Software could aid near-Earth object collision response

A new software system could help disaster response teams if an asteroid were to collide with the Earth.

Southampton University PhD student Charlotte Norlund developed the Near Earth Object Mitigation Support System (NEOMiSS) as a way to inform decision-makers about the ability to evacuate a threatened region prior to an impact.

‘The likelihood of a near-Earth object [NEO], such as an asteroid or comet, impacting the Earth might be small but the damage would be devastating,’ said Norlund.

‘Earth-threatening NEOs may be discovered days or years before an impact, giving us the chance to launch a deflection mission or evacuate an area.

‘Ideally, important decisions about such a mission should be based on a number of factors, including how the deflection will change the probability of impact and its likely consequences.’

Ground and space-based telescopes, such as the NASA Spaceguard, have identified many NEOs that pass close to the Earth, including the 400m asteroid 2005 YU55, which will approach to within 325,000km of the Earth in November this year.

NEOMiSS combines models of the physical effects of a potential NEO impact with historical knowledge of a variety of natural hazards and local building strength. It then measures human vulnerability in the form of an expected number of casualties.

The program uses behaviour-based evacuation models, which simulate and measure the ability to evacuate an affected area using statistical data and knowledge of transportation infrastructure.

It also gives some indication of the resilience of regions that may be at risk and identifies areas that may need further investment in transportation infrastructure to avoid congestion ’bottlenecks’.

One of Norlund’s supervisors, Dr Hugh Lewis, said: ‘The philosophy that is applied within this new tool applies to all natural hazards where we have some advance warning, such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and, of course, asteroid impacts.

‘The early results show that some regions of the world would require a considerable amount of time to get their population out of harm’s way.’

Norlund presented the program in a paper to the IAA Planetary Defence Conference in Bucharest, Romania, on 12 May.