What you’re about to read is totally fictional but humans may gain some degree of knowledge in case the real thing ever happens.

At the beginning of May, New York City was “hit with an asteroid packing 1,000 times the destruction of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”

The exercise was part of the “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan,” published by the White House.

The fake collision was played out at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland.

Paul Chodas, the NASA engineer who designed the fake exercise, said that the simulated asteroid and its terrifying outcome is “highly unlikely” but he wanted “the issues to be exposed and discussed.”

In the scenario, an asteroid that originally had a 1 in 10 chance of hitting Earth becomes a threat. The 140-260 meter asteroid had a projected impact over Denver. So, the simulation team launched spacecrafts to deflect it.  But a fragment of the asteroid broke off and continued to hurtle toward Manhattan.

As asteroid that size is big enough to devastate a city. At the end of the exercise, the only way to save New Yorkers was to evacuate New York City.

The fictional cataclysm was the culmination of a week-long “tabletop exercise” conducted at the biennial Planetary Defense Conference, which was held in Washington D.C. the previous week.

The conference attracted dozens of astronomers, academics and disaster experts who were eager to understand how the authorities might react to news that a killer asteroid was headed toward Earth — and to what extent space missions and evacuation plans might mitigate the deaths, injuries and damage.

Scientists said the city might have been spared had there been more than eight fictional years to plan space missions to knock the asteroid off course from our planet.

“I think the exercise illustrated how time is the most valuable asset when it comes to asteroid hazards,” Richard Binzel, a professor of planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a participant in the simulation said. “In reality, having many decades of warning gives us multiple options and multiple tries to prevent catastrophe.”

Just how likely is it that an asteroid big enough to cause serious damage will hit the Earth in real life? Scientists say we can expect one about once every 60 years.  

While asteroid hunters are confident they’ve found nearly all the asteroids as big as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, there are an estimated 25,000 near-Earth asteroids as big as the asteroid used in the simulation — and we don’t know where roughly two-thirds of those are.

Although the exercise provides some worthwhile knowledge about the problems, it’s vital that protective projects be pursued. After all, humans don’t want to go the way that the dinosaurs did.

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