ESA to play out apocalyptic asteroid hitting Earth live on Twitter

26 Apr 2019

Image: © Vadimsadovski/

How would astronomers react to news that a huge asteroid is heading for Earth? To find out, ESA will live-tweet one of its ‘war games’.

The large meteorites that exploded over Russia in recent years can be considered shots across the bow for Earth. Each of these objects did little to seriously impact the surrounding areas, but they are a stark warning that, one day, an object the size of that which wiped out the dinosaur could one day return.

Rather than wanting to be unprepared, the European Space Agency (ESA) has been conducting asteroid impact ‘war games’, which are fictional scenarios put to astronomers to see if a global catastrophe could be averted.

Now, ESA has revealed that, for the first time, it will play out the latest scenario live on Twitter. From 29 April to 3 May, the ESA Operations account will reveal the thought processes of the world’s leading asteroid experts.

The deadly scenario

The fictional scenario suggests that on 26 March 2019, a ‘potentially hazardous asteroid’ was discovered, with an average size anywhere between 100 metres and 300 metres.

The day after it was discovered, astronomers found several future dates it may impact Earth, the most likely being 29 April 2027 with a probability of about one in 50,000. However, a few weeks later, they announce the worrying discovery that the probability has risen to one in 100.

All of the participants will take on various roles such as ‘national government’, ‘space agency’, ‘astronomer’ and ‘civil protection office’ over the course of the week-long exercise. None of them will know how the situation is set to evolve and must make plans based on the daily updates they are given.

The updates for the public will be in real time, including how the asteroid impact scenario will evolve, so followers will find out the ‘news’ as the experts do.

“The first step in protecting our planet is knowing what’s out there,” said Rüdiger Jehn, ESA’s head of planetary defence.

“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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic