Is Earth ready for a potentially catastrophic asteroid impact?
Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no. An international exercise to simulate an asteroid striking Earth is finished, and with its fictitious impact concluded, things aren't looking so hot for the 185-mile stretch between Prague and Munich.
It sounds like a game, but it's actually serious business. The exercise is being led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Center for Near Earth Object Studies and is meant to prepare scientists, planners, and key decision makers for the real deal, should it ever happen. This week-long tabletop exercise gathered experts from around the world with the goal to determine whether or not our current technologies, systems, and institutions could handle a crisis of this caliber.
Disasters are unpredictable, but that doesn't mean we should go willingly unprepared - that's why these simulation exercises are so important. During the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, fire trucks were blocked from reaching the facility because of the flooded roads. Could that issue have been foreseen? Possibly, and that's why we do these simulations.
Artist's conception of the DART mission, Image c/o NASA
This impact scenario was a five-day event where participants assumed various roles like a national government, a space agency, an astronomer, and so on. The group received daily briefings about the unfolding situation, which required them to think everything through and respond accordingly as new information arrived.
According to Gizmodo, which reported on this: "Before the tabletop simulation began, participants were given a preliminary description of the invented threat: An asteroid named “2021 PDC” was discovered on April 19, 2021 by astronomers in Hawaii. The object is 35 million miles (57 million km) away, and its closest approach to Earth will happen on October 20, 2021—a mere six months from now. The probability of impact was initially assessed at 1 in 2,500, which is relatively low. Importantly, however, this estimate was based on just two days of observations. The size of 2021 PDC couldn’t be discerned, with estimates between 115 feet (35 m) and 2,300 feet (700 m)."
Two years ago, the organizers of this event accidentally destroyed New York City - this year's exercise included an even broader region intersecting Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic. So far, it seems like we're 0/2, so I guess it's a good thing this is all fictional, right?
Although there isn't an actual impending asteroid threat right now, it's definitely important for our world's scientists and emergency responders to be prepared for anything. Sure, some things might fall through the cracks - like the fire trucks at Fukushima - but by running simulations and considering dozens of hypothetical scenarios, we can hopefully prevent tragedies from occurring.
What do you think about this - did you keep track of this simulation exercise at all? Share your thoughts with me!