Monday , August 15 2022

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SECOND CHANG, HOST:

All right, this is just a drill. Make asteroid; it was found hurting towards the Earth, only eight years of potential impact. Again, this is not true, people, but it was a scenario that scientists were going to grasp the whole of this week at a planetary defense conference held outside Washington, D.C. Here to tell us more whether Earth had survived, Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR science correspondent. Hey, Nell.

GREENFIELDBOYCE NOW, LINE: Hey.

CHANG: I suppose we survived.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: We are still here.

CHANG: OK. So please remind us what this meeting was this week.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So this was a planetary protection meeting. So all this is about asteroids. And the people who came to this meeting from all over the world – scientists, engineers, people who know how to track asteroids and send missions to them and try to divert them from the course . There was also a crew of emergency managers. And so every couple of years all these people come together, and they have a sort of drill or exercise to play scenarios, and this time what they were doing was considering asteroid about 300. to 1,000 feet across and could hit the Earth.

CHANG: Whoa. Ok, so walk us through what this exercise would look like.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So at the beginning of the week, Monday, they were tracked with telescopes. Remember – this is all fiction.

CHANG: Yes.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And there was only 1% chance of hitting the Earth in eight years. But by Tuesday, that had gone up to a 10% chance of hitting the Earth, so they sent a space ship out to study. Now, with more detailed information from that mission, they established that she was going to hit near Denver, Colo. Like, he was going to hit near Denver, Colo, so they sent them this whole fleet of spacecraft built by all major space agencies – so Russia, Europe, China, Japan and, of course, NASA. And they were going to try to change the path by basically passing into it.

CHANG: Like it hit.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yes, yes. And so some of those missions failed. Some had hit the asteroid, but unfortunately, this asteroid was broken into two pieces.

CHANG: Wait, so the asteroid has to be divided in half?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yes. Yes, and that could happen.

CHANG: (Laughter).

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And so in this scenario, now one piece had to be removed from the Earth, but one piece was definitely going to hit, and now it was possibly going to hit East Coast of the United States.

CHANG: Was there any time left to try something else?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So this short window was when they could have tried to send a nuclear device to some kind of brawl, but they couldn't take it off, and they were running out of time. And so today was the last day of the rehearsal, and everyone learned that the 200-foot piece was led to the right towards New York City. It was going to hit the atmosphere over the Central Park at high speed and explode.

CHANG: How much damage would that cause?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That would basically eliminate most – that would remove Manhattan; like, Manhattan would go mostly.

CHANG: We are sorry. Sorry, New York. All right, so how much notice would New York City have had in this case?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Just a few months notice it definitely goes there. And so that's a few months, but you need to get 10 million people off an island.

CHANG: Yeah.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And then all the artwork in the museums and disturbing the financial area. And keep in mind – this is not a normal evacuation in the sense that people will go back to their homes.

CLASS: Right.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Because their homes are not going to be there. That is, everything is going to be a kind of condensation.

CHANG: Vaporized, OK. So as we continue to repeat, listeners, this is just a false scenario. But Nell, how likely is it that something like this would happen?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So this is very unlikely. That is, asteroids of this size do not often hit the Earth, and asteroid would be more likely to be hit in the sea than U.

CHANG: OK.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But still, you know, they play out these extreme scenarios to sort of looking for weaknesses in the system. Like, what would happen if you were trying to avoid an asteroid from one area and eventually aiming somewhere else?

CHANG: That NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce speaks to us about a false scenario, theoretical only played this week at a planetary defense conference. Thanks, Nell

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Thank you. Transcript transmitted by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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