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UA scientists prep for simulated meteor threat

International planetary threat conference
Posted at 6:46 PM, Apr 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-30 10:32:02-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - Scientists believe a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs but now scientists from around the world are gathered to make sure a space rock won't kill us without a fight.

The Planetary Defense Conference is underway and University of Arizona scientists are some of the leaders.

Just the shockwave from a relatively small meteor was enough to cause plenty of damage to the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.

That was five years ago.

Now a video from the European Space Agency imagines an incoming meteor big enough to kill a city.

The fiction in the video dresses up how NASA, the European Space Agency, and FEMA are simulating an asteroid threat and working out how they will respond. It's the question at the heart of an international conference at the University of Maryland; where University of Arizona scientists are playing prominent roles.

Doctor Vishnu Reddy of UA's Lunar and Planetary Science Lab is there. He says the conference connects scientists with disaster response experts.

“So for example, people in the emergency management community people who deal with, say nuclear explosions, people who study, tsunamis."

Reddy says UA has identified fifty percent of the asteroids we know might threaten the Earth. Now scientists are working towards telescopes in space able to find asteroids sooner. Congress set a goal to identify 90 percent of asteroids larger than 140 meters across.

Doctor Reddy says, “The reason why it's 140 meters is because that's an asteroid that is large enough to take out the state in the United States, or a small European country."

And early warning can help divert the threat. UA's Osiris Rex mission took close up pictures to prepare to grab an asteroid sample but it's also taking measurements that could help scientists understand how to nudge an asteroid safely away from the Earth.