Planning for the ‘Earth shattering kaboom’

NASA, FEMA, International Partners Plan Asteroid Impact Exercise

While headlines routinely report on “close shaves” and “near-misses” when near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids or comets pass relatively close to Earth, the real work of preparing for the possibility of a NEO impact with Earth goes on mostly out of the public eye.


The Manicouagan impact crater in Quebec, Canada, is one of many reminders that asteroids have impacted Earth. Although large impacts are rare, it’s important to be prepared. That’s why NASA, other U.S. agencies and international partners gather periodically to simulate impact scenarios and discuss the best course of action for disaster mitigation. Credit: International Space Station 

For more than 20 years, NASA and its international partners have been scanning the skies for NEOs, which are asteroids and comets that orbit the Sun and come within 30 million miles (50 million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit. International groups, such as NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), the European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness-NEO Segment and the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) have made better communication of the hazards posed by NEOs a top priority.

In the spirit of better communication, next week at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference, NASA’s PDCO and other U.S. agencies and space science institutions, along with international partners, will participate in a “tabletop exercise” that will play out a realistic – but fictional – scenario for an asteroid on an impact trajectory with Earth.

A tabletop exercise of a simulated emergency commonly used in disaster management planning to help inform involved players of important aspects of a possible disaster and identify issues for accomplishing a successful response. In next week’s exercise, attendees at the conference will play out a fictional NEO impact scenario developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS).

“These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defense community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer. “This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments.”

This type of exercise is also specifically identified as part of the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan developed over a two-year period and published by the White House in June 2018.

These exercises are not tightly scripted. The point is to investigate how NEO observers, space agency officials, emergency managers, decision makers and citizens might respond to an actual impact prediction and evolving information. Next week’s exercise events will occur over the five days of the conference, with exercise leaders briefing participants on the status of the scenario at the end of each day and soliciting response ideas and feedback, based on the latest fictional data.

The scenario begins with the fictional premise that on March 26, astronomers “discovered” a NEO they consider potentially hazardous to Earth. After a “few months” of tracking, observers predict that this NEO – dubbed 2019 PDC – poses a 1 in 100 chance of impact with Earth in 2027 (in real life, the international community has decided that a 1 in 100 chance of impact is the threshold for action). Participants in this exercise will discuss potential preparations for asteroid reconnaissance and deflection missions and planning for mitigation of a potential impact’s effects.

NASA has participated in six NEO impact exercises so far – three at Planetary Defense Conferences (2013, 2015, 2017) and three jointly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The three NASA-FEMA exercises included representatives of several other federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense and State. Each exercise builds on lessons learned in the previous exercise.

What NASA has learned from working with FEMA is that emergency management officials are not focused on the scientific details about the asteroid. “What emergency managers want to know is when, where and how an asteroid would impact, and the type and extent of damage that could occur,” said Leviticus Lewis of the Response Operations Division for FEMA.

But the scientific details are what determine these things, so NASA-funded researchers continue to develop capabilities for determining more exact possible impact locations and effects, based on what could be observed about an asteroid’s position, orbital motion and characteristics, to be ready to produce the most accurate predictions possible in the event an actual impact threat were discovered.

“NASA and FEMA will continue to conduct periodic exercises with a continually widening community of U.S. government agencies and international partners,” said Johnson. “They are a great way for us to learn how to work together and meet each other’s needs and the objectives laid out in the White House National NEO Preparedness Action Plan.”

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54 thoughts on “Planning for the ‘Earth shattering kaboom’

    • It appears that there were multiple impacts at that time. There is that recent article about an impact in southern Chile being dated to that same time frame. Makes me wonder if those impacts are the reason why the current interglacial period has remained at such a prolonged sideways trajectory instead of having temps start the downward path some thousands of years ago. That could be due to the impacts taking out the remaining NH continental ice sheets all at once as well as impacting the permanent Greenland ice. So without the gradual reduction of the continental ice sheets that led to the Holocene warm temps holding in place all of this time with just a gradual reduction in global temps. I have always wondered why this current interglacial looks so different from the previous 4 interglacials. Maybe this was the reason why.

      • “So without the gradual reduction of the continental ice sheets that led to the Holocene warm temps holding in place all of this time with just a gradual reduction in global temps.”

        Subject? Predicate? Punctuation?

        • So without a more gradual reduction of the NH continental ice sheets over a longer period of time, that caused the Holocene warm temps to maintain the prolonged warm phase which is still ongoing in comparison to the previous 4 interglacial periods.

          I have been sharply out of focus since the beginning of this year. My overall health was heading down hill, and I was beginning to think that “This was the end”. Then by a complete coincidence I came to realize that I had a severe case of Iodine deficiency. That was just 15 days ago. I immediately purchased some iodized salt, and ordered Atlantic sea kelp pills from Amazon. I mixed 1/2 tsp of salt on that 1st day, and I could feel the effects several hours later. Then switched to the sea kelp pills when they arrived as salt is not so good for my heavily weakened kidneys. Amazingly, in the last 2 mornings my test strips for microalbumin content showed an improvement for the first time in the last 14 months. This afternoon for the first time I felt my mind clear, and good strength through out my body. Fourteen months ago I was told that I needed to immediately start dialysis or face death. I am still standing.

          • I went to see the doc awhile ago for muscle pain and tiredness, very aggravating and difficult at work- lots of memory problems, fuzzy thinking, lack of focus. They did some blood tests and found a massive vitamin D deficiency . 50,000 units a week for 5 years began to make a dent in it, thank God.

          • @ Philo …I was also deficient in D a year ago when they took a look at me. It is easy to remember vitamins B, C, D, and others, but who gives iodine a thought? My ex made a comment on FB dissing thyroid medicine prescribed by a doctor. So I went to my herbal web site to look up what their suggestions were, as I have had good success with some of their info at Herbpathy.

            There was a long list of symptoms from thyroid problems. As I read through that list I was truck by the thought that at least 8 of the symptoms applied to how I was feeling. Mainly fatigue, slight confusion, struggle with memory, neck muscle ache, and others. Then I noted a mention about iodine deficiency, and the lights went on onside. I took a look at my salt, and it was non iodized for canning purposes. Plus I seldom used salt anyway. Fourteen months earlier when they told me about my very low kidney function I stopped eating meat/chicken, but I had the bright idea to use prawns for protein. It was easy to cook 5 or 6 prawns and thus limit protein intake.

            At the beginning of this year, I didn’t buy the usual 2 pound bag of prawns because I was having freezer troubles. And that is why my health started going down hill after that, because the prawns meant that my iodine levels were minimal but sufficient. Without the seafood my body started having troubles in short order. I thought I was at the end of my rope. Then my ex made that comment on FB. Funny how things work sometimes. I found Puritan’s Pride sea kelp pills on Amazon, 250 pills for 8 dollars, and the effect in just 19 days now is amazing.

    • Adult deer, antelope, bison, buffalo, elk, moose and bears all weigh way over 100 lbs.

      And just because it seems that the “napping of Clovis flints” appears to have stopped @ 12.8kya doesn’t prove that the native Americans that performed said “napping” were all killed by comet strikes.

      The majority of all “Clovis sites” are located in Eastern part of North America, ….. to wit:

      “Clovis Point Sites Map”.
      http://people.uwec.edu/jolhm/EH3/Group8/clovisSites.jpg

      • Perhaps the Eastern part of North America was less impacted than the West , and Mid-west , thus explaining the paucity of Clovis sites in the Western region . Perhaps the largest Mega Fauna’s niche was out west . Do any Clovis sites exist , Carbon dated to less than 12800 ? In addition, I thought the finding , or defining characteristic , which distinguished Clovis from non-Clovis sites are the clovis flints . Are there other defining characteristics which distinguish these two groups ?

        • @ GUILLERMO SUAREZ

          That is correct, …… the finding and/or defining characteristic that define Clovis sites from non-Clovis sites are the “Clovis flints”.

          And keep in mind, GUILLERMO, the fact that America (US of A) is the only place that “Clovis flints” have ever been found and those sites have been dated from 13,200 to 12,900 (+-400) calendar years ago.

          BUT, those native Americans had to have been in America, hundreds, if not thousands of years prior to the aforesaid dates for them to “invent” the per se Clovis “point” and then teach their culture to both accept it and how to knap it. AFTER WHICH their culture migrated from the East coast of NA toward the West coast, ….. as per defined b the above cited “site map”

      • Coincidence is not causation.
        The referenced comet swarm may have caused the extinctions, or contributed to them [also, the relatively recent arrival in North America of Homo – with Big Game Hunter technologies; and, possibly coincident, the arrival of other (non-human) fauna, potentially bringing ‘strange’ diseases – could be involved].
        It appears at this time that we do not have clear definitive proof of the cause [or causes] of the extinctions.
        We have at least some candidates, although there may be more such: changing climate, anyone!?

        Auto

        • Coincidence is not causation.

          Right on, ……Auto

          Same as the claim that an asteroid strike in the Gulf of Mexico caused the demise of the dinosaurs.

          PHOOOOOEY, …… it wasn’t an asteroid strike that caused the demise of the dinosaurs, …… it was the DEMISE of atmospheric CO2 ……….. that caused the DEMISE of the dinosaurs.

          As defined on this CO2/Temp proxy graph, to:
          https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*3Vm0copgT8K-pcRm.gif

  1. Is it coincidence that the scenario is for 2027 when in real life Apophis is on track for a close flyby in 2029? Or is this exercise a cover for a real possibility of an impact. If Apophis misses us in 2029 it is supposed to get a course change due to Earth’s gravity and return even closer in 2036. If I recall, when this asteroid was first discovered, by two different astronomers on in England and one in the U.S., they predicted a good chance of impact in 2029. This was immediately said to be incorrect by both governments and those astronomers were silenced. Imagine if they are correct and the whole world knows the end is only 10 years away. What chaos would ensue. My hope it is in 2036, I will be too old to care and probably won’t even remember it was coming.

      • FEMA do seem prescient at times. They just happened to be having an exercise in Manhatten on 9/11. What a stroke of luck. It probably seemed like a good day to do it because NORAD had sent virtually all air defense interceptors up to Canada for exercised that day and there was a exercise involving “virtual” hijacked planes signals being injected into the radar data in NY. Should have been a quiet day by the river.

        We can just be grateful that Larry Silverstein’s wife reminded him that he had a doctors appointment that day. Had he gone to work it would have been such a tragic loss.

        RIP all those whose lives were sacrificed that day.

        • Creator/Actor Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad, Ted, The Orville, Cosmos etc) was meant to be on one of the flights too…

        • FEMA were said to have run a training excersize in Haiti for quake or somesuch damages. then just days later when one hit it seems they just couldnt even manage to drop drinking water where it was required but left in abandoned airstrips with no one around to transport it.
          they have a pretty bad record.
          and greg wasnt it so amazing the person suddenly promoted to head the staff for irforce was just anew appointee and then quit rather shortly after, having denied requests to be able to launch defence on the day.
          coincidences abound
          as do magic passports

    • Apophis is only about 370 m in diameter and would probably cause a 4 km crater. Bad, but not civilization-wrecking.

      • Even if it were to hit in 2029, that’s enough time to send a few good sized nukes out to it. Shatter it a few months prior to impact, and by the time it’s close to earth, the debris spread will be large enough that 90% of whatever is left will miss the earth.

    • It wasn’t immediately dismissed as a threat. As it was observed over a ten year period the probability of impact diminished to the point that now it is not considered a threat.

      • yes but if we get behind the GND, Gaia will probably spare us.

        We could probably turn all the wind turbines to fans and deflect the incoming asteroid so that it just shoots throught the sky instead of impacting.

  2. Fortunately, those of us born during the cold war era of the 50s and 60s already know what to do in the event of an asteroid/comet strike: “Duck and cover”. To do it properly though, you need to have a school desk to get under.

    • It would actually be a very smart thing to do if you see a fireball and are indoors. The pressure wave will probably break a lot of windows. Most of the 1,500 injuries from the Chelyabinsk fireball was from flying glass.

    • But first you must remove all pens and pencils from your pocket. Then you squat down, place you head between your knees…. and kiss your sweet ass goodbye.

    • Bruce
      You forgot the bit about painting yourself copiously from head to toe in white paint to reflect the heat blast.

      Incidentally I remember a few years ago there was a film of a huge object skimming the top of the atmosphere in the Soviet Union, does anyone have a link to this film?

  3. I wonder how I survived all these years without knowing about every space rock that comes within 1/2 a million miles of earth. Not criticizing the effort to identify NEOs and their orbits and those of other threats from space. I’m criticizing that much of the “news” hypes them often with misleading headlines to get clicks. At least the hype has a bright side. It will focus some people on something that is a real potential existential threat instead of the mythical catastrophic climate change caused by the evil CO2 climate “control knob”.

  4. Here is a question. Ask around. Have fun. “What are the chances that a newly discovered KT SLATEWIPER (a Sudden Large Accretion To Earth Which Irresponsible Parents Enormously Regret) might arrive in two months, eleven days, ten hours, thirty-nine minutes and fifty seconds?” For best effect, write it out on a slip of paper and quietly show it while glancing around.
    .
    Do you get a firm answer? A smile? A shrug? A citation? The name of a University professor? Some large or small number spiced with gently dismissive assurance? If you get a sudden look of concern, sharp intake of breath and they reply “Couldn’t say. Why do you ask? Do you know something?” recruit that person on the spot. We need to assemble a large team of such people. Our lives may depend on it.
    .
    Failure to consider a confirmed and inevitable existential threat as a special case that is beyond the useful application of statistics and probability is a mental disorder. I suggest this so you may be better able to identify those afflicted, people you’d never suspect. This topic really flushes them out.

    From a letter I sent recommending Earth Defense

  5. There are currently 1967 potentially hazardous asteroids discovered (per spaceweather.com). Scary enough, if you could connect it to a political agenda and change world order.

  6. I don’t have to much confidence in the “planetary defense community.”

    I think we should put a couple of billionaires to work on it. Any two will do.

  7. Mabe if this threat is talked up at every opportunity, with detailed trajectory modelling results, estimates of impacts within the next decade or so, scales of damage, such as ice-melts, tsunami-floods, heating oceans, acidification, nuclear winters, etc., it might crowd-out CAGW.

    • Great. Given the usual over-the-top histrionics by those who survive by the most provocative click-bait, and given the profound gullibility of this generation to accept uncritically any Doomsday scenario that can be thwarted by Statism, essential oils and good thoughts, I image that many people will view this as an opportunity to settle scores a/o fully embrace the You Only Live Once ethos through epic last minute hedonism.

  8. Got a better one than The Great Daylight Fireball of 72. Have to find article from Bridgeport Post in Ct but in mid to late 60s a fireball appeared in western sky traveling from south to north about 30 degrees above horizon. I was directed towards the southwest by the hissing noise and noticed the object approximately the size the moon would appear at that elevation traveling slow enough that I was able to get off my neighbors swing, run about 50 yards towards my house, while still watching the object,open the front door so my mother could see the last bit of the trailing tail. Incredible event which along with the great Leonid shower in 1966 inspired me to become interested in sciences and have astronomy as a hobby. Which is now,in part inspired by your tremendous work, being set aside a bit to devote more time in studying the climate change propaganda machine

  9. April 25 1966 a little after 7pm fireball was seen in east coast of US and Canada and ended by fragmenting approximately 4 miles west of Huntingdon,Quebec. Colors observed were bright white with greenish blue hue,which I remember it to be.Seen and heard by many.

  10. Sounds like someone’s been reading “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Niven and Pournelle.

  11. Any environmental organization should have the creation of a surveillance / defence system for the earth as its primary campaign focus. Any that do not should be damned for ignoring a real and catastrophic threat.

  12. “The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the never-before-seen break-up of an asteroid, which has fragmented into as many as ten smaller pieces. Although fragile comet nuclei have been seen to fall apart as they approach the Sun, nothing like the breakup of this asteroid, P/2013 R3, has ever been observed before in the asteroid belt.”
    https://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1405/

    “A large team of Russian researchers from Rosatom, joined by three MIPT physicists, has modeled the impact of a nuclear explosion on an Earth-threatening asteroid. They manufactured miniature asteroids and blasted them with a laser. The modeling technique developed in this study is a way of experimentally evaluating asteroid destruction criteria such as the explosion energy needed to eliminate a dangerous object on a collision course with Earth. The English translation of the paper reporting the results will appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics.”
    https://phys.org/news/2018-03-physicists-blast-asteroids-laser.html

    “Space is a dirty place, so the ISS needs some lasers to blast it clean, researchers propose.”
    https://www.zmescience.com/science/iss-laser-defense-84234123/

    If light from the sun can blow up an asteroid then a high powered laser could do the same thing right. Ronald Reagan would have a smile ear to ear right now.
    “On March 23, 1983, President Reagan proposed the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), an ambitious project that would construct a space-based anti-missile system. This program was immediately dubbed “Star Wars.”
    http://www.atomicarchive.com/History/coldwar/page20.shtml

  13. If we could just use a fraction of the billons wasted on a none event such
    as CC, then we should be preparing for the one that will ht us.

    I read that if we had the time a large spacecraft with a big power sourcee
    could simply push the astroid enough off course to miss Earth.

    Of course in the real world expect all the politicians to find a deep cavern
    inside a mountain to sit it out.

    MJE VK5ELL

    • MJE –
      Of course in the real world expect all the politicians to find a deep cavern inside a mountain to sit it out. ”

      I would volunteer to drive the earth-moving kit that would close the door on their cavern, once and for all!
      Trouble is, we would very soon have a fresh crop of incompetents telling us all what to do. . . .

      Auto

  14. pity we didnt go back and setup a station on the moon that cold have used the H3? for power and may have been useful for zapping asteroids/meteors. instead we have ISS that itself could be whammied.

    its puzzled me that the energy needed to get up to resupply often is no more than would be used to get to the moon, and far greater safety for the crews. if they really did get to the moon then why the hell not go back n make a base.?

    • The energy needed to get to the Moon and back is about four times more than to get to a low earth orbit and back. In both cases with aerodynamic braking during re-entry.

  15. “The Manicouagan impact crater in Quebec, Canada, is one of many reminders that asteroids have impacted Earth. Although large impacts are rare, it’s important to be prepared.”

    Not THAT rare. The complete landscape of “Nördlinger Ries” was formed by repeated meteorite impacts:

    https://www.google.com/search?client=ms-android-samsung&ei=-cjFXMGOFKH5qwGL9aDwAw&q=schw%C3%A4bische+Kometen+einschlag+Landschaft+&oq=schw%C3%A4bische+Kometen+einschlag+Landschaft+&gs_l=mobile-gws-wiz-serp.

  16. A meteor impact is one of the few potential catastrophes that it makes some sense to prepare for. Obviously we won’t be able to do much about a KT extinction strike. Preparations for something similar to the Chelyabinsk meteor make more sense. Depending on where it hit the results could range from virtually nothing to several hundred or thousand people killed and disruption similar to a CAT5 hurricane but happening instantly in Kansas City.

    From what I’ve read a Chelyabinsk could probably be deflected if it is detected early enough and we’ve gotten some means for deflection prepared.

    Preparing for a KT event would be a monumental task even if all the means to prevent an impact were all ready to go.

  17. I’m fine with emergency preparations on the ground, but how much are we paying for NASA people to sit around and dream about protecting the planet? If they had something, would it be allowed to launch? After all, what if the effort failed and the rock lands in my country instead of yours? Strikes me there is a lot of navel gazing going on here at public expense.

  18. I see a lot of speculation on the end of the world. Given its mass and history perhaps on the order of 4.5 billion years of existence and a mass very large compared with its atmosphere and oceans. Probability of earth going away in 10 years is 10/4.5 billion years or about 1 chance in about 500 million. The sun has an expected life of 5 billion years which is about the same. I can assure you that the world will not end in the next 10 years no matter who you may listen to.

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