Last week, NASA and several federal agencies, together with multiple international organisation, projected an exercise that might in the future save millions of lives. They simulated what would happen if an asteroid was discovered on a collision course with Earth. It didn’t end well.
The exercise, part of the Planetary Defense Conference, allows researchers to work out scientific, technological, and political challenges that will have to be overcome in order to successfully protect our planet from an asteroid blow.
The simulation, which condenses eight fictional years into five days, travelled like this: Thanks to ground-based watchings, it’s discovered the fictional asteroid 2019 PDC has a 1 in 100 chance of making Earth. On Day 2 it’s calculated that risk is now 1 in 10 and will probably reached Denver, Colorado on April 29, 2027. The plan the stages of both the reconnaissance and deflecting operations step up a gear. By Day 3, set in belatedly December 2021, the first reconnaissance spacecraft has reached the asteroid. On the deflection duty, various spacecraft are due to slam into the asteroid in August 2024, to push it off orbit.
Day 4 started a few periods after the deflection- and delivered some good information and some very bad news. The main form of the asteroid was successfully deflected but a small fragment 50 -8 0 meters( 165 -2 60 feet) in sizing was still on a collision course with Earth- New York City to be precise. On top of that, the debris released by the impact destroyed the reconnaissance spacecraft making it much harder to know what was happening.
“We need to challenge ourselves and ask the tough questions. You don’t learn anything if you don’t study the worst possible case each day, ” explained Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Study at NASA’s JPL, and author of this year’s scenario, in a statement.
Having run out of options, the team re-proposed the nuclear option that was discussed on Day 2 but was shelved due to widespread debate and gamble. They looked at sending a 300-kiloton nuclear machine to explode less than 145 meters( 476 feet) from the asteroid scrap, which would either deflect it or scrap it, figurings showed.
But even with confidence in the numbers- the same strategy managed to save Tokyo in last year’s simulation- the field missions is not able to to come into force due to political disagreements, and the asteroid could not be stopped. All there was left to do was prepare New York City for impact.
Day 5 began only 10 days before impact. The asteroid would participate the atmosphere at 19 kilometers per second( 43,000 mph) and liberation the equivalent of 5-20 megatons of energy in the airburst. It would explode about 15 kilometers( 9 miles) above Central Park, destroying the city, and creating a 15 -kilometer( 9-mile) “unsurvivable” radius.
In this scenario, it’s the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s( FEMA) position to evacuate and rehome 10 million people, their pets and belongings, protect nuclear and chemical facilities in the area, and move works of art. The ambiance of those discussions altered from the technical and scientific, to the sociological, legal, and political, and all the questions that come with that. How are people going to behave? Who’s paying for it all? What about policy( the deflection effected it to smack New York , not Denver, after all )?
“This exercise is valuable in that it continues the drive currently in progress to identify key questions and issues for this low probability but high-pitched upshot scenario, ” said FEMA’s Leviticus Lewis.
We managed to save Tokyo in last year’s exercise, but other fictional victims of asteroids include the French Riviera, Dhaka, and Los Angeles. However, the likelihood of an asteroid impacting Earth remains highly unlikely and the exercises are devised to be the worst case within the realm of possibilities. But like good scouts, it’s good to be prepared. The next exercise will take place in Vienna in 2021. Hopefully, the next target municipality might escape this grim fate.