This week, scientists all over the world were inhabited by a hypothetical asteroid to Earth fans.
A group of experts from the United States and the European Space Agency participated in a week-long exercise conducted by NASA. They faced a hypothetical scenario: an asteroid 35 million miles away is approaching the planet and may hit it within six months. .
Every day of the exercise, participants learned more about the size, trajectory, and impact probability of the asteroid. Then they must cooperate and use their technical knowledge to see if any measures can be taken to stop the space rock.
The experts failed to do it. The team determined that within the six-month simulation time frame, no existing technology on Earth could prevent a hypothetical asteroid impact. In this alternative reality, the asteroid crashed into Eastern Europe.
As far as we know, no asteroid currently poses a threat to the Earth in this way. However, it is estimated that two-thirds of asteroids that are approximately 460 feet or larger have not yet been discovered and are large enough to cause serious damage. That̵
NASA’s planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said at a press conference: “These exercises will ultimately help the planetary defense community communicate with each other and with our government to ensure that we all have access to potential threats in the future. coordination.”
6 months is not enough time to prepare for an asteroid impact
The virtual asteroid in the simulation is called 2021PDC. In the NASA scenario, it was first “discovered” on April 19, when it was believed to hit 5% of our planet on October 20, six months after the discovery date.
But the second day of the exercise soon reached May 2, when the new impact trajectory calculations showed that the 2021 PDC will almost certainly attack Europe or North Africa. Participants in the simulation considered various missions in which the spacecraft could attempt to destroy or de-orbit asteroids.
But they concluded that such a mission would not be able to start in the short time before the asteroid impact.
Participants said: “If we encounter the hypothetical situation of 2021 PDC in real life, we will not be able to launch any spacecraft with existing capabilities in such a short period of time.”
They are also considering using nuclear explosive devices to blow up or destroy asteroids.
They found: “Deploying a nuclear sabotage mission can greatly reduce the risk of collision loss.”
Nevertheless, the simulation still stipulates that the size of the 2021 PDC may be between 114 feet and half a mile, so the possibility that nuclear weapons may dents is uncertain.
The third day of the exercise jumped to June 30, and the future of the earth looks grim: the trajectory of the influence of the PDC in 2021 indicates that it will head to Eastern Europe. By the 4th day, the week before the asteroid impact, there is a 99% chance that the asteroid will hit near the border between Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. The explosion will bring as much energy as a large nuclear bomb.
All that can be done is to evacuate the affected area in advance.
Most asteroids fly under the radar, many asteroids are discovered too late
The tempting hypothesis is that in the real world, astronomers will find an asteroid similar to 2021PDC, and it will take more than six months to attract attention. However, the world’s ability to monitor near-Earth objects (NEO) is seriously incomplete.
Any space rock that has an orbit within 125 million miles of the sun is considered a near-Earth object. But Johnson said in July that NASA believes that “we only found one third of the total number of asteroids that could pose a risk of impact on the Earth.”
Of course, humans want to avoid accidents like the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, when a 6-mile-wide asteroid crashed into the earth. But in recent years, scientists have missed many large dangerous objects approaching.
In July, a 3-mile-wide space ice block of Comet Neowise crossed 64 million miles of Earth. No one knew about the comet’s existence until the NASA Space Telescope discovered it four months ago.
In 2013, a meteor with a diameter of about 65 feet entered the atmosphere at a speed of 40,000 mph. It exploded in Chelyabinsk, Russia without warning, sending out shock waves, breaking windows in the entire area and damaging buildings. More than 1,400 people were injured.
In 2019, a 427-foot-wide “urban killer” asteroid flew within 45,000 miles of Earth. NASA hardly warned about this.
This is because currently, the only way for scientists to track NEO is to point at one of the limited number of powerful telescopes on Earth at the right time and in the right direction.
In order to solve this problem, NASA announced two years ago that it will launch a new space telescope dedicated to observing dangerous asteroids. The telescope is called the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission, coupled with the European Space Agency’s newly launched test-bed telescope and the Flyeye telescope made in Italy, will eventually increase the number of near-Earth objects we can track.
NASA is testing ways to suppress asteroids
NASA has investigated the options scientists might have when looking for dangerous asteroids during a collision with the Earth. These measures include detonating explosive devices near space rocks as suggested by participants, or launching lasers that may heat and vaporize the asteroid enough to change its path.
Another possibility is to send a spacecraft into a violently impacted asteroid, thereby de-orbiting it. This is NASA’s most important strategy: later this year, the agency plans to test this technology. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will send a spacecraft to the asteroid Dimorphos and intend to hit it in the fall of 2022.
NASA hopes that the collision will change the orbit of Dimorphos. Although that asteroid is not a threat to Earth, the mission may prove that it is possible to redirect the asteroid before sufficient delivery time.