Nasa spent the last month preparing for an asteroid impact

Nasa has been running a simulation over a potential asteroid impact (Credits: Getty Images)

Nasa has been spending the last month preparing for an asteroid impact.

Wait, what?

Apparently the US space agency has been working on a hypothetical response to an impact in North Carolina.

Thankfully, the ‘substantial regional damage’ that would ensue is only part of a first-ever simulation designed to assess America’s ability to respond effectively to an asteroid impact threat to Earth.

The government agencies, along with other federal, state and local agencies, convened for the fourth iteration of the so-called Planetary Defense Interagency Tabletop Exercise.

So it’s not just a response to watching Don’t Look Up on Netflix.

Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at Nasa HQ, said: ‘While Nasa has previously led and participated in simulated asteroid impact scenarios, this specific exercise marked the first time an end-to-end simulation of this type of disaster was studied, to include assessing a scenario from discovery of the asteroid impact threat through the aftermath effects of its hypothetical impact with Earth.’

Later this year, Nasa’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will be the world’s first mission to demonstrate technology for defending Earth against potential asteroid impacts.

DART, which is currently on its way to a well-known asteroid that is not a threat to Earth, will squarely impact the moon of the asteroid to change its motion in space such that it can be accurately measured using ground-based telescopes.

‘An asteroid impact to our planet is potentially the only natural disaster humanity is capable of accurately predicting and preventing,’ added Johnson.

The space agency has sent a satellite out into the void to smash into an asteroid and alter its trajectory (Credits: Shutterstock)

‘Conducting exercises of this nature enable government stakeholders to identify and resolve potential issues before real-world actions to respond to an actual asteroid impact threat would ever be needed.’

While there are no predicted asteroid impact threats to our planet for the foreseeable future, this exercise focused extensively on federal and state government coordination that would be necessary for the US to respond to such a threat should one ever be discovered.

Conducted in part to address activities called for in the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan, which outlines the nation’s strategy to address the hazard posed by near-Earth objects (NEOs), exercises of this nature are one of the many activities the government regularly conducts related to potential natural disasters to ensure our nation’s preparedness for any occurrence.

How Nasa’s simulation exercise worked

Leonardo DiCaprio, left, and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Don’t Look Up.’ (Credits: AP)

Over the course of two days, multiple US government agency officials worked through a detailed hypothetical scenario in which astronomers ‘discover’ a simulated asteroid, designated 2022 TTX, that has a probability of impacting the Earth six months after its discovery.

As more information was revealed to exercise participants through a series of modules, it became clear the (simulated) asteroid, which is large enough to cause substantial regional damage, would indeed impact Earth near Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Specific details of the asteroid such as its size-and therefore its impact energy and detailed damage it would cause-remained highly uncertain until just days before the asteroid’s simulated impact, mimicking how this information could unfold in the real world due to limitations of current capabilities, including ground-based radar technology, which requires an object to be within a relatively close proximity to Earth for current facilities to image and analyse.

Thus, exercise participants navigated remaining in close coordination across federal and state government levels to ensure all stakeholders knew how and where to access information as it became available to planetary defence experts.

A CGI graphic showing the impact from an asteroid striking Earth at 40,000mph, 66 million years ago. (Credits: Barcroft Productions / BBC)

Nasa says the completion of this interagency asteroid impact exercise marks another important milestone for the agency’s efforts in planetary defence, which continue to ramp up.

Meanwhile, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is designed to validate asteroid deflection computer models and demonstrate kinetic impact deflection as one viable method of responding to a future asteroid threat.

However, for a technology like DART to be viable, it is imperative an impact threat be discovered with enough warning time-many years to a decade in advance.

Thus, the development continues on the agency’s Near-Earth Object Surveyor mission (NEO Surveyor), which will be an infrared space telescope specifically designed to expedite the agency’s ability to discover and characterize most of the potentially hazardous NEOs, including those that may approach Earth from the daytime sky.


MORE :
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