Space agencies gather to fight off fictional asteroid threat

It's as fictional as Armageddon. Photo credit: Buena Vista Pictures

Scientists are figuring out how to protect the Earth against an asteroid with a high probability of hitting our planet in the year 2027.

But before you get on the phone to Bruce Willis, there's something you need to know - it's less Armageddon and more workplace team-building exercise.

2019 PDC is a fictional asteroid, the subject of a drill taking place this week at the 2019 IAA Planetary Defence Conference.

"The first step in protecting our planet is knowing what's out there," says Rüdiger Jehn, head of planetary defence at the European Space Agency.

"Only then, with enough warning, can we take the steps needed to prevent an asteroid strike altogether, or to minimise the damage it does on the ground."

The scenario is as follows: In March this year, scientists spotted a new asteroid far dimmer than the distant dwarf planet of Pluto. After calculating its orbit they classify it a potentially hazardous object, but with only a one-in-50,000 chance of striking the Earth in 2027.

But after a close approach in May, they redo the numbers and find it now has a 1 percent chance of hitting the Earth, and potentially causing catastrophic destruction.

This is where the drill will begin, with the world's greatest space minds gathering in College Park, Maryland, to find out what might happen - how they'll work together, for example.

Potential fictional strike points for 2019 PDC.
Potential fictional strike points for 2019 PDC. Photo credit: NASA/JPL

It's not the first time they've done this, but it's the first time the public will be invited to watch on as they scramble to save the planet, through social media.

"These exercises have really helped us in the planetary defence community to understand what our colleagues on the disaster management side need to know," says NASA planetary defence officer Lindley Johnson.

"This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments."

Again, in case you missed it - 2019 PDC isn't real. At least that's what they're telling us.