Credit: Otilia Dragan/

On the evening of Tuesday 23 April 2024, a presentation on asteroids in popular culture was held by Gérard Kraus, a Science Fiction Studies Scholar with a Master’s degree from the University of Liverpool and President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Society Luxembourg, at the Luxembourg Museum of Natural History (MNHN) in Luxembourg-Grund.

He started by redefining the terms of science fiction and fantasy: while science fiction contains an element of speculation on innovative scientific ideas, fantasy looks “back” to fairy tales and folk tales, dragons and mythical creatures. The evening’s conference was most often specifically focused on science fiction.

The presentation contained many examples from films, books, series and more on asteroids and the recurring fascination with them.

Firstly, Gérard Kraus discussed the science fiction trope of Phaeton, a hypothetical planet often called Bodia in fiction, and a recurring theme in pulp fiction. This planet was described as having been quite advanced, and ultimately destroyed, allegedly leading to the formation of asteroids. Similar to the legend of Atlantis, a missing planet, Bodia had a certain “romantic” allure. However, scientists have long agreed that asteroids are dust particles that came together in that form and never formed part of a particular planet but were free-floating as such.

Secondly, Kraus noted that asteroids are portrayed as an obstacle. This is particularly common in video games, such as “Asteroids”, the 1979 space-themed multidirectional shooter arcade video game released by Atari. In this game, fast-moving asteroids have to be eliminated one by one. Super Stardust Ultra (2007) and Dead Space (2008) are other more recent examples of the trope – the player is on a rocket ship that needs to be protected from asteroid impacts.

Asteroids can also bring with them otherworldly superpowers, Gérard Kraus explained, giving the example of Green Lantern. In this 1940 DC comic, an asteroid contains a hidden spaceship and a ring with special powers. Similar mystical powers brought by an asteroid are present in Black Panther, the Marvel Comics film adaptation showing that vibranium, a powerful metal with kinetic energy, became available in the kingdom of Wakanda after a glowing asteroid crashed to earth.

In other science fiction stories, asteroids can serve as temporary living habitats, gardens and respite places. They can, however, also be full-time homes, such as the asteroid B-612 in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

Asteroids are also sometimes portrayed as “living” habitats – with cities or facilities built on them, or in the form of asteroid terrariums in certain novels, Marvel comics and even video games.

One of the most common portrayals of asteroids is that of an impact followed by destruction. This is present in many films and novels, short stories and more. After the Alvarez hypothesis (positing that the mass extinction of dinosaurs had been caused by the impact of a large asteroid on the Earth) was proven correct in the 1980s, the trope of asteroid impacts became even more widespread.

In his extensive presentation on the topic of asteroids in popular culture, Kraus also discussed other tropes, such as asteroids as weapons or as invasion “tools”, space mining and the large number of board games using asteroids as features or main “attraction”, including an extension of the roleplaying fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons, which brought out a science fiction extension called “Tale of the Comet”.