While the headlines regularly report "near shaving" and "near misses" when NEOs, such as asteroids or comets, pass relatively close to Earth, the real work on preparing for the Earth's impact on Earth continues mainly from the eyes of the public.
For over 20 years, NASA and its international partners have scanned the sky for NEOs, which are asteroids and comets that circle around the Sun and come within a 30 million mile (50 million kilometers) of Earth's orbit. International groups, such as the NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), the Space Intelligence segment of the European Space Agency and the International IAWN, have made better communication about the dangers created by NEO , main priority.
In the spirit of better communication, next week at the Planetary Defense Conference in 2019, NASA's PDCO and other US agencies and space science institutions, together with international partners, will participate in a "mass-table exercise" that will play a realistic – but fictional – scenario for an asteroid on the trajectory of impact with the Earth.
Emergency simulation exercise, typically used in disaster management planning, to help participants inform themselves about important aspects of a disaster and identify problems for a successful response. In the next week's training session, participants in the conference will come up with a NEO impact scenario developed by the NEA Research Center of the NASA Reactive Movement Laboratory (CNEOS).
"These exercises really helped us in the planetary defense community to understand what our colleagues should know about disaster management," said Lindley Johnson, a NASA planetary defense officer. "This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and our governments."
This type of exercise is also specifically defined as part of the National Earth Reconciliation Strategy and Action Plan, developed over a two-year period and published by the White House in June 2018.
These exercises are not strictly described. The issue is to explore how observers from NES, space agency staff, emergency managers, decision-makers, and citizens can react to real impact forecasting and evolving information. The next week's training events will take place during the five days of the conference, with exercise managers who will inform the participants of the status of the script at the end of each day and will draw feedback and feedback ideas based on the latest fictitious data .
The scenario begins with the fictional premise that on March 26, astronomers "discovered" NEs that they consider potentially dangerous to the Earth. Following a "few months" of tracking, observers predict that this NEO – called PDC 2019 – has a chance 1 to 100 to reflect on Earth in 2027 (in real life, the international community has decided that 1 in 100 of the impact is the threshold for action). Participants in this exercise will discuss potential preparations for asteroid intelligence and diversion missions and planning to mitigate the impact of potential impacts.
NASA has participated in six NEO impact exercises so far – three in planetary protection conferences (2013, 2015, 2017) and three in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The three NASA-FEMA trainings included representatives of several other federal agencies, including defense departments and the state. Each exercise is based on the lessons learned from the previous exercise.
What NASA has learned from its work with FEMA is that emergency management officials are not focusing on the scientific details of the asteroid. "What managers want to know is when, where and how the asteroid will affect, and the type and severity of the damage that may arise," said Levitt Lewis of the FEMA Response Operations Unit.
But scientific details define these things so that researchers funded by NASA continue to develop capabilities to identify more accurate possible locations of impacts and impacts, based on what can be observed for the situation of the asteroid, the orbital movement and the characteristics, to be ready to produce the most accurate forecasts possible in case real threats to the impact are detected.
"NASA and FEMA will continue to conduct periodic exercises with an ever-expanding community of US government agencies and international partners," Johnson said. "They are a great way for us to learn how to work together and meet the needs of others and the goals set out in the White House White House National Action Plan."