An international team of space researchers recently met to test what might happen if Earth were threatened by a large asteroid impact. The results of the planetary defense exercise, which occurred last year, have been published recently and show the steps that would have to be taken if a planet-killing asteroid were headed our way.
To simulate the threat, the participants considered the asteroid Apophis. This actual 1,100-foot-long asteroid will come close to Earth in 2029 and 2068, but won’t actually hit the planet. But for the sake of the exercise, participants worked out what might have happened if it had threatened Earth on its most recent close approach between December 2020 and March 2021.
“This real-world scientific input tested the entire planetary defense response chain, from initial detection to orbit determination, measurement of the physical characteristics of the asteroid, and even determining if, and where, it might hit Earth. said Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in a release.
The asteroid was tracked using the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission (NEOWISE) from NASA, which collected information about its size and shape. This is important for estimating how much damage would be done by an impact and was used in simulations of possible impact locations on Earth. The idea is that this data could be sent to disaster agencies to help their efforts in the event of an actual incoming asteroid.
“Seeing the planetary defense community come together during Apophis’ last close approach was impressive,” said Michael Kelley, program scientist with 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 a potential hazard with great efficiency. The exercise was a resounding success.”
The findings are published in The Planetary Science Journal.