Summary List Placement
Scientists around the world have been bamboozled this week by a fictitious asteroid heading toward Earth.
A group of experts from US and European space agencies attended a week-long exercise led by NASA in which they faced a hypothetical scenario: An asteroid 35 million miles away was approaching the planet and could hit within six months.
With each passing day of the exercise, the participants learned more about the asteroid’s size, trajectory, and chance of impact. Then they had to cooperate and use their technological knowledge to see if anything could be done to stop the space rock.
The experts fell short. The group determined that none of Earth’s existing technologies could stop the hypothetical asteroid from striking given the six-month timeframe of the simulation. In this alternate reality, the asteroid crashed into eastern Europe.
As far as we know, no asteroids currently pose a threat to Earth in this way. But an estimated two-thirds of asteroids 460 feet in size or bigger — large enough to wreak considerable havoc — remain undiscovered. That’s why NASA and other agencies are attempting to prepare for such a situation.
“These exercises ultimately help the planetary-defense community communicate with each other and with our governments to ensure we are all coordinated should a potential impact threat be identified in the future,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer, said in a press release.
6 months is not enough time to prepare for an asteroid impact
The fictitious asteroid in the simulation was called 2021PDC. In NASA’s scenario, it was first “spotted” on April 19, at which time it was thought to have a 5% of hitting our planet on October 20, six months after its discovery date.
But Day 2 of the exercise fast-forwarded to May 2, when new impact-trajectory calculations showed that 2021PDC would almost certainly hit either Europe or northern Africa. The participants in the simulation considered various missions in which spacecraft could try to destroy the asteroid or deflect it off its path.
But they concluded that such missions wouldn’t be able to get off the ground in the short amount of time before the asteroid’s impact.
“If confronted with the 2021PDC hypothetical scenario in real life, we would not be able us to launch any spacecraft on such short notice with current capabilities,” the participants said.
They also considered trying to blow up or disrupt the asteroid using a nuclear explosive device.
“Deploying a nuclear disruption mission could significantly reduce the risk of impact damage,” they found.
Still, the simulation stipulated that 2021PDC could be anywhere from 114 feet to half a mile in size, so the chance that a nuke could make a dent was uncertain.
Day 3 of the exercise skipped ahead to June 30, and Earth’s future looked grim: 2021PDC’s impact trajectory showed it headed for eastern Europe. By Day 4, which fast-forwarded to a week before the asteroid impact, there was a 99% chance the asteroid would hit near the border between Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria. The explosion would bring as much energy as …read more
Source:: Business Insider
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