Buzz Aldrin hosts virtual reality experience on how to get to Mars

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin suits up for a countdown demonstration test prior to the launch of Apollo 11 on July 5, 1969.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin suits up for a countdown demonstration test prior to the launch of Apollo 11 on July 5, 1969.  (NASA)

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, is looking to keep humanity going and get to Mars.

The 87-year old astronaut is hosting a virtual reality experience to discuss his plan on how to get astronauts to Mars. The experience, named Cycling Pathways to Mars, debuted at the tech conference South by Southwest earlier this week.

In the experience, Aldrin is placed on a lunar landscape, then goes on to show how humanity could get to Mars. The Apollo 11 astronaut thinks there could be two ships going back and forth between Earth and Mars on six months schedules in order to do so.

In addition to the experience, Aldrin participated in a panel at the conference on how to get to Mars, taking questions from the media to further expand his thoughts.

For years, Aldrin has been a vocal supporter of having a manned mission to Mars.

In June 2013, he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, detailing his thoughts on a potential mission. In August 2015 — Aldrin, along with the Florida Institute of Technology — gave a “master plan” to NASA on how to colonize Mars prior to 2040.

Buzz Aldrin hosts virtual reality experience on how to get to Mars

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin suits up for a countdown demonstration test prior to the launch of Apollo 11 on July 5, 1969.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin suits up for a countdown demonstration test prior to the launch of Apollo 11 on July 5, 1969.  (NASA)

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, is looking to keep humanity going and get to Mars.

The 87-year old astronaut is hosting a virtual reality experience to discuss his plan on how to get astronauts to Mars. The experience, named Cycling Pathways to Mars, debuted at the tech conference South by Southwest earlier this week.

In the experience, Aldrin is placed on a lunar landscape, then goes on to show how humanity could get to Mars. The Apollo 11 astronaut thinks there could be two ships going back and forth between Earth and Mars on six months schedules in order to do so.

In addition to the experience, Aldrin participated in a panel at the conference on how to get to Mars, taking questions from the media to further expand his thoughts.

For years, Aldrin has been a vocal supporter of having a manned mission to Mars.

In June 2013, he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, detailing his thoughts on a potential mission. In August 2015 — Aldrin, along with the Florida Institute of Technology — gave a “master plan” to NASA on how to colonize Mars prior to 2040.

7 new Earth-like exoplanets discovered, NASA announces

NOW PLAYINGAstronomers discover seven Earth-sized planets

Talk about lucky number seven. Astronomers have discovered not one, not two, but seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1.

What’s more, three of them are in the habitable zone— the happy place where liquid water can exist on the surface of rocky planets, as it’s not too hot or cold. (Although liquid water could potentially exist on any of the seven, NASA said, it likes the odds on those three best.) The space agency calls the discovery of the fascinating solar system record-breaking.

“The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said at a news conference announcing the discovery.

Zurbuchen called it a “major step forward” towards the goal of answering the very big question: Is there life on other worlds?

The discovery “is very promising for the search for life beyond our solar system,” Michael Gillon, astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium, added during the press conference.

This is the first time astronomers have found so many Earth-sized planets circling the same sun.

Since the seven planets orbit the star– which is roughly 40 light years away– fairly close to each other, the view from one planet would reveal other planets to look as big, if not bigger, than the way we see the moon from Earth.

“If you were on the surface of one of these planets, you would have a wonderful view [of] the other planets,” Gillon said, adding that they would be much more than just “dots of light” in the sky, as we see other planets, like Venus, from our home planet.

NASA IDENTIFIES 1,284 NEW EXOPLANETS, MOST EVER ANNOUNCED AT ONCE

The three planets in the habitable zone, also known as the Goldilocks Zone, are called TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g. Exoplanet “e” is about the same size as Earth and even gets around the same amount of star light as we do.

Scientists already knew of thousands of planets beyond our own solar system.

All told, the tally of confirmed exoplanets stood at 3,449 on Wednesday. But only a small number of discovered exoplanets meet the criteria for being possible Earths– Earth-sized planets that are not too big, and in the habitable zone of a star.

NEW NEIGHBOR: SCIENTISTS DISCOVER CLOSEST HABITABLE EXOPLANET

While this discovery was made using the Spitzer Space Telescope, one of the most important instruments in the search for other planets is the Kepler Space Telescope, which is credited with 2,331 confirmed exoplanet discoveries. It uses a technique called the transit method, watching for a star to dim when a planet passes in front of the distant sun. About 74 percent of known exoplanets have been discovered using that method, according to NASA.

Exoplanet discoveries just keep coming.

Earlier this month, astronomers announced that they had evidence of perhaps as many as 114 new exoplanets; the data they used to find those came from Hawaii’s Keck Observatory, which made observations of over 1,600 stars for over two decades. One of those newly-discovered planets that has garnered attention is a hot, rocky “super Earth” called Gliese 411b.

Scientists have even discovered a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, aside from the sun. Called Proxima b, that planet is somewhat larger than our own planet and lies about four light years away— close by cosmic standards but still incredibly far away from a human perspective. (One light year— the distance light can travel in one Earth year— equals almost 6 trillion miles.) The important Proxima b discovery was announced last August.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Northern lights’ festive show captured in stunning NASA image

The northern lights — the swirling, cloud-like features in this image — stretched across northern Canada during the nighttime hours of Dec. 22, 2016. (Credit: Jesse Allen / NASA Earth Observatory)

The northern lights — the swirling, cloud-like features in this image — stretched across northern Canada during the nighttime hours of Dec. 22, 2016. (Credit: Jesse Allen / NASA Earth Observatory)

The northern lights put on a festive show over northern Canada just before Christmas, and a NASA satellite captured a stunning infrared image of the spectacular display.

The night after the winter solstice, NASA’s Suomi NPP spacecraft recorded the northern lights, or aurora borealis, across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories in Canada on the night of Dec. 22. From 512 miles above the Earth, the satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite captured the northern lights display, which appeared as glowing swirls of clouds over northern Canada, NASA’s Earth Observatory said in a statement.

The northern lights occur when particles from the sun known as the solar wind interact with Earth’s magnetic field, according to NASA scientists. Because the particles are charged, they can cause electrical current changes in the field that then send energetic particles into the upper atmosphere’s gases. When the particles hit the gases, they charge them, and when the gases release this gained energy, the aurora glows are triggered.

As the gases give up the energy, they release photons (light particles) of specific wavelengths, creating different colors. For example, researchers have found that oxygen atoms emit green and sometimes red light, while nitrogen is more orange or red. [Aurora Photos: See Breathtaking Views of the Northern Lights]

While such solar wind events can happen anytime, the solar storms that create the most magnificent displays of the northern lights occur roughly every 11 years, according to NASA researchers. The last cycle peak occurred in 2013, though NASA researchers reported that solar maximum was the weakest observed in a century.

Original article on Live Science.

Check out NASA’s asteroid-catching robot arms

In preparation for the 2021 Asteroid Redirect Mission, this prototype of a robotic capture module system uses a mock asteroid boulder as a test at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (Credit: NASA)

In preparation for the 2021 Asteroid Redirect Mission, this prototype of a robotic capture module system uses a mock asteroid boulder as a test at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is set to launch the robotic portion of its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) in 2021. This will be the first mission to visit and collect a multi-ton sample from a large near-Earth asteroid. The collected sample will be used in a demonstration of enhanced gravity tractor  asteroid deflection.

Recently at the Robotic Operation’s Center of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a robotic capture module system prototype used a mock asteroid boulder to test its capabilities. [NASA’s Asteroid-Capture Mission in Pictures]

NASA, along with students from West Virginia University, created the mock asteroid boulder from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an interior aluminum frame. The robotic hardware for the project includes three space frame legs with foot pads and two seven degrees of freedom arms with microspine grippers to hold on to the massive rock.

Within the ROC engineers have multiple tools — industrial robots, motion-based platforms, and customized algorithms — to aide in creating simulations of robotic spacecraft operating in space. Engineers will also have the capability to practice and perfect robotic satellite servicing operations, fine tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future repair and refueling missions.

This portion of ARM will place the recovered asteroid sample in stable orbit around the moon. Future astronauts will explore the boulder and retrieve samples for study. NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission offers advances in technologies and spaceflight experience, bringing necessary growth for the manned Martian missions planned for the 2030s.

Original story on Space.com.

Watch meat pie take a trip into space as part of a tasty science experiment

File photo: none of these pies were sent into space. These traditional British meat pies are pictured in G. Kelly's pie and mash shop in east London June 1, 2012. (REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett)

File photo: none of these pies were sent into space. These traditional British meat pies are pictured in G. Kelly’s pie and mash shop in east London June 1, 2012. (REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett)

A team of pie-loving Brits has just sent a meat and potato variant of the delicacy into space.

The feat is thought to be a world first, though that can be put down to the fact that no one had had the idea to do it before rather than it being some kind of major breakthrough in food-based space exploits.

Another triumph for the British space industry! Meat pie ‘sent into space’ http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-38334437  @Sent_into_space

Pie in space

Meat and potato pie ‘sent into space’ from Wigan – BBC News

A meat and potato pie is sent “into space” attached to a weather balloon and is being tracked on its journey to 100,000 feet.

bbc.com

The record-breaking pie was sent skyward on a weather balloon, with an attached camera recording every moment of its exciting ascent.

Part wacky stunt to raise awareness of this week’s World Pie Eating Championships in Wigan, and part tongue-in-cheek experiment to see if altitude affects a pie’s molecular structure in a way that makes it easier to swallow and digest, the pie’s maker, Bill Kenyon, told the BBC the mission was “the first step to enable mankind to consume pies with more elegance and comfort,” adding that “neither the sky, nor the pie, should be the limit.”

Kenyon said the pie’s structural integrity would be pushed to the limit during its mission, one that would see it freeze on its ascent and then cooked as it hit “massive speeds” on re-entry.

Before the daring experiment could proceed, a team of space enthusiasts from SentIntoSpace had to get clearance from the CAA, the U.K.’s equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration. The special kit was also fitted with a radar reflector to ensure nearby aircraft could keep track of the pie’s precise position. Because the last thing you want to fly into at 36,000 feet is a meat and potato pie. Or another plane, of course.

More: Tech-laden weather balloon captures awesome footage over San Francisco

The weather balloon, together with its tasty payload, floated to an altitude of about 100,000 feet (about 19 miles), capturing some spectacular video along the way. A short while later it returned to Earth with a bump in a field full of sheep. The scientists managed to retrieve the pie before the sheep had a chance to feast upon it, though missing crusts suggested some of the woolly creatures may have stolen a nibble.

The team is now analyzing its gathered data, and possibly devouring the delicacy, to determine if pies from space are easier to eat than those that stay permanently on terra firma. We suggest you check its twitter feed if you’re interested in the results.

What Is EmDrive, NASA’s New Space Engine?

By Rich Smith Markets Fool.com

NASA is going to Mars, perhaps as early as 2033. It won’t be a short trip, however, at least not with current technology.

According to a recent Boeing (NYSE: BA) presentation on NASA’s plan for a manned mission to Mars, the best time to launch a spaceship from Earth to Mars is during “Mars Opposition,” the time of year when Mars is closest to Earth, and directly opposite Earth in relation to the Sun. Such approaches come only once every 26 months, however. And even then, at the point of closest proximity between the planets, current engine technology relying on the burning of liquid fuel to propel a spaceship means a trip to the Red Planet will take at least six months — one way.

But what if there were a better way to travel?
The NASA “mad scientists” at Eagleworks continue to work toward developing a fuel-less electromagnetic spaceship engine (not pictured). Image source: Getty Images.

Introducing EmDrive

One technology NASA is evaluating to power such a Mars mission is called “EmDrive,” short for Electromagnetic Drive. We first introduced you to EmDrive last year. Simply put, it’s a device for converting electrical energy into microwaves, which in turn provide thrust to move a spaceship through space.

Initially, the thrust produced is minuscule — about 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt. (So one kilowatt produces enough thrust to accelerate one gram of mass one meter per second per second.) But as the thrust continues over time, speeds increase. Ultimately, it’s believed that an EmDrive-powered spaceship might permit Earth-to-Mars travel in as little as 10 weeks.

And here’s the most amazing part: Scientists still can’t quite nail down how EmDrive jibes with Newton’s Third Law of Motion, as it appears to create thrust without any need to expel propellant. Electricity alone (generated from an on-board nuclear reactor or solar panels, for example) appears able to propel the ship. Thus, there’s no need to spend millions of dollars, and millions of gallons of fuel, lifting propellant out of a planet’s gravity well to fuel and power a spaceship.

Too good to be true?

Propulsion without fuel? An “engine” that runs without “gas”? EmDrive sounds too good to be true, but try as it might, NASA hasn’t been able to prove that the EmDrive is a hoax (yet).

Not that it hasn’t tried. First proposed by Britain’s Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd in 2001, and later tested in China, NASA’s “Eagleworks” Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory began studying EmDrive in 2013. Last month, The Christian Science Monitor confirmed that an Eagleworks report on EmDrive “has survived peer review” and has been published in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Journal of Propulsion and Power.

The Monitor goes on to clarify that merely passing review does not conclusively prove that EmDrive works as described. It does, however, confirm that Eagleworks’ methodology was “sound,” and lends support to NASA’s plan to next test EmDrive in space.

What it means for investors

That’s where things could get interesting for investors in the space arena. Currently, multiple companies are pouring billions of dollars into developing conventionally fueled engines to power spaceships on interplanetary flight — everything from Aerojet Rocketdyne‘s (NYSE: AJRD) RL10 engine and its successors to the new interplanetary engines that Elon Musk is designing for his Mars Colonial Transport at SpaceX.

On one hand, if EmDrive survives testing in space, and continues to prove out the concept of fuel-less propulsion, this could render all those other investments in conventional engine technology obsolete. On the other hand, development of a working EmDrive propulsion system could open up new avenues for space tech companies to research. And by making space travel more efficient, and cheaper, it could further advance the creation of private companies seeking to develop space commercially.

In short, EmDrive may sound a lot like “Star Trek tech,” and far-fetched to boot. But as long as EmDrive keeps passing every test NASA can throw at it, it remains a technology worth watching.

10 stocks we like better than Aerojet Rocketdyne
When investing geniuses David and Tom Gardner have a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has tripled the market.*

David and Tom just revealed what they believe are the 10 best stocks for investors to buy right now… and Aerojet Rocketdyne wasn’t one of them! That’s right — they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

Click here to learn about these picks!

*Stock Advisor returns as of November 7, 2016

Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he’s currently ranked No. 336 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Huge underground ice deposit on Mars is bigger than New Mexico

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

A giant deposit of buried ice on Mars contains about as much water as Lake Superior does here on Earth, a new study reports.

The ice layer, which spans a greater area than the state of New Mexico, lies in Mars’ mid-northern latitudes and is covered by just 3 feet to 33 feet of soil. It therefore represents a vast possible resource for future astronauts exploring the Red Planet, study team members said.

“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice,” co-author Jack Holt, of the University of Texas, Austin, said in a statement. [Photos: The Search for Water on Mars]

The researchers, led by Cassie Stuurman of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, analyzed observations of Mars’ Utopia Planitia region made by the ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They focused on this area because Utopia Planitia features “scalloped depressions” similar to landscapes in the Canadian Arctic that lie atop buried ice.

More from Space.com

  • NASA Probe Snaps Stunning New Pics of Dwarf Planet Ceres

  • Mysterious Unidentified Object Crashes in Myanmar

  • Ultra-Faint Satellite Galaxy is a Clue to Understanding Dark Matter

Data gathered by SHARAD during 600 MRO passes over Utopia Planitia revealed the deposit between 39 and 49 degrees north latitude. The layer ranges in thickness from 260 feet to 560 feet  and is made up of 50 to 85 percent water ice, researchers said. (The remainder is dirt and rock.)

That puts the deposit’s water volume roughly on a par with that of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, which holds 2,900 cubic miles of the wet stuff.

SHARAD is capable of distinguishing between layers of liquid and frozen water, and the instrument’s data indicate that all of the Utopia Planitia water is ice at the moment. That’s bad news for anyone hoping to find evidence of Mars life, because life here on Earth is intimately tied to liquid water.

But there may have been some melting in the past, during times when Mars’ poles were tilted at a different angle, researchers said. The planet has a 25-degree lean at the moment, but this axial tilt varies to about 50 degrees over a 120,000-year cycle.

Indeed, the ice deposit probably formed during a high-tilt era, when snow accumulated at middle Martian latitudes rather than at the poles as it does now, Stuurman said. So further study of the Utopia Planitia ice deposit could also shed light on how the Martian climate has changed over the ages.

 

“The ice deposits in Utopia Planitia aren’t just an exploration resource, they’re also one of the most accessible climate change records on Mars,” co-author Joe Levy, also of the University of Texas, said in the same statement.

“We don’t understand fully why ice has built up in some areas of the Martian surface and not in others,” Levy added. “Sampling and using this ice with a future mission could help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages.”

The new study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Pluto could harbor a subterranean icy ocean

The dark blue represents a possible subsurface ocean on Pluto and light blue, frozen crust. (Artwork by Pam Engebretson)

The dark blue represents a possible subsurface ocean on Pluto and light blue, frozen crust. (Artwork by Pam Engebretson)

If you’re planning on visiting Pluto anytime soon, best to bring some warm boots. A frigid, possibly “slushy” subsurface ocean could be lurking under the crust of the dwarf planet, according to a new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Scientists are interested in a region of Pluto known as Sputnik Planitia, a basin covered with frozen nitrogen that could be anywhere from about two to six miles thick. Because this part of Pluto lines up with Charon, the dwarf planet’s biggest moon, scientists think that an icy ocean below the surface of this area could be producing a gravitational anomaly that explains the orientation between the two celestial bodies. NASA’s New Horizons probe, which whizzed by Pluto in 2015, provided the researchers with data.

Sputnik Planitia is “a big, elliptical hole in the ground, so the extra weight must be hiding somewhere beneath the surface. And an ocean is a natural way to get that,” Francis Nimmo, the study’s first author and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement.

STRANGE FEATURE ON MARS IS A GOOD PLACE TO LOOK FOR LIFE, STUDY SAYS

Sputnik Planitia is part of a larger feature on Pluto’s surface is called Tombaugh Regio, which is shaped like a heart.

“Pluto is hard to fathom on so many different levels,” Richard Binzel, a coauthor on the new study and a professor at MIT, said in a statement. “People had considered whether you could get a subsurface layer of water somewhere on Pluto. What’s surprising is that we would have any information from a flyby that would give a compelling argument as to why there might be a subsurface ocean there.”

Binzel pointed out that there’s a very small chance— “less than 5 percent,” he said— that the part of Pluto they focused on had “randomly” aligned with Charon so closely. The best explanation, they posit, is an icy ocean below the crust.

NASA SEES EVIDENCE OF WATER VAPOR PLUMES SHOOTING OUT OF EUROPA

“So we calculated Pluto’s size with its interior heat flow, and found that underneath Sputnik Planitia, at those temperatures and pressures, you could have a zone of water-ice that could be at least viscous,” he said in the statement. “It’s not a liquid, flowing ocean, but maybe slushy.”

Pluto wouldn’t be the only planetary body besides Earth in our solar system that astronomers think could host a subsurface ocean. Saturn’s moon Enceladus is thought to have one, as is Jupiter’s moon Europa. Scientists have detected water jets emitting from Enceladus, and seen evidence of what also might be water jets coming out of Europa. Both places could be good spots to look for life.

Caleb Scharf, the director of astrobiology at Columbia University, said that Pluto is turning out to be anything but dull.

“The evidence is looking pretty convincing that far from being a solid, frozen, boring ball of rock and ice,” Scharf said in an email to Foxnews.com, “Pluto may have an internal ‘dark’ ocean, probably laced with stuff like ammonia.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Incoming! How NASA and FEMA would respond to an asteroid threat

A near-Earth object on course to hit the planet would require nationwide or global coordination to minimize threat.

A near-Earth object on course to hit the planet would require nationwide or global coordination to minimize threat.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

It’s a scary scenario: an asteroid headed for Earth, just four years away from slamming into our home planet. It may be too short a span to plan an asteroid-deflection mission, but it’s long enough to present very different challenges from those of a more typical crisis, like a hurricane or earthquake.

NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) came together Oct. 25 to plan a response to such a hypothetical event. In a “tabletop exercise,” a kind of ongoing simulation, the two agencies tested how they would work together to evaluate the threat, prevent panic and protect as many people as possible from the deadly collision.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when, we will deal with such a situation,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s new associate administrator, said in a statement. “But unlike any other time in our history, we now have the ability to respond to an impact threat through continued observations, predictions, response planning and mitigation.” [In Images: Potentially Dangerous Near-Earth Asteroids]

The exercise, held in El Segundo, California, brought together representatives from NASA, FEMA, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Department of Energy’s national laboratories, the Air Force and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, JPL officials said in the statement.

It was the third such exercise; previous ones had allowed for a deflection mission, but in this simulation, there was too little time for that type of response.

“It is critical to exercise these kinds of low-probability but high-consequence disaster scenarios,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in the statement. “By working through our emergency response plans now, we will be better prepared if and when we need to respond to such an event.”

The asteroid in this test scenario appeared to be between 300 and 800 feet long in the first simulated measurements the participants were given. At first, the probability of a 2020 impact was only 2 percent, but as the group continued to simulate tracking it over time and the fictional months went by, the impact probability rose to 65 percent — and then 100 percent, in May 2017. By November of that year, in the scenario, they found that it would hit across Southern California or nearby in the Pacific Ocean.

The research laboratories’ scientists calculated the impact’s footprint, the population that would be displaced, the effect on infrastructure and other data that would slowly become clear over such an asteroid’s approach. That gave the participants the information they needed to plan for an evacuation process, and decide how to convey necessary information to the public in the most effective way over the course of the asteroid’s approach (plus debunk dangerous misinformation and rumors).

“The high degree of initial uncertainty, coupled with the relatively long impact warning time, made this scenario unique and especially challenging for emergency managers,” Leviticus A. Lewis, chief of FEMA’s National Response Coordination Branch, said in the statement. “It’s quite different from preparing for an event with a much shorter timeline, such as a hurricane.”

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, established in January, supervises NASA’s efforts to track asteroids and other approaching near-Earth objects (NEOs) and coordinates its interactions with the other U.S. agencies that would deal with a potential impact and decide whether to try a deflection mission or coordinate an emergency response, as in this exercise. Europe has a similar NEO Coordination Centre in Italy.

“These exercises are invaluable for those of us in the asteroid science community responsible for engaging with FEMA on this natural hazard,” NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said in the statement. “We receive valuable feedback from emergency managers at these exercises about what information is critical for their decision making, and we take that into account when we exercise how we would provide information to FEMA about a predicted impact.”

Although deflection wasn’t an option for this training scenario, there is research into that area. For example, NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, which recently finished its first planning stages, is largely a sample-collection mission, to pull a boulder off an asteroid’s side — but it is also slated to test out pulling the asteroid’s orbit slightly off course using the spacecraft and sample’s gravitational pull.

Philip Lubin, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara whose laser propulsion system has been incorporated into the Breakthrough Starshot program to send a probe to neighbor star system Alpha Centauri, originally intended the system to zap and deflect incoming asteroids.