Potential strike locations of a fictional asteroid Photo: NASA/Google Earth
NASA, FEMA, and other national and international agencies are once again gearing up for a hypothetical asteroid impact preparedness scenario. They hope to learn the best strategies for responding to a potential strike, starting from the moment a threatening asteroid is first detected by astronomers.
Next week marks the start of the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference. As part of this conference, NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office will team up with other partners to perform a “tabletop exercise” on how they’d handle the news of a (fictional) asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
Again, the following is fictional.
On March 26, 2019, astronomers discover an asteroid in the night sky, far dimmer than Pluto to their telescopes. They name it 2019 PDC. Initially, it appears that the asteroid’s eccentric orbit bring it within approximately 18 times the Moon’s distance from the Earth, with a chance of hitting the Earth at one in 50,000 in 2027.
The orbit of the fictional asteroid 2019 PDC
Astronomers continue to track the object as it gets closer. They learn it could be somewhere between 100 and 300 meters wide—the size of a skyscraper. After a month of tracking, the probability of collision with Earth is now 1 percent—the threshold at which international organizations have agreed they must take action.
Astronomers are able to create a “risk corridor,” measuring where the asteroid might hit. Its potential paths intersect the United States, some of western Africa, and the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean.
Each red dot is a potential path the fictional asteroid might take as it passes the Earth in 2027. Clearly, this would be an asteroid worth worrying about.Image: NASA
Though just a drill, these are the kinds of calculations that astronomers must make when a real asteroid comes close to Earth. The fictional 2019 PDC describes a “potentially hazardous asteroid,” the kind that orbits close to Earth and that could have a catastrophic impact if it actually struck the planet. Scientists recently performed a similar simulation to this one, monitoring a nearby asteroid as though it were an actual threat. The new simulation instead will focus less on the scientific questions, and more on governmental response.
This simulation is the sixth near-Earth-object impact exercise that NASA has taken part in. Not only do these exercises help N
officials think through what they’d do in the event of a threat, but they also help them know what information is most important to FEMA and other agencies. Rest of Story here