
Stargate SG-1: “Fail Safe” (2002). TV Series episode [S5, Ep 17]. A Goa’uld diverts an asteroid onto a collision course with Earth. The Stargate team is dispatched to prevent the catastrophe. Preparing to launch a missile to destroy the asteroid, they detect a high concentration of the rare, super-dense mineral Naquadah inside. They use the hyperdrive to jump the asteroid past Earth.
Starship Troopers (1997). Film based on the 1959 novel by Robert A. Heinlein. The war with the alien arachnids is instigated when they launch an asteroid at Earth, wiping out Buenos Aires and killing in excess of 9 million people.
Stonado (2013). Movie. So it’s not about asteroids, comets or even meteorites, but huge boulders being ripped up from the sea floor by a series of massive tornados and then launched back to impact the Earth. Boston is the target for the destruction. The solution is to heat up the atmosphere with a high altitude explosion using one of the tornados as an elevator for the bomb.
The Cusp (1996). A movie about asteroid mining and environmental extremists set in the not too distant future. An asteroid that is being nudged by a spacecraft into a lunar Trojan orbit is coming in too fast for Earth capture. The one remaining crew member has to skim it off the top of Earth’s atmosphere and back out into space before it’s too late.
The plan is for the spacecraft to detonate a series of coordinated nuclear explosions on the surface of the asteroid to gradually slow it down from its current 87,000 km/hr speed and nudge it into a lunar Trojan orbit. Meanwhile on the asteroid, one of the astronauts has found a fossil: if they report it to ISA the entire asteroid mining program will be halted; if they don’t report it they will still get their bonuses and they can report it later.
Meanwhile on Earth, not everyone is convinced that the economic growth that will follow the mining operations will actually save the Earth. The Children of Gaia environmental extremist organisation plans to purify the Earth by destroying all those who are destroying the planet. But their mission is duplicitous: while a select few privileged supporters are being cryogenically stored in a underground cave, the organisation’s real plan is to eradicate all lifeforms except for the most basic organisms so that life can start again. One of its Children has infiltrated the crew of the Spirit of Forty Nine and has been working to mask the true speed and trajectory of the asteroid and spaceship by secretly reprogramming the coordinates.
With just days to MT27’s planned arrival in Earth’s orbit, ISA discovers the subterfuge that the asteroid is coming in too fast for Earth capture: it will impact the US eastern seaboard, creating shock waves strong enough to devastate 30% of the continent, tidal waves 4 km high that will flood 70% of the Earth’s landmass, and create violent hypercanes that will ravage everything else. The final blow is that the dust ejected by the impact will block sunlight for decades to come, resetting evolution back 3 billion years, and The Children of Gaia will have succeeded in their mission. With the asteroid’s imminent arrival, there is neither enough lead time to launch an attack, nor available weapons following the disarmament treaties of 2034.
Meanwhile on the spaceship, the infiltrator has eliminated most of the crew and set the spacecraft to auto-destruct. With minutes to spare and locked out of the system, the one remaining legit crew member manages to reposition the spaceship to impact and detonate on the asteroid at ISA’s precisely calculated coordinates, and escape in a shuttle before impact. The blast diverts the trajectory and inclination of the asteroid just enough for it to harmlessly skim across the top of Earth’s atmosphere and rebound back into space.
The Day of the Triffids (1962, 1981, 2008). Movie and two TV Series. Not an impact movie, but there is a meteor shower and being a classic I’ve included it. A spectacular meteor event blinds everyone who sees it and disperses spores around the globe that grow into carnivorous triffid plants. In the early version, salt water destroys the triffids; in the later version, it’s genetic engineering.
In the 1962 movie, the triffids are delivered to Earth as spores dispersed during the meteor shower. The protagonist is a naval officer who is in Moorfields Eye Hospital with bandaged eyes at the time of the meteor event. The action takes place in London, Cornwall and France. A scientist realises that triffids are destroyed by saltwater.
In the 1981 TV miniseries, the triffids already exist worldwide on Earth before the blinding meteor shower. Triffids are cultivated for their oil in farms all over the world. The protagonist works on one of the farms and escapes losing his sight when he is in hospital with bandaged eyes after being temporarily blinded by a triffid sting on the farm. Much of the action takes place in London. Triffids are kept at bay with electrified fences, but a safe haven is established on the Isle of Wight from which all triffids have been eradicated.
In the 2008 TV miniseries, the triffids already exist worldwide before the event that blinds most of the world’s population, which in this case is a massive solar flare. Triffids are kept in secure warehouses and electrified compounds worldwide, farmed for their oil which is used an alternative fuel to combat man-made global warming. The protagonist is temporarily blinded by a triffid sting during a bungled attempt by activists to free some of the plants and is in hospital with bandaged eyes when the solar flare hits Earth. The triffids escape when the flare disables the electrified compounds. A new species of genetically engineered triffids are developed to try and eradicate the dangerous species. Once again, the Isle of Wight is a safe haven.
The Day the Sky Exploded (1958). Italy’s first sci-fi movie (English dubbed). When the engine of a manned mission to the Moon malfunctions, it explodes in a region of near-Earth asteroids. Thousands of asteroids form a giant cluster which is now heading straight for Earth. The world’s entire stockpile of nuclear missiles is launched to destroy the cluster.
Scientists calculate that the Moon will eclipse the asteroid cluster, shielding Earth from a large part, but not all, of the impacts. The approaching asteroid cluster causes widespread panic and devastation. Firestorms, hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes ravage the Earth.
A nuclear intervention is planned that will use the world’s entire nuclear stockpile. Meanwhile evacuations are causing mass hysteria. A rogue scientist tries to scupper the launch by disabling the computer that holds the trajectory coordinates. Once overcome, the launch can continue and the missiles destroy the cluster as the sky is lit up with the thousands of explosions.
The End of the World (1916) aka The Flaming Sword (1916). Silent movie. A new comet is discovered that will enter Earth’s atmosphere and cause destruction and economic disaster in north west Europe. Danish movie made in the aftermath of the panic that preceded the 1910 apparition of Halley’s Comet made worse by sudden appearance of The Great Daylight Comet of 1910 which stole Halley’s thunder three months earlier.
One man decides to turn the financial crisis to his advantage by colluding with his friend on The Times to put a false notice in the newspaper that the comet will not enter the atmosphere and there is nothing to fear. As a result, people calm down, the Stock Market rises, and he makes a lot of money. The astronomer is furious and calls him a fraud.
The man holds a party to celebrate the end of the world in his house in a mining town. After the party, he absconds down a secret passage into the mine shaft under the house to shelter from the meteor storm with his wife.
Outside the impacts are causing rampant fires and floods to ravage the land and there is mass panic. Unfortunately, the impacts release noxious gases inside the mine and the man and his wife die.
This Danish movie was made in the aftermath of the 1910 passage of Halley’s Comet, during which cyanogen gas was discovered in the comet’s tail. Many people feared the gas would enter the atmosphere and poison everyone on the planet. Apparently disreputable businessmen took advantage of the situation then, too, by peddling creations like Hope’s Anti-Comet Pills that people would take to protect them from the gas as ‘an elixir for escaping the wrath of the heavens’.
The Green Slime (1968). Movie. A team of scientists are dispatched from an orbiting space station to plant a bomb on the surface of an asteroid that is on course to impact the Earth. They find it inhabited by a green slime, some of which is inadvertently brought back to the space station and evolves into a host of one-eyed tentacled aliens.
The Lost Missile (1958). Movie. An unidentified missile-like object from space is heading towards Earth. A foiled attempt to blow it up sets it on course to destroy New York and Ottawa. Ottawa is destroyed. A revolutionary rocket is launched just in time and the missile is destroyed, saving New York.
The Monolith Monsters (1957). Movie. A large meteorite impacts and breaks up in the Southern Californian desert. When exposed to water, the fragments grow into massive stone monoliths that petrify (literally) the inhabitants of a nearby town. A geologist realises that salt water destroys the monoliths. To generate enough of it, he blows up the local dam and floods the nearby salt flats.
The Onion News Network: “Asteroid Heads to Earth” (2011). TV news comedy episode [S2, Ep 1]. The news on 5 October 2011 is that all life on Earth will come to an end when a massive asteroid strikes in less than half an hour. There is live coverage right up to the moment the news studio is struck by the asteroid.
The news on 5 October 2011 is that all life on Earth will come to an end when a massive asteroid strikes in less than half an hour. The network broke the news about the 22-mile wide rock via Twitter with 100 hours to go on 30 September, promising up-to-death coverage of the end of the world event. With an on-screen countdown showing the asteroid’s current position, viewers are asked to tweet how they are spending their final moments.
In earlier news, the Space Shuttle bound for the asteroid exploded shortly after take off; NASA had consulted Hollywood screenwriters to help formulate the plan to save humanity, who put together a crew that screen-tested well in everything except aeronautics; in Cross Examination, Shelby Cross tells us that interstellar debris won’t stop her seeing perverts and ne’er-do-wells brought to justice after the event; the UN uses its emergency budget to create a prog-rock concept album as “…a shredding tribute to the fiery demise of the most bad-ass species the Earth has ever known”; and The White House announces its plans to repopulate the Earth once the dust settles.
With the asteroid a mile overhead, the studio descends into chaos, there’s a massive explosion, and the screen goes blank.
The Sarah Jane Adventures: “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?” (2007). Two part episode [S1, Ep 7–8] of a children’s TV show. Meteoroid K67 is on a collision course with Earth but no-one knows because it is coming through a radar blind spot. When in range, Sarah Jane will use her alien computer, Mr Smith, to create a magnetic pulse and deflect it back into space. But only after other time-travel adventures take place across the decades in between.
These Final Hours (2013). Movie. Ten minutes after an asteroid has struck in the North Atlantic Ocean, a global firestorm is gradually ravaging the Earth. There are 12 hours until it reaches Western Australia. In Perth, one man attempts to use his final hours to help a child find her father. At the end, with no escape, the only choice is to watch from the beach as the firestorm arrives.
Trailer | Watch
The Simpsons: “Bart’s Comet” (1995). Animated TV series episode [S6, Ep 14]. While in detention with Principal Skinner, Bart discovers a comet heading for Earth and straight for Springfield. A misguided rocket invention destroys the only bridge out of town and as the residents of Springfield sing Que Será Será, the comet breaks up in the atmosphere and Bart bags a meteorite. The episode first aired on 5 February 1995, influenced by the events surrounding Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that broke apart under the gravitational influence of Jupiter, colliding with it in July 1994.
Watch | Watch US
The Super Comet (2007). Two-part dramatised documentary which is utterly brilliant and deeply impactful (pun intended). A hypothesised future history of planet Earth after a comet strikes in the Yucatán Peninsula today, near to where an impact 65 million years ago caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Discussed by renowned expert scientists with dramatized scenes following different groups of survivors in different parts of the world in the aftermath of the impact.
The mission can’t be launched until one month before the date the comet is expected to impact the Earth, when it is at about the distance of Mars. If it fails, there is no way to avoid the catastrophe. Live coverage of the mission with direct views of the comet is broadcast live on global news networks. The comet is outgassing material at 100 kg per second, ten times more than Halley’s comet in 1986.
Unfortunately, the force required to destroy or even deflect a comet of this size and travelling at this speed is beyond what is available with current technology. The energy of the blast is simply dissipated into space and has no effect on the comet’s trajectory. In fact the mission was doomed from the start.
When the comet impacts it will release 100 million megatonnes of energy. It will obliterate all unprotected life on a continental scale within minutes. Astronomers at Mauna Kea in Hawaii are still trying to calculate the precise projected point of impact; it won’t be known until two weeks before impact. At that point in time, Arecibo’s radar will be used to bounce radio waves off the asteroid to determine when and where the comet will hit, using the change in frequency of the reflected waves.
The impact point is announced as the Yucatán Peninsula. Can a whole State be evacuated? Evacuation plans can work in theory, but in practice they tend to end in chaos as hardly anyone makes it to their destination due to accidents, abandoned vehicles, riots and violence.
In the cities, there are supplies of national reserves including non-perishable food, water, medicine and fuel. In Germany alone, the stocks would last for just 3 to 4 months.
In Hawaii, two of the astronomers remain in the Observatory while the others decide to try and leave the island for…well…somewhere else.
In Houston, a man decides to try and make it home to his family in Mexico, but gets stranded in the desert near Veracruz after his car breaks down. He leaves his car just before radio broadcasts come through, so has no idea that he is one of the closest people on the planet to the projected ground zero, which is off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.
In a remote region of the Cameroon, a tribe has no idea of the comet and life goes on as usual.
When the comet strikes, it hits with the energy of 100 megatonnes of TNT, forming a crater 90 km wide, instantaneously heating the surface to 100,000 degrees. It creates a fireball ten times hotter than the surface of the Sun which incinerates everything over an area of 1,500 km around ground zero. Rock is ejected to an altitude of 9 km over the impact site and dust is launched into space spread over a region several times wider than the Earth itself. When the walls of the impact crater collapse in, it leaves a crater 150 km wide.
There follows a complete blackout as an EM pulse wave rushes out destroying all electrical and electronic equipment, anything that conducts – computers, communications, lights – basically everything in use nowadays. Giant aurorae of charged particles appear in the sky.
Then a dirty, salty acid rain of dust and ash falls from the sky, something which is found in the geological record at impact sites, for example at the K-T boundary where up to 20 cm of dark deposits are found in core logs deposited over a matter of days.
New York is 3,000 km from the impact point. Those who couldn’t afford to leave took shelter in basements and those who couldn’t get shelter suffocate within an hour in the dust and ash fall that fills the air.
Next, a tidal wave 1 km high rushes out at over 500 km per hour from the impact point off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula and the tsunami floods what remains after the fireball has devastated everything for hundreds of kilometres in all directions. The tsunami spreads out as far as Africa and Europe. When it hits New York it is still 6 metres high and the surges through the city for hours. Over in Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, they are unaffected by the tsunami, but not the dust and ash fall.
As vaporized rock ejected into space is spread around the globe, it heats up as it falls back through the atmosphere. At 12 hours after the impact, Earth’s surface temperature begins to rise several hundred degrees, even as far away as Hawaii, Africa and Europe. As fires rage, soot joins the dust and ash in blanketing the Earth.
There is currently no infrastructure, no services, no communications, and no fuel. Everyone will have to fend for themselves. And there is no-one to extinguish the fires, which will be left to burn themselves out.
In Mexico, the man trying to make it back to his family took shelter in the underground bunker of an abandoned army base a few hundred kilometres from ground zero, along with a pack of dogs he adopted en route. In Cameroon, a tribe took shelter in a cave. These people survived the impact, but 75% of all life on Earth has been wiped out.
In the cities, towns and villages, it is now a fight for survival with no food, no water, and no medical supplies. A new Dark Age will emerge.
Part 2 – On a Strange Planet: Survival is now key and those with no skills to survive in the wild have little hope. Unless, that is, they join forces and cooperate.
5 days after impact, large portions of the Earth are lava fields and sulphur gases fill the air. The man emerges from the underground army bunker in Mexico – and he has the benefit of the supplies the soldiers left behind when they fled, including a gas mask and protective clothing. But the ground is too hot to stand on, melting his shoes, so he has to remain in the bunker for now.
In Hawaii, the usual volcanic landscape is nothing compared to what is there now, as the astronomers make their way down the mountain to try and get off the island which is now hostile to life.
In Paris, a man with a child looks for his wife after the car she was in was hijacked by looters. Food in the city will last for a few more weeks.
Sunlight is blocked by the layer of dust in the atmosphere and even during the day it is like a moonless night. The darkness and acid rain start to affect the plant life, which will die within a few weeks. In Hawaii the water is now slightly acidic, not too acidic to drink, but the heavy metals released from the soil will make the water toxic over time.
8 days after impact and in Cameroon the tribe gathers up what food they can to preserve it for future use.
10 days after impact and in Mexico the ground has cooled, so the man and his sled of dogs set off to find his family. For several thousand kilometres, the ground is covered with tektite glass micro-particles that rained down on the surface, formed from the molten rock ejected into the atmosphere.
20 days after impact and the darkness has created ideal conditions for fungi to thrive and dominate for some time after the impact, as geological records show. Because fungi break down organic material, they can also bring nutrients back to the soil and make it fertile.
Total darkness lasts for 60 days, freezing the surface. To make matters worse, the impact released sulphur into the atmosphere which creates a haze and further cooling, even after the first rays of sunlight start to emerge through the dust layer. This causes the polar ice caps to spread to mid-latitudes and the continents to freeze over, with temperatures dropping to as much as 50 degrees below zero. Being on the coast, the temperature in New York is just below zero. A large body of water retains its heat, so the coast is now the best place to be. The French family head for the Mediterranean on foot where they hope conditions will be better.
In Cameroon, the temperatures are unlike anything they have ever experienced. They have no word for snow. And there is now nothing to hunt. How will they survive?
There follows an interesting discussion by experts about the freeze-tolerant wood frogs of Canada which can survive for months frozen solid underground.
60 days after impact, alone in the Mexican desert, sulphur filling the air, no food or water left and abandoned by his sled of dog, the man continues his journey on foot. But unknown to him, he is heading straight towards ground zero – a crater 250 km across and full of molten lava. For 1,000 km all around, everything has been obliterated. He realises there is now nowhere for him to go and with no supplies whatsoever he will not survive long.
80 days after impact, in Hawaii the volcano is about to erupt and not because of the impact, just because it does. The astronomers have built a raft and are preparing to escape the island. Then a colleague appears who they thought was long gone; he has found an abandoned yacht in one of the coves and they join his crew. Although the other members of the crew are hostile, because more people means less rations and resources for them. The yacht sets off and is at sea for 40 days.
4 months after impact. On the yacht, supplies are scarce and much of the ocean life has been extinguished by the extended period without photosynthesis. A violent cyclone emerges due to the extreme climatic changes and temperature gradients. The yacht is destroyed but the astronomers survive. They are washed up onto the coast of Southern China and are taken in by the community there.
In France, the father and daughter make it to the foot of the Pyrenees where they are reunited with the mother and they settle into a coastal community there.
In Cameroon, the tribe also migrates to the coast to find new resources for survival. No longer hunting buffalo, they are now fishermen.
4 years after impact and life has re-established a new form of normality.
The featured experts in this documentary are (in order of appearance): Dr Alan Harris, astrophysicist, asteroid expert and researcher into averting catastrophic collisions; Dr Wolf Dombrowsky, sociologist specialising in disaster management; Dr Jay Melosh, geophysicist and planetary scientist and expert in impact modelling; Dr David Sattler, psychologist specialising in the psychological after-effects of natural disasters; Professor Jan Smit, geologist specialising in the K-T boundary impact; Dr Robert Weiss, geophysicist and expert in the origin of tsunamis; Prof Kenneth Storey, molecular biologist specialising in survival studies; Dr Matthew Huber, geographer and climatologist specialist in ocean-atmosphere dynamics; Dr Vivi Vajda, geologist specialist in mass extinctions; and Prof Stanley Amrose, anthropologist who studies social cooperation after natural disasters.
The West Wing: “Impact Winter” (2004). TV series episode [S6, Ep 9]. The White House staff prepare for the possible impact of a 400m wide asteroid that could hit the northern hemisphere in 46 hours. POTUS weighs up the impact scenarios: obliterating a city would be better than an impact in the Pacific Ocean for damage containment. The asteroid misses Earth by 73,000 miles.
Tik Tik Tik (2018). Movie. An Indian Shuttle crew is sent with an onboard missile to destroy an asteroid which is on course to impact the Earth. They are kidnapped by the captain of a Chinese space station who attempts to steal the missile and use it to destroy India and get lucrative rebuilding contracts. One of the Shuttle crew is a trained magician and escape artist who manages to free the crew and launch the missile at the asteroid to prevent the catastrophe.
Trailer | Title Track Video
Total Eclipse (2008). Movie. As hundreds of small meteoroids bombard the Earth, an orbiting space station is knocked onto a collision course with Earth. With a thermonuclear reactor on board, if blown up before impact, it will shower the Earth with radioactive material; if it impacts, much of California will be uninhabitable for a thousand years. Now it seems the fate of the space station has been part of a clandestine plan to get a vetoed Missile Defense Renewal Act reinstated.
The cluster is about to impact the southern California coastline, with advance debris already knocking out satellites. The largest rock is the size of “several city blocks” with hundreds of thousands of casualties expected unless they can evacuate Los Angeles. Hyperion’s geosynchronous orbit takes it right into the path of the incoming meteoroids, the hull is compromised, the crew killed, and POTUS goes live to the nation about the impacts to come.
Now a KCHB reporter is trying to cover what the scientist is trying to uncover: why NASA didn’t know it was all going to happen until it was too late. The scientist realises that NASA’s data was tampered with to mask the true trajectory of the meteoroids and instructs a programmer to hack into the country’s defense network to find where the data override originated. But the IP address of the hacker is traced back to the programmer’s own laptop.
Meanwhile, meteoroids have set Los Angeles ablaze and knocked Hyperion out of its orbit to impact Earth in the next 5 hours. With a 300 mile impact probability radius, it could hit somewhere in the Pacific Ocean or directly on Los Angeles. So the choice is to either let it impact, or destroy it with a ballistic missile. But Hyperion is powered by a thermonuclear core. If blown up before impact, it will disperse radioactive material over an area wider than Hiroshima. If it impacts and the core’s fail safes don’t work, most of southern California will be uninhabitable for the next thousand years.
Meanwhile the scientist discovers and leaks to the reporter that this is all part of a top secret government plan named Project Olympus to sacrifice Hyperion by deliberately putting it in the path of the meteoroid cluster and knowingly causing more devastation by blowing it up – all as a means of getting the vetoed Missile Defense Renewal Act passed by Congress. And all led by a senior Government official as payback for his son’s death while serving as a marine.
Meanwhile, the FBI tries to silence the KCHB reporter from blowing the whistle on Project Olympus while meteorites are crashing down everywhere and POTUS vows to try everyone involved in Project Olympus for treason. Hundreds of thousands die in the impacts, but Hyperion’s reactor core miraculously remains intact. Phew.
Tres Días (2008) see Before the Fall (2008).
Tycus (1999). Movie. A reporter learns of a secret nuclear missile bunker in the Sierra mountains and goes to investigate. He learns that a comet is on course to impact the Moon which will in turn affect all life on Earth. A multi-millionaire is planning a mitigation attempt from the underground bunker and offering shelter to a select few should the comet deflection attempt fail, which it does. Every major city in the world is struck by incoming boulders. Expect tidal waves, earthquakes, fires and floods.
Trailer | Watch
Ultimate Limit (2006) see Force of Impact (2006) and Deadly Skies (2006).
Undead (2003). Movie. An influx of meteorite strikes turn the inhabitants of the small Australian town of Berkeley into zombies. Then aliens start abducting other residents. Acid rain falls from the sky which turns out to be the antidote for the zombie infection. It seems the aliens only arrived to keep the infection delivered in the meteorites from spreading.
Trailer | DVD
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965). Movie. It’s 2020 and a spacecraft on a mission to investigate the prospect of colonising Venus is struck by an asteroid. OK, it’s not about an impact on Earth and is only included as an example of confusing the terms asteroids and meteorites.
This movie is not about an asteroid impact on Earth. I’ve only included it in this list because it’s a classic case of confusing the terms “asteroid” and “meteorite”. And because of the Yoda-type musings: ”There is no fair or unfair – to a meteorite you get hit, you die.” Well, yes, with an asteroid this is probably true. But with a meteorite, who knows? There is after all The Legend of The Nakhla Dog that remains a mystery still.
Warning from Space (1956). Movie about a rogue planet, Planet R, which is on course to collide with Earth. A technologically advanced race of starfish-like beings from planet Paira, which co-orbits with Earth on the other side of the Sun, visits Japan to warn the Earth and join forces to stop the annihilation of their respective planets.
When the Pairans discover that a giant rogue planet, Planet R, is on a collision course with Earth and Paira, they revisit Earth in an attempt to warn of the impending annihilations of both planets. Reports of UFO sightings fill the newspapers.
At first the Pairans reveal themselves in their true form, but their strange starfish-like appearance (complete with a giant nazar ‘evil eye’ in the centre) causes reports of sightings of monsters. So one of the leading Pairans transmutates into human form in an attempt to liaise with Japanese scientists, adopting the form of the only person for whom they have a visual image, a female Japanese night club entertainer. She travels to Earth, landing in Japan. When the Japanese scientists realise she is not human by analysing her skin cells and fingerprints, and by witnessing superhuman qualities including her ability to dematerialise and walk through walls, they start to believe her warnings about the impending catastrophe.
The Japanese attempt to convince the World Congress to join forces and deflect Planet R using Earth’s entire stockpiles of atomic and hydrogen bombs. But the World Congress believes that Pairans are nothing but monsters and refuse to cooperate. The Pairans claim that in 15 days’ time Planet R will be visible by Earth’s telescopes and maybe then the World Congress will believe there is a threat, but in the meantime Japan goes it alone.
A Japanese nuclear physicist has invented a theoretical new energy source called neurium 101, an energy source so powerful even in microscopic quantities that it can only be controlled in a magnetic field. No-one on Earth has the capacity or skill to produce it, but the Pairans do. Although the Pairans already know about neurium, they destroyed the formula long ago for peace purposes, in an attempt to do away with all forms of aggression on their planet.
There are 50 days until the collision, but scientists believe Earth will be seared by the heat long before that. It is never explained why Planet R is glowing hot, or why Earth will be burned up, but presumably it has something to tidal heating, or perhaps Earth’s orbit is being perturbed closer to the Sun? Anyway, as freak weather starts to ravage the Earth, Tokyo is evacuated, although to where isn’t made clear, but a group of children are sheltered in the basement of the Observatory where astronomers are monitoring the rogue planet.
Meanwhile the nuclear physicist is kidnapped by villains who want to steal the neurium formula, and who also don’t believe there is any threat from Planet R.
As Planet R approaches, astronomers at the Observatory realise that it is accelerating and rapidly brightening. It will soon be visible with the naked eye. With 20 days to the presumed collision, the World Congress agrees to use all its nuclear weapons to deflect the planet. A barrage of dozens of missiles is fired at the planet but they have no effect whatsoever.
With 5 days to collision, Earth’s sky is turning red with the heat, animals are dying, and rampant hurricanes, floods and earthquakes are destroying Japan.
Meanwhile, the nuclear physicist has freed himself from a now collapsed building and has been tracked down by the Pairans by radar, using a special radio transmitter in a ring they had given him to wear some time earlier. He divulges the neurium formula to the Pairans who use their advanced technological capabilities to rapidly develop a super weapon. The missile is launched from the Pairan observation satellite and shatters Planet R into pieces, saving Earth and Paira from destruction.
When Worlds Collide (1951). Movie not about an asteroid or comet, but a rogue star, Bellus and its planetary companion, Zira. With Bellus on a direct collision course with Earth, a lottery is held to decide which personnel working on building a space ark will be allotted seats to go and start a new colony on the safety of planet Zira. Told largely from the viewpoint of those working on the ark. This is the movie that inspired Deep Impact (1998).
The best minds and technicians in the US are recruited to build a space Ark which will leave Earth with a select few citizens and all the resources and animals they need to start a new life on Zira. The crew is to be chosen by lottery ticket from the 600 personnel who are working on the Ark project and there are only 40 seats.
The Ark manages to leave Earth minutes before the collision with Bellus and make it to Zira within seconds of the ship’s fuel running out. When they disembark they find an oasis of beauty.
The special effects throughout this movie are highly entertaining, the landscape on Zira is strangely reminiscent of certain scenes in The Wizard of Oz, the Ark is an archetypal retro space rocket shape that remains shinier than shiny throughout, and the crew are decked out in identical brown parkas that every ardent anorak advocate will have their beady eye on.
Without Warning (1994). Mockumentary movie delivered as a news network report. Three spatially synchronized asteroid impacts into uninhabited regions on Earth turn out to be a form of extraterrestrial contact based on symbols sent out on the Pioneer 11 spacecraft. When Earth launches a nuclear retaliation, it comes under siege by hundreds more impacts on major cities around the globe. Segments of the alien message are delivered by survivors of two of the impact sites, citing what seems to be part of the recorded message sent out on the Voyager spacecraft.
An annual meteor shower develops into a dramatic event, as the near-Earth asteroid 6645 Venturi breaks into fragments and impacts at multiple sites.
Three impacts are reported near Benson, Wyoming in the US, near Lourdes in France and in the Gobi desert in Mongolia, all in largely deserted rural areas.
A young girl is found dazed and badly burned, wandering around the Wyoming impact site mumbling unintelligibly. A male skier survived the impact near Lourdes and is found huddled at the foot of Mt Vignmaine.
It appears the asteroid’s trajectory was precisely targeted to 90° N before it broke up at an altitude of 6,400 miles. Then all three impacts occurred at a latitude of 45° N, equally spaced at 0°, 105° W and 105° E longitude.
As well as the precise geometric impact points, journalists become even more suspicious when a JPL astrophysicist who works for SETI is hurried to the Johnson Space Centre by military aircraft. An astronomer at Kitt Peak agrees that what has been observed is an unnatural and non-random phenomenon. Government officials deny this.
Piercing radio signals start being emitted at the impact sites, interfering with navigational systems, broadcast services, and commercial aircraft services. JPL confirms that a persistent audio signal of unknown origin on the edge of the FM band is being emitted from the centre of the Wyoming crater and the same at the other two sites. This means that the rock is somehow charged electronically. Some say it could be a pulsating charged ion field that developed during the asteroid’s atmospheric entry; others say it is not natural.
Now everyone is asking, could intelligent life exist outside the Solar System and are they able to visit Earth? Scientist and author Arthur C Clarke is interviewed about the possibility. The unsettling thought affects the financial markets as trading is suspended in Hong Kong and Tokyo.
The White House then announces that a second, larger asteroid has been detected. The 65m object is on the same trajectory as 6645 Venturi. Arecibo scientists confirm that it is heading to Earth at 32,000 miles per hour and will impact in 5 minutes at the North Pole. Two F16 fighter jets equipped with optically-guided 2 kilo tonne nuclear warheads are scrambled from Utah to intercept and destroy the object before impact. The event is monitored at the Johnson Space Center, with the world’s press given access to the live feed.
Some scientists are both sceptical and worried that trying to destroy an object travelling at 50 times the speed of sound in a close-quarters air engagement will not only be ineffective, but the nuclear fall-out over the ice cap will be devastating on the Earth’s ecological system. The Pentagon says the nuclear radiation is low yield and will dissipate in the atmosphere within a few days.
Both NASA and the Pentagon refuse to acknowledge that the synchronized asteroid trajectories and pulsating signals from the impact sites are anything but natural. The asteroids have the same trajectory, they say, because they are fragments of the same parent asteroid.
The second incoming asteroid is successfully intercepted and destroyed, but the F16s are taken out by the same pulsating radio signals as being emitted at the three impact sites. The impacts turn out to be deliberate attempts by unseen aliens to make contact with Earth.
The military use the press conference as a platform to argue reinstating the Anti-Missile Defense Shield, the Star Wars system instigated by President Reagan which was shelved by the current President Clinton.
The SETI and JPL astrophysicist claims that he believes there is a force behind the asteroids that is intelligent and, whatever it is, he believes it is benign as the impacts were into uninhabited areas. He claims the radio signals were just transponders to guide the second asteroid in and that the Earth declared war on the extraterrestrials with the preemptive strike. Meanwhile, the news network feels obliged to broadcast that to the best of anyone’s knowledge the asteroid impacts have an entirely natural origin.
The sole survivor at the French impact site dies in hospital but not before mumbling what seems to be a largely unintelligible message. The message is analyzed at NASA’s Goldstone observatory where the speech pattern of the young girl found wandering at the Wyoming site is already being analyzed. The little girl also later dies in hospital.
The astronomer at Kitt Peak believes that the shape formed by the geometric angles between the three impact sites on Earth represent the perfection reflection of the symbol for the Pioneer 11 spacecraft. A pixellated message was included on that spacecraft, launched back in 1973, which contained four symbols: the human form, the Solar System, the DNA double helix, and the spacecraft itself. The astronomer suggests that aliens were using the trajectory descent factors of the three asteroid fragments to send Earth a message.
The SETI astrophysicist resigns his JPL post to distance himself from the way the Government is handling what he calls the current crisis. He then reveals that Goldstone and Airforce tracking stations have all received a signal that three more asteroids, each in excess of 2 miles wide are heading to Earth, projected to impact Beijing, Moscow and Washington DC in 9 minutes. He believes these targets have been chosen being nations which present a nuclear threat, following the nuclear attack on the second asteroid. Nevertheless, an asteroid just 1 mile wide striking on land will throw up enough debris to plunge the entire Earth into what amounts to a nuclear winter.
The world’s largest cities impose curfews as looting, rioting and mass panic develops in the unfolding crisis. The alien radio signals resume, jamming navigation and communication systems, and radio and TV signals across the globe. Everyone is being advised to stay inside, move to a basement and stay there. Emergency broadcast networks are set up. The three asteroids are 11,000 miles away and there is 5 minutes to impact. The Pentagon announces a joint nuclear mitigation plan by US Space Command to take place imminently consisting of 10 independently targetable missiles to be launched from a Trident submarine in the North Sea and from an Airforce base in Wyoming. The three asteroids will enter the atmosphere at around 4,500 miles per hour.
Correspondents continue to report live from the three target cities up to the projected moment of impact. It is a little unsettling to watch the correspondents as the countdown to impact occurs, witnessing their reactions live in what they believe are the last moments of their lives. The Beijing asteroid is destroyed, then the Moscow asteroid. Then we watch the two anchors in the newsroom in Washington DC watching the live feed via Space Command and the correspondent reporting live from the street outside looking up at the sky as the asteroid hurtles in overhead. But the DC asteroid is destroyed at the last moment and there is relief from every angle, and all around the world.
The feed switches to the reporter at Goldstone who plays the jumbled segmented recordings of the little girl’s and the Frenchman’s voices which have now been analyzed. It is never revealed whether there was any survivor at the third impact site in the Gobi desert, but presumably they would have contributed to the message. While the recording is playing, one of the news anchors recognises the words as part of the UN Secretary-General’s message included on the Golden Record sent out on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.
The news feed suddenly switches to the Johnson Space Center where the jubilant mood has suddenly stopped. The camera pans round to reveal an influx of hundreds of asteroids shown on the tracking screen. There is no way of mitigating this one. As impacts are reported around the world, the news network broadcast ends abruptly as the signal is lost.
The reason for the extraterrestrial contact and the nature of the message is never made clear.
Wizards of Waverly Place: “Wizards vs Asteroid” (2011). TV series episode [S4, Ep 17]. When the Russo family of wizards, who live above a sandwich shop in Greenwich Village, hear about the failed attempt to destroy a giant asteroid hurtling towards Earth, they change their minds about taking a portal to shelter in the wizard world and instead go into space to reactivate the missile that failed to detonate.
You, Me and the Apocalypse (2015). TV oddball comedy series. An attempt to deflect a comet out of its collisional trajectory with Earth fails and it will impact in 34 days. This 10 episode series counts down the event, following the lives of a diverse group of unconnected individuals around the world who all end up sheltering in a bunker under the UK town of Slough as they watch the end of the world unfold on TV.
Zodiac: Signs of the Apocalypse (2014) aka Apocalypse Tomorrow (2014). When an ancient astrological rock carving is uncovered in a Peruvian mine, a wave of unprecedented natural disasters are set in motion around the globe. Depicting twelve events associated with the signs of the zodiac, the final event on the carving marks the return of a long-period planet, the effect of which will destroy Earth. A scientist overcomes floods, fireballs, volcanic fury and Feds to reunite the carving with a radioactive stone that activates an energy field to shield the world from destruction.
Lights, Camera and Asteroid! That’s a wrap.
TL;DR: Try the abridged version.
Don’t forget, it’s always Asteroid Day on 30 June.
Fair Use Notice: All images used in this post have been carefully chosen to support the commentary. I believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material, but suffice to say, if any film company or network would prefer the image to be removed, just let me know.