NASA warns that a giant asteroid headed for Earth could not be stopped – even with six months’ notice

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An asteroid with the power of a massive nuclear bomb would destroy much of Europe, and a new simulation shows there was nothing we could do to stop it.

NASA last week conducted a table-top exercise to better understand our prevention in space by using a simulation scenario of an asteroid 35 million miles away from Earth that would strike in six months.

The hypothetical asteroid, dubbed 2021PDC, was first ‘spotted’ on April 19, and during the exercise, scientists planned how to prevent it from colliding with our planet on October 20.

After days of studying the size, trajectory and impact probability of the space rock, American and European scientists have determined that none of our existing technology can prevent the asteroid from colliding with Earth – this includes crashing a spacecraft in the space rock or blow it up with a bomb.

It also took the team of scientists about 184 days to determine the impact area and probability of the asteroid on our planet.

“ If we were faced with the hypothetical scenario of 2021PDC in real life, we would not be able to launch a spacecraft with current capabilities in such a short period of time, ” said the exercise participants.

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NASA conducted a table exercise last week to better understand our planet's prevention in space and used a simulation scenario of an asteroid 35 million miles away from Earth that would strike in six months

NASA conducted a table exercise last week to better understand our planet’s prevention in space and used a simulation scenario of an asteroid 35 million miles away from Earth that would strike in six months

The exercise lasted about four days, each day looking at how the event would unfold over the course of six months as if it were a real emergency.

On April 26, or Day 1, the five percent chance of it hitting Earth began, setting the stage for strategic planning to either destroy the space rock or knock it off its path to Earth.

Day two of the exercise will fast forward to May 2, 2021, where astronomers spent the past week refining 2021PDC’s orbit and impact probability.

The team used image data collected by the Pan-STARRS asteroid survey in 2014, which showed that 2021PDC was possible seven years prior to its discovery, during the earlier approach to Earth.

Using the world's largest telescopes, astronomers around the world have continued to monitor 2021PDC every night to continuously refine the asteroid's orbit and significantly narrow the expected impact area to fall within Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.

Using the world’s largest telescopes, astronomers around the world have continued to monitor 2021PDC every night to continuously refine the asteroid’s orbit and significantly narrow the expected impact area to fall within Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.

Pictured is a map of potential impact sites of the 2021 PDC, which scientists created to stimulate interdisciplinary conversations about planetary defense.  It took 184 days to determine the impact area and probability of the asteroid on our planet

Pictured is a map of potential impact sites of the 2021 PDC, which scientists created to stimulate interdisciplinary conversations about planetary defense. It took 184 days to determine the impact area and probability of the asteroid on our planet

With this data, astronomers were able to reduce uncertainties in orbit and conclude that the simulated asteroid now has 100 percent certainty of hitting Earth in Europe or North Africa.

Scientists proposed destroying the asteroid, which many would see as the obvious attack.

Simulations show that if the nuclear device were to make contact, the space rock could be reduced to a less destructive size.

However, the simulation also suggested that 2021PDC could be anywhere from 114 feet to a half mile in size, and it’s not clear if a giant bomb could bring down the asteroid.

On Day 3, the exercises will take the researchers to June 30, when the world prepares for impact.

The final day of the hypothetical asteroid impact exercise, Day 4, rapidly advances to October 14 - just six days before impact.  2021PDC is now an estimated 6.3 million miles from Earth, which is close enough for Goldstone Solar System Radar to detect and analyze 2021PDC and significantly fine-tune the asteroid's size and physical characteristics

The final day of the hypothetical asteroid impact exercise, Day 4, rapidly advances to October 14 – just six days before impact. 2021PDC is now an estimated 6.3 million miles from Earth, which is close enough for Goldstone Solar System Radar to detect and analyze 2021PDC and significantly fine-tune the asteroid’s size and physical characteristics

Using the world’s largest telescopes, astronomers around the world have continued to monitor 2021PDC every night to continuously refine the asteroid’s orbit and significantly narrow the expected impact area to fall within Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.

The final day of the hypothetical asteroid impact exercise, Day 4, rapidly advances to October 14 – just six days before impact.

2021PDC is now an estimated 6.3 million miles from Earth, which is close enough for Goldstone Solar System Radar to detect and analyze 2021PDC and significantly fine-tune the asteroid’s size and physical characteristics.

This determined that the asteroid is much smaller than previously thought, reducing the expected damage from the impact.

At this point, astronomers have managed to narrow the impact zone to the center near the border of Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria, and have determined that the asteroid has a 99 percent chance of hitting this area.

Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, said, “Every time we participate in such an exercise, we learn more about who are the key players in a disaster and who needs to know what information.”

The joint NASA-FEMA exercises involved representatives from several other federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense and State.  Depicted are scientists who performed simulations as if it were a real emergency

The joint NASA-FEMA exercises involved representatives from several other federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense and State. Depicted are scientists who performed simulations as if it were a real emergency

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

So far, NASA has participated in seven impact scenarios: four at previous Planetary Defense Conferences (2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019) and three in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The joint NASA-FEMA exercises involved representatives from several other federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense and State.

Dr. Paul Chodas, director of CNEOS, said, “Hypothetical asteroid impact drills give us the opportunity to think about how we would react if it turns out that a significant asteroid has a significant chance of impacting our planet.”

Details of the scenario – such as the probability of the asteroid impact, where and when the impact could occur – will be released to participants in a series of steps throughout the days of the conference to simulate how an actual situation could evolve . ‘

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