WASHINGTON — NASA created a fictional asteroid and set it on course to hit Earth six months after being discovered by humanity's early warning systems. Earth's scientists worked together to stop the doomsday rock from hitting Earth, and this is what happened: NASA reports that it recently hosted a test to see if Earth's best scientists could stop an asteroid from hitting the planet.
In the scenario, a fictitious asteroid was detected six months before it would hit Earth.
The participants in the simulation considered various missions in which spacecraft could try to destroy the asteroid or deflect it off its path.
Most options to deflect an asteroid — such as deflection via a high-energy impact, or a "gravity tractor" or an "ion beam shepherd" — work by only slightly nudging the targeted space rock.
If performed far enough in advance, that small nudge builds up to become a large shift in position by the time the asteroid gets near Earth.
But participants concluded that such missions wouldn't be able to get off the ground in the short amount of time before impact.
However, they found that using a rocket to deliver a nuclear explosion on or next to the asteroid, could save the Earth.
Unfortunately, a nuclear bomb would only be able to make a difference if the asteroid was relatively small, compared to the giants that had hit Earth in the past.
Currently, Earth's early warning system does inspire confidence.
Comet Neowise, a 4.8 kilometer-wide chunk of space ice, passed within 64 million kilometers of Earth in July.
Nobody knew this comet existed until a NASA space telescope discovered it approaching only four months earlier.
In 2013, a meteor about 20 meters in diameter entered Earth's atmosphere without warning.
It exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, creating a shock wave that broke windows and damaged buildings across the region.
More than 1,400 people were injured.