NASA has simulated an asteroid striking New York, as the US space agency readies for the worst-case scenario.
The French Riviera was decimated in 2013, then Dhaka was destroyed in 2015 but Tokyo was saved in 2017. And NASA’s biennial asteroid impact simulation has just ended with its latest disaster – New York in ruins. But although this planetary defence exercise only simulates the worst-case scenario, NASA knows the threat of an asteroid strike is only too real.
Despite a simulated eight years of preparation, scientists and engineers tried but failed to deflect an apocalypse asteroid in NASA’s latest planetary defence exercise.
The simulation has become a regular event among the international community of “planetary defence” experts.
The latest edition began with the following alert: an asteroid approximately 330 to 1,000ft (100 to 300m) in diameter had been sighted and given a one percent chance of hitting the Earth on April 29, 2027.
The conference saw some 200 NASA staff, astronomers and emergency response specialists received new information, make decisions and receive further updates from the organisers of the game, designed by a NASA aerospace engineer.
As fictional months passed in the simulation, the probability of the giant space rock crashing into Earth rose to 10 percent – and then to 100 percent certainty.
NASA launched a probe in 2021 to examine the threat up close with astronomers later confirming the asteroid was headed straight to the Denver area and that the western US city would be destroyed.
The major space powers of the United States, Europe, Russia, China and Japan decided to build six “kinetic impactors” – probes designed to hit the asteroid and change its trajectory.
It took time to build the impactors and wait for the right launch window. The impacts were set for August 2024.
Three impactors managed to hit the asteroid. The main body was deflected, but a smaller fragment broke-off and continued on a deadly path, now towards the eastern US.
Washington considered sending a nuclear bomb to deflect the 60m space rock – replicating a successful strategy that saved Tokyo in the 2017 simulation – but it was crippled by political disagreements, meaning all that remained to do was prepare for impact.
With six months to go, experts could only predict that the asteroid was headed to the New York area.
The asteroid hurtled through the atmosphere at 43,000 mph (69,000 kmh) and exploded 9.3 miles (15km) over Central Park.
The energy of the blast was 1,000 times that of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
It will destroy everything within a 15 km “unsurvivable” radius, scientists said.
Manhattan will be completely razed. Windows as far as 45 kilometers away will shatter and damage will extend as far out as 68 km from the epicentre.
The questions raised by the scenario were endless, from how best to evacuate millions of people.
Victoria Andrews, NASA’s deputy planetary defence officer said: ”If you knew your home was going to be destroyed six months from now, and that you weren’t going back again, would you keep paying your mortgage?”
Participants debated insurance and legal issues at length: the United States did save Denver, but accidentally destroyed New York.
Alissa Haddaji, coordinator of a group of 15 international space lawyers said: ”In this situation, under international law, the United States, regardless of fault, as the launching state, would absolutely be liable to pay compensation.”
The fictional killer asteroid is, of course, “highly unlikely,” Paul Chodas, the NASA engineer who is the game’s designer, added.
“But we wanted the issues to be exposed and discussed.”
The next simulation exercise will take place in 2021 in Vienna.
Mr Chodas left open the possibility that it will be Europe’s turn in the line of fire.
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