NASA is preparing for Armageddon with a planetary defense exercise on the tabletop
NASA performs planetary defense exercises to see what would happen if an apocalyptic space rock went straight to Earth.
Participants will discuss possible preparations for studying an asteroid or comet, as well as how to ward them off and reduce the damage caused by a possible impact.
The space agency has been scanning the airspace for more than 20 years looking for what it calls Near-Earth Objects (NEOs).
NEOs are asteroids and comets that orbit the sun and come within 50 million km of Earth’s orbit.
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This diagram shows the orbits of the fictional asteroid and the earth and the point where the orbits intersect. The asteroid makes just over 3 orbits of the sun between discovery and the possibility of an impact in 2027
The threat of asteroid effects has become increasingly important in recent years, especially since the Chelyabinsk fireball in 2013.
The meteor, which glowed over the southern Urals in February 2013, was the largest recorded meteor attack in more than a century, after the Tunguska event in 1908.
More than 1,600 people were injured in the shockwave of the explosion, estimated to be as strong as 20 atomic bombs in Hiroshima.
In preparation for a possible impact, NASA and other international science organizations will participate in the Planetary Defense Conference 2019 next week.
A ‘tabletop exercise’ will work out the realistic – but fictional – scenarios for an asteroid and a comet on an impact trajectory with the earth.
The NEO impact scenario was developed by the Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The asteroid scenario starts with the assumption that astronomers “discovered” an asteroid on March 26 that they considered potentially dangerous to the Earth.
After a ‘few months’, observers predict that this NEO – the so-called PDC 2019 – will pass within 0.05 astronomical units (AU) of the Earth.
One AU is the distance between the earth and the sun and corresponds to 92,955,807 miles (149,597,871 km).
In the fictional simulation, NASA claims that the asteroid has a 100% chance of colliding with the Earth and that it may land on April 29, 2027.
It is first 35 million miles (57 million kilometers) from the Earth and is approaching 31,000 mph (14 km per second) and is getting brighter.
Weeks of observation found it increasingly likely that it would affect the Earth in 2027, but details of the shape, size and composition of the asteroid remain scarce.
The only thing that is known is that the average size of the asteroid can be between 100 and 300 meters.
More than a month after it was first noticed, it continues to fly towards the earth and passes the earth on May 13, 2019 at a distance of 0.13 au. It is expected that it will return close to earth in 2027.
The conference is currently taking up the event and deciding on the best course of action.
Experts will discuss the dangers of NEOs and actions that can be taken to ward off a threatening object.
“These exercises really helped us in the planetary defense community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer.
“This exercise will help us develop more effective communication with each other and with our governments.”
This diagram zooms in on the intersection of the orbits and shows the uncertainty in the predicted position of the asteroid (red dots reveal potential places where the asteroid will pass through the earth). The uncertainty region is several times longer than the moon’s orbit, but will become smaller as more data is collected about the path and trajectory of the asteroid
Crossing the uncertainty zone with the earth creates a ‘risk corridor’ over the earth’s surface. The corridor runs more than halfway around the world (pictured, red dots are possible landing locations) on the risk corridor
NASA performs planetary defense exercises to see what would happen if an apocalyptic asteroid went straight to Earth. The impact crater of Manicouagan in Quebec, Canada (circled on the right), is one of our many reminders that asteroids have affected the earth
The conference will also discuss a hypothetical comet impact scenario.
This fictional event states that a comet was spotted on April 4, 2019, and could collide with the Earth on February 28, 2021.
It has a orbital time that is believed to last several thousand years and astronomers speculate that its core may be only about 0.62 miles (1 kilometer) in size.
In recent weeks, NASA has announced measures that it hopes will help combat the threat of NEOs.
The conference will also discuss a hypothetical comet impact scenario. This fictional event states that a comet was spotted on April 4, 2019, and could collide with Earth on February 28, 2021. It has a turnaround time that is believed to last several thousand years
Astronomers speculate that the nucleus may be only about 0.62 miles (1 kilometer) in size and may be one of the red dots on this map. In recent weeks, NASA has announced measures that it hopes will help combat the threat of NEOs
On April 11, the space agency announced that its radical mission to fire a small spacecraft directly into an asteroid now also has SpaceX on the roster.
It chose the space company of Elon Musk to launch its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which is scheduled to start in June 2021.
The groundbreaking mission will be the first demonstrated attempt to ward off an asteroid by deliberately casting a high speed on it.
After being launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on top of a Falcon 9 rocket in 2021, the DART vessel is expected to reach the Didymos object in October 2022, when it is 11.8 km from Earth.
The DART mission is based on what is known as a “kinetic collision body” – in this case an eight-foot (2.4 m) vessel with solar-powered electric propulsion.
DART will focus on the binary near-earth asteroid Didymos, which is approximately 2,600 feet (800 meters) in size.
In recent weeks, NASA has announced measures that it hopes will help combat the threat of NEOs. The DART mission is based on what is known as a “kinetic impactor” focused on the binary asteroid near the Earth, Didymos (artist’s impression)
After being launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on top of a Falcon 9 rocket in 2021, the DART vessel is expected to reach the Didymos object in October 2022 when it is 6.8 million miles from Earth. File photo of a Falcon 9 after the launch
WHAT CAN WE DO TO STOP AN ASTEROID COLLIDING WITH EARTH?
Currently, NASA would not be able to deflect an asteroid if it was on its way to Earth, but it could mitigate the impact and take measures to protect lives and property.
This includes evacuating the impact area and moving important infrastructure.
If you learn more about the track, size, shape, mass, composition and rotation dynamics, experts can determine the severity of a potential impact.
However, the key to limiting damage is to find every possible threat as early as possible.
NASA is currently moving forward with a spacecraft the size of a refrigerator that can prevent asteroids from crashing into the earth. A test with a small, non-threatening asteroid is planned for 2024.
This is the very first mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) would use a so-called kinetic collision technique – hitting the asteroid to move its trajectory.
The impact would change the speed of an impending asteroid by a small fraction of the total speed, but by doing this well before the predicted impact, this little nudge will increase over time to a major shift in the path of the asteroid off the earth.
A top asteroid scientist from NASA also recently said that the best way to defend the earth against asteroids is to build a new telescope that can spot them as quickly as possible.
Dr. Amy Mainzer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said trying to spot asteroids with current telescopes was the same as trying to find a “lump of coal in the night sky.”
In April 2019, her team proposed a new system designed to detect large meteors that could cause significant damage.
It would identify incoming asteroids that could cause a huge loss of human life – just like the meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
They claim that this would give scientists more time to devise a strategy to intercept the rock.
A NASA scientist has said that protecting the earth against dangerous asteroids is to detect them via heat using an infrared telescope, the Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam). Comet Catalina (photo) in 2015 was captured by such a telescope called NEOWISE
Dr. Amy Mainzer said that trying to spot asteroids through their ‘weak’ light was the same as trying to see a ‘lump of coal in the night sky’, but that a proposed Near-Earth Object Camera mission (photo) which detects heat waves it is much more accurate
However, incoming space stones are not always spotted before their arrival.
Unbelievable images released in March 2019 revealed a meteor that exploded into the Earth’s atmosphere in December with ten times the power of the Hiroshima bomb – but no one detected it.
The incident occurred at 11:50 PM GMT (3:30 AM EST) on December 18, 2018, across the Bering Sea – between Russia and Alaska – but has only just been discovered.
This is believed to be the second largest meteor explosion in the last 30 years and the largest since the controversial Chelyabinsk incident.