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NASA, UA scientists to use real asteroid to simulate impact with earth

PHOENIX — University of Arizona scientists and NASA are using a real asteroid to simulate an impact with earth to test just how prepared we are.

“This is more of planetary defense than pure science,” said Vishnu Reddy, assistant professor at the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona.

NASA’s already practiced scenarios including deflection, evacuations, and disaster relief, but only using hypothetical asteroids. Reddy thought why not practice on a real asteroid, like the one passing close by Earth on October 12?

“And try and see what we can learn about this object in a short period of time,” he said. “And then exercise the whole system in a real sense.”

Scientists will observe the asteroid from around the world, which will improve coordination and communication as well as generate a much better idea of its trajectory and orbit.

“It has a huge uncertainty on where this object is going to be when it comes close to the Earth,” he said. “How would you use that information to make a decision on what needs to be done?”

Information would certainly be vital for an asteroid that actually has a chance of hitting Earth. It’s not clear exactly how close the asteroid in October will come to the Earth, but estimates are it will pass as close as 6,800 kilometers (4,200 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

“We use that opportunity to see what our strengths are in characterizing this object,” he said. “And what are the areas we need to improve.”

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