Asteroid Day is a UN-sanctioned global awareness campaign supporting thousands of independently organized events on June 30th and providing online educational asteroid resources.
In support of Asteroid Day, I would like to share a story about an ongoing project at NASA that addresses the asteroid threat to our planet. Oh, by the way, the threat of a life-threatening asteroid event happening today is pretty remote … let me put that out there so you don’t lose any sleep over it. But having a plan in place – just in case – that minimizes any asteroid impacts (no pun intended) is really important. That’s exactly what the Asteroid Threat Assessment Project (ATAP) is all about – simulating asteroid impacts to help identify possible life-threatening events, maintaining a catalogue of NEOs (Near Earth Objects), and having a plan of attack in case an asteroid trajectory brings it too close to Earth for comfort. And no, the movie Armageddon does not represent one of the plan options (in case you were wondering).
In February 2013, an asteroid as big as one of the president’s heads on Mt. Rushmore struck the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. The blast from the asteroid’s shock wave damaged over 7,000 buildings as far away as 58 miles (93 kilometers), injuring more than 1,400 people. Since then, NASA researchers have been studying and simulating the event in order to gain a better understanding and more preparedness for when it might happen again. Their results help us all make better informed decisions for how best to defend against life-threatening asteroid events.
The NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at Ames Research Center in California – one of SUSE’s most well-known High-Performance Computing customers – includes experts working on the Asteroid Threat Assessment Project. I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Donovan Mathias, acting deputy chief of NASA’s NAS Division, speak on the asteroid threat at a recent HPC gathering in Tucson, Arizona. He was a very engaging speaker and talked about the project, the Pleiades supercomputer, and what we are doing to address the threat. High-fidelity simulations of potential asteroids covering a wide range of object sizes were run on the Pleiades supercomputer (SUSE Linux Enterprise for HPC is the operating system on Pleiades). One of those simulations is shown on the video linked to below.
The animation above shows a Chelyabinsk-like asteroid breaking up during atmospheric entry at about 45,000 miles per hour, with a high-pressure shock wave that forms around the asteroid causing it to fracture and flatten like a pancake. Credits: NASA Ames/Darrel Robertson
The NASA team was able to run large-scale simulations of the Chelyabinsk asteroid event on Pleiades to produce many impact scenarios quickly. The detailed simulations allowed the team to model the fluid flow that occurs when asteroids melt and vaporize as they break up in the atmosphere.
NASA’s asteroid research is shared with scientists at universities, national labs, and government agencies who develop assessment and response plans to look at damage to infrastructure, warning times, evacuations, and other options for protecting lives and property.
So, as we near Asteroid Day 2018, and as I prepare for the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, rest assured that HPC is doing its part in helping to prepare – and protect – the world!
Check out the High-Performance Computing solutions from SUSE at https://www.suse.com/programs/high-performance-computing/ .
Jeff Reser, SUSE HPC