NASA Rehearsed For A Hypothetical Asteroid Hitting Los Angeles
The election is over and the choice is clear: according to a highly unscientific poll, most young Americans would rather see a giant meteor wipe out the planet than see Donald Trump become president.On the rare chance that #GiantMeteor2016 does actually happen, NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have already taken steps to prepare for the possibility. Last month, the two agencies held a joint exercise in El Segundo using the worst-case scenario of an asteroid hitting Southern California. In the exercise, it was too late to call on Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis, and thus played out the possibility of a mass evacuation of the region.
"It is critical to exercise these kinds of low-probability but high-consequence disaster scenarios," said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. "By working through our emergency response plans now, we will be better prepared if and when we need to respond to such an event."
In the simulation, the agencies worked on the (fictional) scenario that a 300 to 800-foot asteroid was just discovered, and there was a 2 percent chance that it would hit the United States on September 20, 2020—just at the tail end of Trump's first term! The scenario continued, emphasizing that, by November of 2017, it was determined this hypothetical asteroid would hit the United States. The agencies were also tasked to work without the option of deflecting the asteroid, essentially rehearsing a mass evacuation of the Los Angeles region.
Although four years is a long, long time down the road, scientists say it's not enough advance warning to actually construct a spacecraft and send it to the asteroid to deflect it off its course, according to the New York Times. According to JPL, the agencies instead focused on "footprint models, population displacement estimates, [and] information on infrastructure that would be affected," as well as "considered ways to provide accurate, timely and useful information to the public. Also underscored were methods to refute rumors and false information that could emerge in the years leading up to the hypothetical impact."
While such extinction-level events have been the subject of Hollywood movies and the fanciful predictions of doomsayers, scientists basically say it's only a matter of time. NASA tracks over 650 such "near-Earth objects", and while none pose a threat in the next century, there's still plenty out there we have discovered yet. "We are not fully prepared, but we are on a trajectory to get much more so," said John Holdren, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, back in September. Our friends at JPL are now testing a system named Scout to track and discover these near-Earth objects.
Every year we do have our share of close calls. But so far none have come to end it all. In February, NASA warned of a 100-foot asteroid that would buzz planet earth, and later discovered a tiny object named 2016 DY30 that came within 9,000 miles of our planet.