From April 26 to April 29, nine NASA scientists took part in an experiment called Space Mission Options for the Hypothetical Asteroid Impact Scenario, according to the Daily Mail.
Scientists were asked to imagine that astronomers have detected in space, at a distance of 55 million kilometers from Earth, a giant asteroid heading in our direction. In six months, it can crash into our planet with disastrous consequences. A rescue plan must be developed to prevent an impact. For four days, using all the technologies available today: the world's largest telescope, radar systems, data visualization, etc., scientists tried to understand how events would develop in the event of a real emergency.
The first day of the experiment - April 19, 2021
Employees of the University of Hawaii, working as part of the NASA Planetary Defense Program, during the study of near-Earth objects, discovered an asteroid, dubbed 2021PDC. The asteroid is located 55 million kilometers from Earth. There is a 5% chance that PDC will crash into our planet on October 20, 2021.
Experiment Day 2 - May 2, 2021
Astronomers analyzed additional data to refine the 2021PDC orbit and collision probability. To do this, they used images taken in 2014, when the asteroid 2014 RC passed quite close to Earth. It turned out that the approaching asteroid has a 100% chance of colliding with the Earth - it will happen in Europe or North Africa. The team then began looking for solutions that would help prevent a collision.
At first, the developers considered the possibility of destroying the asteroid before the collision. However, they came to the conclusion that time is too short to carry out a reliable space mission with the available technologies. Then scientists suggested dropping a nuclear bomb on the asteroid, however, obstacles were also found here. Computer simulations have shown that the size of the asteroid is from 35 meters to 800 kilometers, and it is not known whether the bomb will be able to shoot it down.
The third day of the experiment - June 30, 2021
The whole world is preparing for a cosmic strike. Using the world's largest telescopes, astronomers from all countries continue to track 2021PDC every night. Thanks to this, they refine the asteroid's orbit and significantly narrow the area of its expected impact. According to the latest data, 2021PDC should fall in Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia or Croatia.
The fourth day of the experiment - October 14, 2021
There are six days left before the collision. Now 2021PDC is about 6.3 million kilometers from Earth, close enough for the Goldstone Observatory radio telescope in California to pinpoint the size and physical characteristics of the asteroid. It turned out that it is much smaller than expected, which means that the area of damage from the impact will also be smaller. With a 99% probability, the asteroid will crash into the Earth near the border of Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria.
This is the seventh such NASA exercise since 2013. Through such experiments, astronomers and the military are trying to figure out how best to respond to a danger if it becomes a reality, and to coordinate responses around the world.