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WIU Emergency Management Professor's Work Includes How to Defend Planet Against Asteroids

February 14, 2013


MACOMB, IL – Tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 15) an asteroid (named 2012 DA14) will pass close to Earth. So close, in fact, it will be passing in between planet Earth and the moon, and closer to our planet than some satellites. Western Illinois University Department of Health Sciences Assistant Professor Jack Rozdilsky noted that 2012 DA14—which, according to NASA, is thought to be about 45 meters in diameter (or around 150-feet wide)—will pass a mere 21,000 miles from Earth.

"Other than increased curiosity about space, there will be no impacts to our planet," Rozdilsky said. "But one can speculate what would happen if such an object did strike Earth."

Rozdilsky, who researches and teaches emergency management within Western's health sciences department, is among a small a group of scientists who consider such possibilities. Currently, he is working with a group of scientists under the auspices of the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Project to consider how to defend the planet against asteroids. In April, he will participate in an international-level mock disaster exercise, for which invited participants will simulate the decision-making process for developing deflection and civil defense responses to a hypothetical asteroid threat.

Asteroid threats can be considered an example of low-probability, high-impact natural hazards, which means in any one person's given lifetime, the probability of an asteroid hitting Earth is very low. But, if the hazard is realized, the impacts would be very high.

"Astronomers' physical science-based calculations have estimated that if the 150-foot asteroid passing Earth on Friday were on a collision course with the planet, it would impact the surface with an explosive force of 2.4 megatons of TNT," Rozdilsky explained. "That would not be planet destroying, but such an asteroid impact hazard would be one of the few natural disasters that would be able to destroy a large metropolitan area like Chicago in a single blow. In fact, an underground geological feature known as the Des Planes Disturbance is interpreted by earth scientists to have been the site of a meteor impact about 280 million years ago. Today, this harmless geological feature underlies Interstate 294, directly north of O'Hare International Airport."

Rozdilsky noted that most emergency managers in Illinois are not currently considering civil defense responses to asteroids as a top priority. But if, in the future, a city was predicted to be under imminent threat from an asteroid impact, emergency managers would definitely be involved in managing the crisis.

"While popular disaster films such as 'Armageddon' have depicted fictionalized accounts of asteroids threatening Earth, asteroid impacts on Earth are not necessarily far-fetched. In 1908, a comet impacted Tunguska, a forest in a remote area of northern Russia, with the resultant explosion devastating a large unpopulated area," Rozdilsky said.

Currently at Western Illinois University, approximately 80 undergraduate students major in emergency management in the health sciences department.

"While these students learn about managing such common hazards as tornadoes, they also spend a little time learning about the stranger, very infrequently occurring natural hazards, such as asteroid impacts," he added.

For more information about studying emergency management at Western Illinois University and the many career possibilities the field provides, contact Rozdilsky at JL-Rozdilsky@wiu.edu or visit www.wiu.edu/coehs/health_sciences/undergraduate_programs/emergency_management.php.

Posted By: WIU News, University Relations
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