Sun, May 05, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Asteroid flattens New York City in simulation

DEFLECTION:Six ‘kinetic impactors’ were ‘sent’ to break up the rock heading to Denver, but a fragment veered to the eastern US, ‘destroying everything’

AFP, COLLEGE PARK, Maryland

After devastating the French Riviera in 2013, destroying Dhaka in 2015 and saving Tokyo in 2017, an international asteroid impact simulation ended on Friday with its latest disaster — New York City in ruins.

Despite a simulated eight years of preparation, scientists and engineers tried, but failed to deflect the asteroid.

The exercise has become a regular event among the international community of “planetary defense” experts.

The latest edition began on Monday near Washington, with the alert: An asteroid about 100m to 300m in diameter had been spotted and according to rough calculations had a 1 percent chance of hitting the Earth on April 29, 2027.

Each day during the conference, about 200 astronomers, engineers and emergency response specialists received new information, made decisions and awaited further updates from the organizers of the game, designed by a NASA aerospace engineer.

As fictional months ticked by in the simulation, the probability of the giant space rock crashing into Earth rose to 10 percent — and then to 100 percent.

NASA launched a probe in 2021 to examine the threat up close. In December that year, astronomers confirmed it was headed straight to the Denver area and that the city would be destroyed.

The US, Europe, Russia, China and Japan decided to build six “kinetic impactors” — probes meant to hit the asteroid to change its trajectory.

It took time to build the impactors and wait for the right launch window. The impacts were set for August 2024.

Three impactors managed to hit the asteroid. The main body was deflected, but a smaller fragment broke off and continued on a deadly path, this time toward the eastern US.

Washington considered sending a nuclear bomb to deflect the 60m rock — repeating a successful strategy that saved Tokyo last year — but it was crippled by political disagreements.

All that remained was to prepare for impact. With six months to go, experts could only predict that the asteroid was headed to the New York area. With two months to go, it is confirmed the city would be destroyed.

The asteroid was to enter the atmosphere at 69,000kph and explode 15km above Central Park. The energy of the blast would be 1,000 times that of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima and would destroy everything within a 15km radius, scientists said.

Manhattan would be completely razed. Windows as far as 45km away would shatter and damage would extend as far as 68km from the epicenter.

The questions raised by the scenario were endless.

How do authorities evacuate 10 million people? Moving people to safety from hurricanes has shown the task’s difficulty.

“Two months may not be enough time to really evacuate, because you’re evacuating people who are stuck, who have to rebuild their lives where they’re going. You’re going to have fleets of U-hauls,” said Brandy Johnson, an “angry citizen” in the exercise, referring to the rental moving trucks.

Who will pay? Who will host those displaced? How will authorities protect everything from nuclear and chemical installations to works of art? And how will citizens behave in the face of an end-of-the-world scenario?

“If you knew your home was going to be destroyed six months from now and that you weren’t going back again, would you keep paying your mortgage?” NASA deputy planetary defense officer Victoria Andrews asked.

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