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Arizona astronomer made sure 'Don't Look Up' was accurate

Dr. Amy Mainzer is an astronomer at the University of Arizona who is always searching for comets and asteroids called Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).
Credit: Netflix

TUCSON, Ariz. — What if you knew the world would end, but no one believed you? 

Worse still, what if they ignored you and tried to make money off it instead?

That's the plot of the Netflix hit movie "Don't Look Up", directed by Adam McKay and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.

It's a satire and, of course, fiction, but the science behind it is sound because it came from the mind of a real scientist. 

Dr. Amy Mainzer is an astronomer at the University of Arizona who is always searching for comets and asteroids called Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).

Mainzer said she spent years working with McKay on the script. 

"I think he looked me up on the Internet," Mainzer said," and he also reached out to a mutual colleague that we have at NASA."

"DiCaprio talked to her for hours," McKay said. 

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The director said he and Mainzer refined the script to make sure the science was accurate. He also said Mainzer worked with the visual effects crew to make sure the impending disaster looked real. 

"It was really clear that we had a lot of common interests in terms of making a movie that really communicates the importance of science," Mainzer said. 

Mainzer said accurately portraying how science works were key to the movie, which was written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Adam wrote the script, the first draft of it before the pandemic hit," Mainzer said. "We went through the whole process of the pandemic, you know, people denying the existence of the virus."

In the movie, they're asteroid deniers who are unwilling to believe the scientists who proved the comet is coming. It's meant to be about climate change deniers, but the message has taken on more meanings. 

McKay and the stars of the movie said it holds a mirror up to society, as well as shows what real scientists do and how they -- and we -- handle bad news.

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