The world's experts failed to save New York from an incoming asteroid impact during a simulation exercise at the 2019 IAA Planetary Defense Conference.
A Simulation To Prepare Earth For Potential Collisions
If a killer asteroid is spotted heading toward Earth, can humans do something to stop it?
This is one of the questions astronomers and engineers attempted to answer during the conference with a simulation exercise of an asteroid barreling to Earth.
Paul Chodas, a NASA engineer and the game simulation designer, explained to AFP that the killer asteroid is extremely unlikely to occur in real life.
"But we wanted the issues to be exposed and discussed," Chodas continued.
During the one week of the conference, the group that consisted of around 200 astronomers, engineers, and emergency response specialists were given information and made decisions in an attempt to save Earth from an asteroid making a beeline for the planet.
In the end, New York City was left in ruins from a huge chunk of asteroid that crashed in the city.
What Happened In The Simulation?
The simulation began with an alert warning the group that an asteroid with a diameter of about 330 to 1,000 feet has been calculated with a 1 percent chance of crashing on Earth on April 29, 2027. As months pass in the simulation, the probability of a collision rose to 10 percent and eventually 100 percent.
In 2021, NASA sent a probe into space to check out the asteroid up close. Then by the end of the year, astronomers confirmed that the asteroid will hit Denver and destroy the city completely.
As a response, United States, Europe, Russia, China, and Japan banded together to develop six "kinetic impactors" that are meant to hit the asteroid and change its trajectory enough to prevent it from hitting Earth. The launch was slated for August 2024.
To some extent, the kinetic impactors were successful, hitting the asteroid with enough force to deflect it from Earth. However, a chunk broke off and continued to travel to Earth. This time, the fragment headed toward eastern United States, specifically New York City.
While the country initially planned to deflect the 197-foot rock, political strife curtailed the plans.
With only two months to go in the simulation, it was confirmed that the asteroid is on its way to destroy the city of New York. At this point, there's nothing else to do but evacuate.
This fictional asteroid will enter Earth's atmosphere at 43,000 miles per hour. When it's 9.3 miles above Central Park, it will explode with a blast that's 1,000 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.
The blast will kill everything within a 9.3-mile radius and the damage will stretch as far as 42 miles.
However, it's not the end of the world and more issues arise from such a scenario. Some of the problems that the experts discussed during the conference include evacuation, displacement, citizen lives, insurance, legal, and many more.
For instance, Alissa Haddaji, who coordinated the international space lawyers who tackled legal issues in these scenarios, pointed out that the United States saved Denver at the expense of New York.
"In this situation, under international law, the United States, regardless of fault, as the launching state, would absolutely be liable to pay compensation," explained Haddaji.
Even if such a collision is unlikely in the foreseeable future, it's important to prepare for future possibilities.
"Bringing together the disaster management community and the scientific community is critical to preparing for a potential asteroid impact in the future," said Leviticus Lewis of the Response Operations Division for FEMA in a statement to NASA. "This exercise is valuable in that it continues the work currently in progress to identify key questions and issues for this low probability but high consequence scenario."