NASA is building computer models of possible asteroid impact scenarios

By Brooks Hays  |  Updated June 30, 2017 at 10:43 AM
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June 30 (UPI) -- NASA scientists are using one of the agency's most powerful supercomputers to build 3D models of potential asteroid impact scenarios.

NASA hope the models will help emergency responders and other decision makers prepare for and prevent the consequences of life-threatening asteroid impacts.

The meteor that exploded in the sky above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013 -- shattering windows and shaking buildings -- served as a wakeup call for many. The Chelyabinsk explosion was proof that an asteroid fragment large enough to do damage can evade the eyes of astronomers, and that a meteor doesn't need to directly strike Earth to cause destruction.

Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley used special modeling software to generate a range of potential impact scenarios based on the Chelyabinsk asteroid event. The Pleiades supercomputer allowed scientists to consider the potential impacts of a large range of meteor sizes traveling at different speeds and angles.

As part of its Asteroid Threat Assessment Project, NASA will share the conclusions of its modeling efforts with officials at government agencies, universities and elsewhere responsible for preparing emergency response plans related to an impact event.

"Asteroid impacts are one of the only natural disasters we can actually predict and then take action to protect people," aerospace engineer Michael Aftosmis said in a news release.

Scientists at the European Space Agency are also building 3D models of asteroids. They're creating tangible, real-life models using a 3D printer. Researchers at ESA hope the models will help them prepare to put another lander on the surface of an asteroid.

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