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This year’s exercise was carried out from April 26 to 28 and the scenario presented an impact with only six months to react to the impact of a large asteroid on a collision path with our planet. Astronomers therefore had six months to come up with a plan to save lives and prevent a massive rock from smashing into Earth, having been detected just 35 million miles from our planet.
For the simulation exercise, the scientists used radar systems, data imaging, and other technologies such as the world’s largest telescope.
How did the exercise end?
The scientists determined that six months is not enough time to prepare a spacecraft and send it to crash against the asteroid and that a nuclear bomb, as in the movie Armageddon (Do you remember the summer of 1998 when Bruce Willis is recruited to plant a nuclear bomb on an asteroid, detonate it, and split an asteroid hurtling toward Earth predicting a global extinction event?), he wouldn’t knock down the monstrous space rock either.
Is it a weakness to have so little reaction time?
Indeed, having such a tight time limit is a key weakness in our asteroid defense systems.
“The best solution for this scenario is not to go into it in the first place,” he said. Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Coordination Officer of the NASA, during the hypothetical scenario.
Most of the near-Earth asteroids and comets that astronomers routinely identify, numbering more than 25,000 to date, pose no threat to us or our planet. These objects never end up crossing Earth’s orbit or are so small that they end up vaporizing as they fall through our protective shield that we call the atmosphere.
But what about a rock of considerable size?
By the time we have to face this moment, planetary defense experts annually practice what to do if our luck runs out and we have to see ourselves in this type of scenario, to make sure we have the best opportunity to protect ourselves. On this occasion, the simulation, under the name ‘Space mission options for the hypothetical asteroid impact scenario’, had catastrophic consequences.
The equivalent of a fire drill
The asteroid, called 2021PDC, was discovered by the Near-Earth Object Study Project, operated by the University of Hawaii for the Planetary Defense Program of the NASA. Space mission designers sought to disrupt the asteroid before impact, but concluded that the short period of time “did not allow for a credible space mission to be undertaken, given the current state of technology.” Bombing the asteroid was not a good option either.
“Every time we participate in an exercise of this nature, we learn more about who the key players in a disaster event are and who needs to know what information,” says Lindley Johnson, NASA Planetary Defense Officer.
The NASA It has participated in seven impact scenarios: four in previous Planetary Defense Conferences (2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019) and three in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
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