Nasa simulation shows even nuclear bombs wouldn't stop a deadly asteroid impact

Bad news for anyone who thinks Bruce Willis and a few tonnes of plutonium will save Earth from any big asteroids heading our way.

The outcome of a simulated six month ‘planetary defence exercise’ carried out by Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) revealed even a nuclear blast wouldn’t save us from being wiped out.

The exercise was carried out over four days, from April 26 to April 29, and scientists were told they had a six month window to execute a plan to stop an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Their conclusion was that six months is too short a time to construct the necessary spaceship and that a nuclear blast wouldn’t work anyway.

This exercise is actually carried out every two years as part of the Planetary Defense Conference.

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This time around, the US and EU scientists were told about the existence of 2021PDC, which had a 5% chance of hitting Earth on October 20, 2021.

The first day of the simulation involved collecting data. On the second, they started to refine information about its orbit and trajectory. They worked out it was going to strike either Africa or Europe.

At first, they began to look at ways to prevent the asteroid striking in the first place.

However, the six-month window ‘did not allow a credible space mission to be undertaken, given the current state of technology,’ they reported.

They moved on to assessing whether a nuclear device would be able to break the asteroid apart.

Simulations showed that if a nuclear device made contact, the space rock could be decreased to a less destructive size, but not destroyed. The simulation suggested 2021PDC could be anywhere from 114 feet to half a mile in size and it is not clear if a giant bomb could take the asteroid down.

By the third day, the team had moved on to preparing the world for impact and narrowing down the impact area to Europe. Specifically, it would include Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia.

By day four, they had refined and analysed the asteroid’s size and physical characteristics. Suffice to say, it would wipe out all of Europe and have a sizeable effect on the climate and population of the rest of the world.

Lindley Johnson, Nasa’s Planetary Defense Officer, said: ‘Each time we participate in an exercise of this nature, we learn more about who the key players are in a disaster event, and who needs to know what information.

‘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.’ 

NASA has participated in seven impact scenarios—four at previous Planetary Defense Conferences (2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019) and three in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

Dr. Paul Chodas, director of Nasa’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), said: ‘Hypothetical asteroid impact exercises provide opportunities for us to think about how we would respond in the event that a sizeable asteroid is found to have a significant chance of impacting our planet.’

‘Details of the scenario—such as the probability of the asteroid impact, where and when the impact might occur—are released to participants in a series of steps over the days of the conference to simulate how a real situation might evolve.’

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