What would we do if a massive asteroid threatened to crash into our planet? To answer this question, NASA organized an impact simulation with several researchers. Who finally recognized that it was impossible to prevent the collision.
Last November, asteroid 2020 VT4 had grazed us, passing just 380 kilometers from Earth. Very modest in size, however, there was nothing threatening about him. Still, we cannot predict the future and the possibility of the future arrival of a much larger asteroid is plausible. Serious threats to our planet, two thirds of asteroids measuring at least 140 meters are still unknown to researchers.
Faced with this observation, NASA organized an asteroid impact simulation by submitting a disaster scenario to American and European researchers. Along the way, astronomers have had additional information about its dimensions and trajectory. They were thus invited to find a way to stop a hypothetical asteroid (2021PDC) located 35 million kilometers away. Which is likely to hit Earth in six months maximum. Bad news, they failed to find a solution to prevent the impact.
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Impact simulation: Earth disarmed against the threat of an asteroid
At the start of the simulation, researchers discovered the presence of the fictitious asteroid on April 19. They were then able to calculate that the chance of impact was 5% in six months. The exercise then took place at high speed until May 2, when they were able to conclude that the minor planet would crash into North Africa or Europe.
To prevent the collision, scientists argued that it was necessary to launch a spacecraft to pulverize the celestial object or change its trajectory. A mission, however, impossible to carry out within such a tight deadline. The participants also thought of mobilizing a nuclear explosive device. But it was not certain that the latter would manage to make a dent in 2021PDC (whose size is between 60 centimeters and 8 meters).
On the third day of exercise, they found that the asteroid was heading towards Eastern Europe. A week before the collision (fourth day of testing), the researchers identified the area of impact almost certain. Which was at the junction between Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. The only solution remaining: evacuate the populations to prevent them from being hit by this asteroid whose explosion would cause as much energy as a nuclear bomb.
For information, NASA is currently working on the design of a very fast spacecraft that would deflect the trajectory of a minor planet by hitting it. The space agency plans to test the DART spacecraft this year by sending it to the asteroid Dimorphos.