An international team of space explorers recently teamed up to test what could happen if Earth were threatened by a large asteroid strike. The results of last year’s planet defense exercise have just been published and show the steps that should be taken if a planet-killing asteroid were aimed at us.
To simulate the threat, participants considered the asteroid Apophis. This real 1,100-foot-long asteroid will approach Earth in 2029 and 2068, but will not actually hit the planet. But because of the exercise, the participants figured out what could happen if it threatened the Earth at its most recent close approach between December 2020 and March 2021.
“This real scientific input has stretched the entire planet’s defense response chain, from initial detection to orbit determination to measuring the asteroid’s physical characteristics and even determining whether, and where, it could hit Earth,” said Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor at. the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona at Tucson, in a statement.
The asteroid was tracked by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, which collected information about its size and shape. This is important in estimating how much damage would be done by impact and has been used in simulations of possible impact locations on Earth. The idea is that this data could be sent to disaster agencies to aid their efforts in the case of a real arriving asteroid.
“Seeing the planetary defense community come together during Apophis’ latest upcoming approach was impressive, ”said Michael Kelley, a program scientist at PDCO, within NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Even during a pandemic, when many of the exercise participants were forced to work remotely, we were able to detect, track and learn more about potential danger with great effectiveness. The exercise was a huge success.”
The findings are published in The Planetary Science Journal.