BBC Breakfast: Naga jokes Matt made 'big miss' with asteroid

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Centre for Near Earth Object Studies led a simulation of an asteroid impact scenario at the annual IAA Planetary Defence Conference, hosted by the United Nations and attended by the European Space Agency (ESA). The bi-annual exercise sees scientists and experts attempt to find solutions to a hypothetical collision event, but this year saw the team fail to come up with any.

Over five days, NASA and the ESA simulated a ‘planetary defence exercise’ and were told had a six month window to execute a plan to stop an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Their briefs showed if such an object were to be discovered today or tomorrow, we would struggle to protect the planet.

Participants said during the exercise: “If confronted with the scenario in real life, we would not be able to launch any spacecraft on such short notice with current capabilities.”

Over the five days, the team were able to collect data on the asteroid and work out an impact zone, but found six months “did not allow a credible space mission to be undertaken, given the current state of technology” and ruled out destroying the rock with a nuclear device.

For the exercise, US and EU scientists were told of fictional asteroid 2021PDC, which had a five percent chance of hitting Earth on October 20, 2021.

Day one of the exercise saw the team collect data, with day two involving refining of information about the asteroids orbit and trajectory.

They worked out the fictional space rock would strike either North Africa or Europe, but ruled out a space mission due to current technological limits, and also simulated a nuclear device’s inability to destroy the asteroid.

By the third day, the team had moved on to preparing the world for impact and narrowed down the impact area to Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.

Day four saw the team refine and analyse the asteroid’s size and physical characteristics, and found the only response would be to evacuate the area before the space rock made impact.

Lindley Johnson, Nasa’s Planetary Defence Officer, said the exercise showed how the world can improve defences against asteroid disaster events.

He said: “Each time we participate in an exercise of this nature, we learn more about who the key players are in a disaster event, and who needs to know what information.

“These exercises ultimately help the planetary defence community communicate with each other and with our governments to ensure we are all coordinated should a potential impact threat be identified in the future.”

Dr. Paul Chodas, director of Nasa’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), also said: “Hypothetical asteroid impact exercises provide opportunities for us to think about how we would respond in the event that a sizeable asteroid is found to have a significant chance of impacting our planet.

“Details of the scenario—such as the probability of the asteroid impact, where and when the impact might occur—are released to participants in a series of steps over the days of the conference to simulate how a real situation might evolve.”

In response to news of the failed exercise, SpaceX boss Elon Musk took Twitter to voice his concerns.

He said: “One of many reasons why we need larger & more advanced rockets!”

SpaceX recently secured a $2.89 billion contract with Nasa to develop its next-generation Starship spacecraft, which is being built to transport people and cargo around the Solar System.

Combined with its Super Heavy rocket Booster, SpaceX claims Starship will be “the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed”, and could theoretically be used to assist missions designed to divert the path of an Earth-bound asteroid.

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