Noting that the potential for a “killer” or catastrophic asteroid strike is all too real, the White House this week issued a preparedness report on what should be done if (most scientists agree that the occurrence of an impactor is actually a “when,” not an “if”) an asteroid (or other hazardous object, such as a comet) is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth. The defense document, which was published last month, provides an over-arching strategy to effectively integrate all available national and international resources to combat a possible impact.
Space.com reported that the White House issued the 25-page report, entitled “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy,” in an effort to be better prepared when a potentially hazardous object (read: asteroid, meteor, comet) intersects the orbit of the Earth in what could be a world-altering incident. The document outlined seven major goals that were designed “to improve our nation’s preparedness to address the hazard of near-Earth object (NEO) impacts by enhancing the integration of existing national and international assets and adding important capabilities that are currently lacking.”
The seven goals outlined in the report were to enhance the detection and characterization of NEOs, to improve modeling and provide predictions of NEO behavior, to develop methods to deflect and/or disturb the potential impactors from their dangerous courses, to develop emergency procedures for an impact scenario, to set impact response and recovery protocols, to leverage and support international cooperation in the event of a potential NEO impact, and to facilitate coordination in communications between related U.S. government agencies and establish a series of pertinent procedures if a potential NEO impact should be detected.
The report, which was compiled by the Interagency Working Group (IWG) for Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN), noted that while a “civilization-ending” impact by rocks from space over the next two centuries is unlikely, the risk of “smaller but still catastrophic NEO impacts is real.”
The strategy document follows the warning issued last month at a science conference on asteroid deflection in San Francisco that Earth was unprepared for a major impact from space. As the Inquisitr reported, NASA scientist Dr. Joseph Nuth of the Goddard Space Flight Center said that if a “dinosaur killer” asteroid were headed toward Earth, at present there was “not a hell of a lot we can do about” avoiding a catastrophe. He also said that the danger of a surprise comet strike needed to be factored into defending the planet, noting that comets were (on average) faster, bigger, and more likely to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Nuth argued that even if given a couple of years to prepare for an incoming impactor, there was nothing — or, at least, not much — in place whereby an effective deflection effort could be mounted in time.
In August, 2015, NASA published a report addressing a rumor of an impending asteroid impact, saying that all known potentially hazardous asteroids have a “less than a 0.01% chance of impacting Earth in the next 100 years.”
The White House preparedness report cited potential NEO impacts as low-probability, high consequence hazards that “[poses] a significant and complex challenge.”
That challenge, which was bluntly pointed out by Dr. Nuth, is to avoid a world-altering or extinction-event causing (or contributing) impactor strike. Better preparedness, not to mention continuing to diligently detect NEOs and far-ranging comets, would help cut down on surprising appearances of killer asteroids like the undetected Chelyabinsk meteor that burned the skies over Russia in February, 2013, and detonated with the force of tens of Hiroshima-strength atom bombs. Fortunately, that object released its energy into the atmosphere as it streaked across the sky.
The aforementioned “dinosaur killer” asteroid (or comet) that created the massive Chixhulub crater off Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula was estimated to have been between three and 10 miles wide. Its impact is considered to be a contributing factor in the extinction of most species on the planet when it struck some 65 million years ago.
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