NASA asteroid experts congregate every other year to role play a nightmare scenario. For although it is extremely unlikely to occur anytime soon, an apocalypse asteroid may one day hit Earth. So in order to ready mankind for the worst-case scenario, asteroid experts have prepared a fictional scenario which sees scientists identify an asteroid poised to smash into Earth within a decade.
The week-long conference has participants playing a number of roles, ranging from central government to space agencies and astronomers.
These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defence community
NASA Planetary defence officer Lindley Johnson
And to imbue the situation with added realism, participants will not know how the situation will evolve from one day to the next, with plans being made based solely on daily updates.
The asteroid experts will discuss how to determine what regions face what risks and how to respond — all in the hopes that if they ever face a similar situation in real life, they will be ready.
Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defence Officer, said: “These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defence community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know.
“This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments.”
The NASA exercise is part of a larger program designed to meet the specifications of the White House’s National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan.
During the conference, the assured participants will receive more and more detailed information about the hypothetical risk over the course of the seven days.
The initial information is that asteroid 2019 PDC appears to have an orbit that passes within 0.05 astronomical units (the average distance from the Earth to the sun) from Earth.
And when US space agency NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) fine-tune that orbit, their calculations suggest the asteroid could theoretically cross paths with Earth on April 29, 2027 — eight years to the day from the beginning of the conference.
The preparatory documents end with all the hypothetical data gathered by April 29, 2019, at which point our odds are looking worse.
That refined maths then gives the fictional rock a one percent chance of impacting Earth.
And from there — well, we’ll have to wait and see what happens next, meaning we will have to wait and see how humanity confronts with this fictional existential threat from space.
Rudiger Jehn, ESA’s Head of Planetary Defence, said: ”The first step in protecting our planet is knowing what’s out there.
“Only then, with enough warning, can we take the steps needed to prevent an asteroid strike altogether, or to minimise the damage it does on the ground.”
As of this month, 20,000 asteroids whose orbit brings them near Earth have been found.
At the current rate of roughly 150 new discoveries every month, this number is set to rapidly increase.
With the planned deployments of ESA’s new Flyeye and Test-Bed Telescopes, Europe’s ability to discover, confirm and understand the ancient rocks that hurtle through space will grow – fundamental to implementing mitigation measures.
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