Space

NASA Just Simulated an Asteroid Attack. It Did Not End Well for Earth.

Space agencies around the world took part in the simulation that ended with the asteroid crashing into Eastern Europe.
May 4, 2021, 12:50pm
Image of an asteroid hitting the Earth
Photo: Pixabay

Most of us know the story of how dinosaurs were wiped out after an asteroid hit Earth. What if this happened to humans, too?

A NASA simulation programme had scientists and experts from the U.S. and European space agencies bamboozled when they were faced with that hypothetical scenario. The scientists were told that an asteroid 35 million miles away was approaching and could hit Earth within six months. 

If this were a sci-fi movie, scientists would immediately get to work and miraculously save the planet with a last-minute plan followed by a feel-good cheer in their workstations. Well… things didn’t exactly pan out that way here.

After analysing the fictional asteroid’s characteristics and the chances of it hitting Earth, scientists failed to stop it from crashing into our planet. The asteroid hit Eastern Europe between Prague, Czech Republic and Bavaria. Experts concluded that our current asteroid defense technologies are not enough to beat an asteroid of this scale.

A map showing potential impact sites of the hypothetical asteroid 2021 PDC, which scientists created to spur interdisciplinary conversations about planetary defense.

A map showing potential impact sites of the hypothetical asteroid 2021 PDC, which scientists created to spur interdisciplinary conversations about planetary defense. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Each time we participate in an exercise of this nature, we learn more about who the key players are in a disaster event, and who needs to know what information, and when,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer said in a press statement. “These exercises ultimately help the planetary defense community communicate with each other and with our governments to ensure we are all coordinated should a potential impact threat be identified in the future.”

The exercise was a precursor to NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) programme, which is expected to launch later this year. The programme is the first-ever actual demonstration of an asteroid deflection technology, and the first test mission of the agency’s Planetary Defense programme. 

DART will impact the asteroid moon Dimorphos in September 2022. Dimorphos which means “two forms” will be close enough to Earth in 2022 to try out the asteroid defense technology. In 2022, NASA will be sending a spacecraft to crash into Dimorphos and change the asteroid moon’s orbit in space. NASA believes this could be a “key technique for mitigating a potentially hazardous asteroid that is on a collision path with Earth, should one be discovered in the future.”

Not all space rocks are bad, though. According to NASA, 30 new asteroids are discovered every week.

The agency has recorded over a million asteroids, so far. In fact, small particles from space make their way to Earth every day. We can see them on a regular basis, if we’re lucky. Meteoroids, which are much smaller than asteroids, turn into meteors once they enter the earth’s atmosphere and exhibit a bright light phenomenon. To the human eye, they are shooting stars. 

But the failure to control this asteroid’s impact, though fictional, is quite telling that our current technologies are underprepared for a situation like this.

However, do we really need to worry about an asteroid hitting our planet and ending mankind? Scientists earlier said that the asteroid Apophis is expected to hit Earth in 2029 but now, NASA has ruled out that risk. The agency’s analysis has shown the Earth is safe from Apophis for “at least a 100 years” and that the asteroid shall only closely pass Earth on April 13, 2029. It also happens to be Friday the 13th that day, just saying.

But in case of a potential asteroid collision, can we develop a weapon to save ourselves? Maybe a missile that shoots beams and disintegrates asteroids from miles away? Or can we spray an asteroid repellent around Earth? “An asteroid on a trajectory to impact Earth could not be shot down in the last few minutes or even hours before impact,” the NASA website reads. “No known weapon system could stop the mass because of the velocity at which it travels – an average of 12 miles (19.3 kilometres) per second.”

NASA is still hopeful about the DART programme and has stressed on the fact that for now, asteroids pose no danger to earth. “While the asteroid DART impacts poses no threat to Earth, it is in a perfect location for us to perform this test of the technology before it may actually be needed,” said Andrea Riley, a programme executive for DART at the NASA headquarters, in a statement.

So basically, if we do go extinct, we most likely will have no one to blame but ourselves. 

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