- The world’s space agencies participated in a simulation conducted by NASA of the hypothesis of an asteroid impact.
- The experts who participated had to react to the discovery of a fictitious trajectory of an asteroid.
- They failed to prevent it from crashing into Europe – proving what we are unprepared for such a crisis.
This week, scientists from various parts of the world were bewildered by a fake asteroid headed for Europe.
A group of experts from US and European space agencies has imprisoned part a a week-long exercise conducted by NASA in which he faced a hypothetical scenario: an asteroid 56 million kilometers from Earth headed for the planet could hit it within six months.
Each day, participants learned more about the asteroid’s size, trajectory, and impact possibilities. They had to cooperate and use their technical knowledge to understand what could be done to stop space rock.
They have not succeeded. The group concluded that none of the technologies existing on Earth would have prevented the asteroid from striking, despite the six-month period covered by the simulation. In this alternate reality, the asteroid crashed into Eastern Europe.
As far as we know, no asteroids are threatening Earth in this way, but it is estimated that two-thirds of asteroids 140 meters or larger – large enough to wreak major havoc – are still unknown. That’s why NASA and other space agencies are trying to prepare for a similar situation.
“Ultimately, these drills help the planetary defense community communicate internally and with governments to ensure they are all coordinated in case the threat of a potential impact is identified in the future,” Lindley said in a news release. Johnson, NASA planetary defense officer.
6 months are not enough to prepare for the impact of an asteroid
The fake asteroid in the simulation was called 2021PDC. In NASA’s hypothesis, it was “sighted”The first time on April 19, and after a week the scientists were able to calculate that he had a chance of the 5% to hit our planet on 20 October.
The second day of the exercise jumped to May 2nd, when new calculations about the trajectory showed that 2021PDC would have almost certainly hit Europe or North Africa. Participants in the simulation considered various missions in which a spacecraft could have tried to destroy the asteroid or divert its path.
But they concluded that such a mission would not have been able to leave the ground in the short time available before impact of the asteroid.
“If we were to face the hypothetical scenario of 2021PDC in real life, with current capabilities we would not be able to take off any spacecraft at such short noticeParticipants said.
They also thought of try to detonate or obstruct the asteroid using a nuclear device.
“Deploying a nuclear jamming mission could significantly reduce the risk of impact damage,” they said.
But the simulation still determined that 2021PDC could have dimensions between 34 and 800 meters, so the possibility that a nuclear device could leave a mark was uncertain.
The third day of the exercise passed to the June 30th, and the future of the Earth was darkening: the impact trajectory of 2021PDC showed that it would end on Eastern Europe. On the fourth day, one week before impact of the asteroid, the chance of the asteroid crashing near the border between Germany, Czech Republic and Austria was 99%. The explosion would have released the energy of a large atomic bomb.
The only thing that could be done was to evacuate the affected regions.
Most asteroids go unnoticed, and many are detected too late
It is tempting to speculate that in the real world, astronomers would sight an asteroid similar to 2021PDC much earlier than six months. But the world’s ability to control near-Earth (NEO) objects is woefully lacking.
Any space rock with an orbit within 195 million kilometers from the sun is considered a NEO. But, as Johnson said in July, NASA believes that “we have discovered about a third of the asteroid population out there that could present an Earth impact hazard.”
Of course, humanity is hoping to avoid a surprise similar to that experienced by the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, when a 9.6 kilometers wide asteroid crashed into Earth. But in recent years, scientists have missed a lot of large dangerous objects that have passed by.
The kite Neowise, a 4.8-kilometer-wide block of space ice passed 103 million kilometers from Earth in July. No one knew of its existence until four months ago, a NASA space telescope found it was approaching.
In 2013, a meteorite about 20 meters in diameter entered the atmosphere at a speed of 64 km / h. It exploded over Chelyabinsk, in Russia, without warning, unleashing a shock wave that shattered windows, damaged buildings across the region and injured over 1,400 people.
And in 2019, a 130-meter-wide “city-killer” asteroid flew 72 kilometers from Earth. NASA had almost no warning.
That’s why the only way scientists can track a NEO is to point one of the few powerful ground-based telescopes in the right direction at the right time.
To address this problem, NASA announced two years ago that it would build a space telescope dedicated to observing dangerous asteroids. The telescope, called Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission – together with the new Test-Bed Telescope of the European Space Agency and the Flyeye Telescope under construction in Italy – should finally increase the amount of traceable NEOs.
NASA is experimenting with ways to get in the way of an asteroid
NASA has been studying the possibilities that scientists would have if they were to discover a dangerous asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Among these: detonating an explosive device near the space rock, as suggested by the participants of the exercise, or firing lasers that can heat and vaporize the asteroid to the point of changing its path.
Another possibility is to send a spacecraft to crash into the oncoming asteroid, diverting its trajectory. It is the strategy taken most seriously by NASA: towards the end of the year, the agency is expected to start testing a smile technology. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test will send a spacecraft to the asteroid Dimorphos to intentionally hit it in the fall of 2022.
NASA hopes the collision will change Dimorphos’ orbit. And while this asteroid poses no threat to Earth, the mission could prove that, with enough time, it is possible to reorient an asteroid.