NASA and federal emergency responders ran simulations on how to deal with a “city-killer” asteroid coming close to hitting the planet.
Officials simulated what to do if a “city-killer” asteroid with a 2 percent probability of impact neared the Earth on Sept. 20, 2020. As the asteroid got closer, the simulated odds of an impact ultimately increased to 100 percent, with the strike likely to crash into Southern California.
The simulated asteroid was around 800 feet in diameter, with a possibility of making impact anywhere along a long swath of Earth, including the U.S. Such an asteroid could strike with a force about 55 times stronger than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima near the end of World War II. That’s more than enough force to level a city.
“It’s not a matter of if—but when—we will deal with such a situation,” Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, an administrator at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a press statement. “But unlike any other time in our history, we now have the ability to respond to an impact threat through continued observations, predictions, response planning and mitigation.”
In the simulation, NASA was unable to launch a deflection mission in time, causing the asteroid to eventually slam into the ocean just off Southern California. Federal Energy Management Agency (FEMA) personnel were forced to coordinate to a mass evacuation of the metropolitan Los Angeles area due to a potential tsunami and impact damage.
Global asteroid detection programs found more than 15,228 near-Earth objects of all sizes with 1,614 new near-Earth objects being identified this year alone, according to International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planets Center. These newly discovered near-Earth objects are part of a much larger population of more than 700,000 known asteroids in our solar system.
NASA and its European partners are now focused on finding objects that are 450 feet in diameter or larger, which could devastate a city or country if they struck Earth.
In the event an asteroid can’t be prevented from hitting Earth, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office would work with FEMA, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies to coordinate disaster response.
The federal “omnibus” budget approved last month includes $50 million for near-earth object observations and planetary defense, up from just $4 million in 2010.
Four asteroids came uncomfortably close to Earth earlier this month, according to NASA’s Asteroid and Comet Watch.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters in 2013 that the only response to a possible asteroid collision with Earth is to “Pray.”
A different asteroid came disturbingly close to Earth in March, and was 16 times closer to Earth than the Moon. It actually passed closer to the world than many communications satellites. Though Earth is safe for now, NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies identifies a 1-in-250-million chance the asteroid could impact Earth on Sept. 28, 2017.
NASA was forced to once again in September to ask the private sector for help carrying its troubled mission to redirect an asteroid heading towards Earth. The space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory asked private companies to help it design, develop and build a robotic spacecraft to capture a multi-ton asteroid boulder in deep space and haul it into orbit around the moon. NASA has already accepted help from the private companies Lockheed Martin, Space Systems/Loral, Boeing and Orbital ATK.
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