US space agency NASA, in a hypothetical exercise, has found that a potentially hazardous asteroid has a 72% chance of hitting the Earth and we may not be adequately prepared to prevent it.

According to an official report by the space agency, NASA conducted the fifth biennial Planetary Defense Interagency Tabletop Exercise in April. On June 20, NASA unveiled the summary of the exercise, held at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

The tabletop exercise, apart from NASA, included nearly 100 representatives from various US government agencies and international collaborators.

While there are no known significant asteroid threats in the foreseeable future, this was done to assess the Earth’s ability to respond effectively to the threat of a potentially hazardous asteroid.

NASA stated that the hypothetical exercise also provided valuable insights about the risks, response options, and opportunities for collaboration posed by varying scenarios.

The planetary defence officer emeritus at NASA Headquarters in Washington, Lindley Johnson said, “The uncertainties in these initial conditions for the exercise allowed participants to consider a particularly challenging set of circumstances. A large asteroid impact is potentially the only natural disaster humanity has the technology to predict years in advance and take action to prevent.”

The Tabletop exercise summary noted, “During the exercise, participants considered potential national and global responses to a hypothetical scenario in which a never-before-detected asteroid was identified that had, according to initial calculations, a 72% chance of hitting Earth in approximately 14 years.”

To be precise, “72% chance of Earth impact on 12 July 2038 (14.25 years warning time).”

However, this preliminary observation is not sufficient to precisely determine the asteroid’s size, composition, and long-term trajectory, added NASA.

Talking about the Earth’s key gaps, the summary highlighted, “Decision-making processes and risk tolerance not understood. Limited readiness to quickly implement needed space missions. Timely global coordination of messaging needs attention. Asteroid-impact disaster management plans are not defined.”

It is worth noting that this was the first exercise to use data from NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission. DART is the first in-space demonstration of a technology for defending the planet against potential asteroid impacts.

DART has also confirmed that a kinetic impactor could change the trajectory of an asteroid, stated NASA.

The report informed that in a bid to ensure that the Earth will have time to evaluate and respond to a potentially hazardous asteroid, NASA is developing NEO Surveyor (Near-Earth Object Surveyor).

NEO Surveyor is an infrared space telescope. It is designed specifically to expedite humanity’s ability to discover most of the potentially hazardous near-Earth objects many years before they could become an impact threat. NASA’s NEO Surveyor will be launched in June 2028.

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