Movies about space rocks that threaten the Earth generally follow this trajectory: Amazed scientists discover an imminent impact, alert a skeptical world, and take heroic measures to try to stop the rock.

That’s essentially the plot of “Don’t Look Up,” Adam McKay’s sci-fi satire currently in theaters, stoking public fears of doom from above.

This is not the case with “Asteroid Hunters,” the new IMAX documentary that opens on December 15 at the Omnimax Theater at the Ontario Science Center. The film marks the 25th anniversary of Ontario’s first and only IMAX dome cinema, which projects images 10 times the size of standard 35mm film.

Asteroid Hunters, directed by WD Hogan, seeks to inform and excite people about what can be done to prevent a catastrophic asteroid impact like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago.

Don’t think something like this couldn’t happen again – there are roughly a billion asteroids of various sizes surrounding Earth, along with their twisted cousins, meteors, who are essentially the same things.

Hundreds of asteroid craters around the planet, including the Sudbury Basin, Northern Ontario’s massive impact structure created nearly two billion years ago, attest to the blows that Earth has already taken.

“It is not a question of Yes an asteroid will hit, but When“Says actress Daisy Ridley of” Star Wars “fame, who narrates the 40-minute IMAX movie.

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Using computer animation and scientific extrapolation of astronomical data, “Asteroid Hunters” shows with terrifying finality what would happen if a 10-kilometer rock of the type that killed the dinosaurs struck near the city of Calgary. Destructive shock waves would radiate 100 kilometers or more from the impact zone.

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But even though “Asteroid Hunters” doesn’t skimp on the dangers that rogue asteroids pose to Earth, the documentary is far from a pessimistic and fatal viewing experience.

Writer and producer Philip Groves, who started working on the film a dozen years ago, said by email that he worked to come up with a script that would inform but not terrify the masses.

He is aware that many young children are among the 7.3 million people who have been excited by the immersive storytelling of the Omnimax Theater over the past quarter century, with its 24-meter domed screen and 44 speakers.

“It took dozens of rewrites to make the story more reassuring while keeping it informative, accurate and emotionally engaging,” says Groves, who lives in Thousand Oaks, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.

“With each pass, more emphasis was put on showing people in control, while exploring the only good thing about an asteroid impact – it’s the only natural disaster that we can really prevent.”

A current NASA mission aims to do just that. The US space agency recently launched a spacecraft called DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) which by next September, if all goes well, will crash into a distant asteroid to push it onto a new flight path away from the earth. It’s a test of technology to make space rocks keep their distance.

As the film’s title implies, “Asteroid Hunters” introduces viewers to some of the many scientists around the world who use high-powered telescopes to monitor the skies for NEO (near-Earth objects) and PHA ( potentially dangerous asteroids).

There is a meeting called the Planetary Defense Conference, which meets every two years to discuss measures like DART to keep pesky rocks at bay.

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“No idea is too crazy,” says one of the scientists.

As dangerous as asteroids are, comets are even more so, even as they delight us with their long tails like Comet Neowise did two summers ago. A comet the size of Mount Everest is the looming threat of “Don’t Look Up.”

Made up of frozen water, minerals, and metals (scientists call them “dirty snowballs”), they tend to accelerate faster than asteroids as they approach Earth, potentially making them a bigger threat to us.

Groves says that a comet would hit us at more than 160,000 km / h, while asteroids are slow in comparison, reaching speeds of 56,000 to 64,000 km / h.

“Thank goodness the chances of comets impacting are much, much less, because they are less and their orbits are often measured in hundreds, if not thousands of years.”

I ask Groves if there was a fact that he learned that really impressed and / or scared him about asteroids and their troublesome relatives, during his 12 years of researching and filming “Asteroid Hunters.”

“We all know about the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago,” he replies. “The relative size of that asteroid to Earth was like a very small grain of sand compared to a basketball.

“Oh! That shocked and scared me. But we have bigger brains than dinosaurs. And a space program. Dangerous asteroids are a problem we can overcome. The trick is to find them, before they find us. “

Peter Howell is a Toronto film critic. Twitter: @peterhowellfilm

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