“SMALL ASTEROID TO IMPACT OVER NEW YORK CITY’S CENTRAL PARK IN 10 DAYS”
So reads the fake press release for day five of the fictional impact event at this year’s Planetary Defense Conference. Asteroid experts from around the world gathered together last week to try saving our planet from simulated celestial doom. They almost succeeded, too, but actually managed to make things slightly worse for New York City.
You can check out full coverage of the event over at ESA’s official blog, or view all the PDFs and other files at NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies.
Suffice it to say, the simulation played out like a bad game of Dungeons & Dragons. Over the course of five days, the experts were given daily updates about the fictional asteroid and its possible collision with Earth. Their goal? To devise realistic plans to save our world from deadly impact.
Here’s a brief summary of how things went down (literally):
- Day One (April 29, 2019): A seemingly innocuous press release pops up — not unlike the kind you’ve probably skimmed over yourself many times in the past — about a distant asteroid that has a small chance (1%) of hitting Earth in the future. Say, April 29, 2027. The asteroid is roughly 330 to 1,000 feet in size.
- Day Two (July 29, 2019): The probably of impact increases to 10%.
- Day Three (December 30, 2021): Things get bad. The asteroid is predicted to hit Denver, Colorado on April 29, 2027 with 100% certainty. This prompts our experts to enact a plan. They begin working on a fleet of six kinetic impactor spacecraft that will be sent to the asteroid to hopefully hit it and change its trajectory.
- Day Four (September 3, 2024): Success! Mostly. While the kinetic impactor spacecrafts made contact with the asteroid, they only managed to deflect its main body. A smaller fragment, though still large, remains on course to hit Earth. At 165 to 260 feet in size, its location of impact is now thought to be somewhere in the Eastern United States or the Atlantic Ocean.
- Day Five (April 19, 2027): It’s now known with 100% certainty that the asteroid fragment will impact over Central Park in New York City on April 29, 2027, leaving only 10 days to prepare and evacuate. The asteroid explosion will “release 5 to 20 megatons of energy in the airburst,” which will be something like 1,000 times as powerful as the nuclear bomb that hit Hiroshima.
A little success, a little failure. A big explosion.
According to AFP, previous simulated asteroid impacts included two disasters involving the French Riviera and Dhaka, while 2017’s exercise managed to spare Tokyo from a fiery end by blowing the asteroid up with a nuclear bomb.
The same method wasn’t used this time around due to “political disagreements.” So it goes. AFP also highlights the interesting situation the United States would find itself in, having helped to save Denver but dooming New York in the process. By meddling, did NASA (and the U.S. government by extension) become responsible?
Let’s hope we never have to find out here in the real world.