Down To Earth

In 2014 I participated my second NASA’s space app challenge. During the weekend our team prototyped a tool for risks communication that got People’s choice award and got us to the list of top 25 projects globally. Also, our work got published in 66th International Astronautical Congress, one of the most important events for the global space community.

The challenge

Our mission of choice was to build an idea / prototype that would help people to understand the risks of asteroids. Although they don’t look like a possible threat, a quick search about Chelyabinsk meteor might convince you otherwise.

After a few discussions with people (thanks James Parr for the inspiring ideas), we thought that what actually matters is to make the data and risks easily interpretable.

To mobilise resources for asteroid research, we will need to create empathy for the potential moral and economic hazard that these objects present
James Parr, Founder of Open Space Agency

Imagine you read that an asteroid has a diameter of 1.7 km and the minimum distance from earth is 5 AU. What does this tells you? I’ll bet nothing. What if I tell you instead that the distance is 120 times the distance of Eiffel tour from Big Ben or the size is 7 times the size of a London eye (given that you’re a Londoner). That’s quite easier to visualize, right ?

Our proposed solution, creates such familiar analogies with open data about asteroids, using your location and an open collaborative human knowledge database ( Using this database we can get buildings or monuments that are near you, assuming that that’s something familiar to you (most of the times it is). Then, we use the retrieved buildings to make analogies that matter to you.

What about earth-blast impact though? How do you visualize this? Well, you can always visualize the crater of a catastrophe fictional scenario, but you can’t really empathize with that. What if I tell you that when asteroid X hits London 100k people will die or the GDP of the destroyed area will be 1.5 million pounds? That’s easier to understand. Again, using freebase, we retrieved details about popularity density and we do the maths for you to get an idea.

Next plans

That was a proof of concept and our plan is to make more analogies. For example, something we wanted to show you is the probability of an earth blast event (e.g. one asteroid might hit earth with probability 0.000005 or equivalent of a thunder hitting a deer in Alaska. You get the point.)

Maybe though, the whole idea of visualizing using familiar analogies would be great to be applied in other domains as well.


Paris Selinas, Panagiotis Tigas, Dionysia Mylonaki


Project page in