Astronomers Practice ‘Planetary Defense’ During Asteroid Flyby

Oct 12, 2017

Astronomers in Arizona and worldwide are running a “planetary defense drill” to practice how to deal with an asteroid impact. It’s the first time they’ve used a real asteroid. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

Credit NASA

The asteroid does not pose a threat as it safely passes the Earth today at a distance closer than the Moon. Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona leads the international team. He proposed using the opportunity to see how well astronomers can coordinate a response.

"Communication is such a huge factor when you’re dealing with natural hazards," Reddy says. "So I thought, the more we coordinate as one planet, the better prepared we will be to face a common threat."

Dozens of scientists around the world are participating in the drill. They’ll study the asteroid’s size, orbit and composition as it passes Earth and communicate that information to NASA managers.

David Trilling of Northern Arizona University is involved in the campaign. He says, "Part of the reason we do this work as astronomers is to prepare for the small chance that a big asteroid is coming, and we need to help protect society."

Astronomers are using about 20 observatories worldwide to watch the asteroid, including Lowell Observatory’s Discovery Channel Telescope in Happy Jack.