NASA on the role-playing sport of what would occur if an asteroid hit Earth

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This image was captured by the crew of International Space Station Expedition 59 as they orbited 400 kilometers over Quebec, Canada. In the center right, the annular lake is a modern reservoir within the eroded remnant of an old impact crater 100 kilometers in diameter that is over 200 million years old. NASA, International Space Station Expedition 59

This week, space agencies from around the world will be dropping everything to find out if our planet is hit by a giant asteroid. You don’t need to stock up on canned food or survival goods, however, as the asteroid impact is hypothetical and the planning is part of a scenario that was conducted at the 7th IAA Planetary Defense Conference.

Members of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) will work with other space scientists to simulate how authorities, governments and ordinary people would react if our planet were threatened by an asteroid. Within five days, they simulate a developing scenario of an impact and have to adjust their responses to new incoming (albeit fictitious) data.

“Every time we take part in an exercise of this type, we learn more about who are the key players in a disaster event and who needs to know what information and when,” NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said in a statement. “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 threat to the impact be identified in the future.”

We now have an increasingly sophisticated telescope system that allows asteroids or comets approaching Earth to be labeled Potentially Hazardous Objects (PHO). But how should we react when we identify such an object on a collision course with the planet? That is what the exercise is designed to consider as part of a strategy for protecting the planets.

“Hypothetical asteroid impact exercises give us a chance to think about how we would react if a sizeable asteroid had a significant chance of affecting our planet,” said Dr. Paul Chodas, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Center for Near Near Object Studies (CNEOS). “Details of the scenario – such as the probability of the asteroid impact, where and when the impact could occur – will be communicated to the participants in a series of steps during the days of the conference in order to simulate how a real situation might develop.”

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