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Astronomers model an asteroid that hits Earth using Apophis

An international team of space researchers recently met to test what could happen if Earth were threatened by a large asteroid strike. The results of last year’s planetary defense exercise were published and show the steps that should be taken if an asteroid that kills the planet were to approach us.

To simulate the threat, participants considered the asteroid Apophis. This true 1,100-foot-long asteroid will approach Earth in 2029 and 2068, but it will not actually hit the planet. But for the sake of the exercise, participants determined what would have happened if the Earth had threatened the most recent impending proximity, between December 2020 and March 2021.

Clockwise, from the top left, are three of the observatories that participated in a 2021 planetary defense exercise: NASA's Goldstone planetary radar, Catalina Sky Survey's Mount Lemmon telescope, and NASA's NEOWISE mission.  At the bottom left is an illustration of Apophis' near road in 2029.
Clockwise, from the top left, are three of the observatories that participated in a 2021 planetary defense exercise: NASA’s Goldstone planetary radar, Catalina Sky Survey’s Mount Lemmon telescope, and NASA’s NEOWISE mission. At the bottom left is an illustration of Apophis’ near road in 2029. NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

“This real-world scientific contribution has tested the entire chain of defense of the planet’s defense, from initial detection to orbit determination to measuring the asteroid’s physical characteristics and even determining if and where it could hit Earth,” said Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor. at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, in a statement.

The asteroid was tracked using NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, which gathered information about its size and shape. This is important in estimating how much damage would be caused by an impact and has been used in simulations of possible impact locations on Earth. The idea is that this data could be sent to disaster agencies to help them with their efforts in the event of a real asteroid coming.

“It was impressive to see the planetary defense community come together during Apophis’ latest recent approach,” said Michael Kelley, a PDCO scientist in NASA’s Division of Planetary Science. “Even during a pandemic, when many of the exercise participants were forced to work remotely, we were able to detect, track, and learn more about a potential danger with great efficiency. The exercise was a resounding success. “

The findings are published in The Planetary Science Journal.

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