NASA, FEMA and other national and international agencies are once again preparing for a hypothetical asteroid preparedness scenario. They hope to learn the best strategies for responding to a potential strike, beginning with the moment when the endangered asteroid was first discovered by astronomers.
The next week marks the start of the International Conference on Planetary Defense of Astronautics. As part of this conference, NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Unit will team up with other partners to conduct "exercise exercises" on how they will handle the news of a (fictitious) asteroid collision with Earth.
Again, the following is invented.
On March 26, 2019, astronomers discovered an asteroid in the night sky, much darker than Pluto on their telescopes. They call it 2019 PDC. Initially, it seems that the asteroid's orbital asteroid is about 18 times the distance of the Moon from Earth, with a chance to hit the Earth at one in 50,000 in 2027.
Astronomers continue to follow the subject as it approaches. They learn that it can be somewhere between 100 and 300 meters wide – the size of a skyscraper. After a month of monitoring, the likelihood of a collision with the Earth is now 1 percent – the threshold at which international organizations have agreed to take action.
Astronomers are capable of creating a "risky corridor", measuring where the asteroid can hit. Its potential pathways intersect with the United States, with some Western Africa, the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean.
Although the exercise itself, these are the calculations that astronomers have to make when a real asteroid comes close to Earth. The invented PDC 2019 describes a "potentially dangerous asteroid", one that orbits close to Earth and can have a devastating impact if it actually hits the planet. Scientists recently performed a similar simulation of this, following the close asteroid as if it were a real threat. The new simulation will instead focus less on scientific issues, and more on the government's response.
This simulation is the sixth Earth-based Earth Survey that NASA participated. Not only do these exercises help NASA officials think about what they will do in case of threat, but also help them know which information is most important for FEMA and other agencies.
"What emergency managers want to know is when and where and how an asteroid will affect, as well as the type and extent of the damage that can happen," said Leviticus Lewis of the FEMA Operations Response Department in a press release announcing NASA.
We will follow news from the conference next week and we will report interesting events. You can also follow the Twitter account managed by the European Space Agency, @ operations, which will share updates in real time from the exercise.