Of all the things worth worrying about as you go about your day, an impending doomsday asteroid hurtling towards Earth is not one of them. But if you're the type to descend into panic and dread over such things, you should find some comfort in knowing that NASA and a whole bunch of other very smart folks are about to conduct a test run of how they'd deal with that exact threat.
NASA, FEMA, and a handful of other national and international agencies will simulate a catastrophic asteroid strike next with a drill that will help them prepare for the real deal. The exercise will pit them against a fictional asteroid on a collision course with Earth in an effort to better understand how they would all react to such a threat should one ever actually materialize. The whole shebang will go down at the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference, which kicks off Monday, April 29, in Washington, DC.
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The drill, dubbed the Hypothetical Asteroid Impact Scenario, is exceptionally detailed, and includes a full backstory on how the (again, not real) asteroid was first discovered and how subsequent tracking of it has revealed some critical details. Everything from its "eccentric" orbit, to its size (between 100 and 300 meters wide), to the chances it'll make a direct hit (one in 100), are outlined in the simulation. Even potential hit zones around the globe (referred to as "risk corridors") are identified.
Using the available data, the teams will be tasked with hatching plans to deal with it, whether that means conducting further research on its path or even attempting to knock it off course. It's also a chance for organizations like FEMA to figure out the sorts of critical info they'd need to best prepare for destruction on the ground in specific areas.
“These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defense community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, in a press release. “This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments.”
As intense as this all sounds, it's not at all the first of its kind. In fact, NASA has participated in six previous impact exercises, including three others FEMA was involved in, according to TechCrunch.
“NASA and FEMA will continue to conduct periodic exercises with a continually widening community of U.S. government agencies and international partners,” said Johnson. “They are a great way for us to learn how to work together and meet each other’s needs and the objectives laid out in the White House National [near earth object] Preparedness Action Plan.”
Just something to keep in mind next time you catch yourself breaking into a cold sweat watching Armageddon.