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A "huge refugee crisis" triggered by an impending asteroid could see Europeans and Americans scrambling to relocate to Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific.
Space experts will come together this month to devise a plan for if an asteroid ever smashes into Earth, with experts warning it's not just the initial impact we need to prepare for but a series of human rights crises that could ensue.
The upcoming Planetary Defense Conference, which will be held in Vienna from April 26 – 30, will see space experts grapple with what to do should a foreign body ever actually come close enough to pose a danger to Earth.
The 2021 PDC Hypothetical Asteroid Impact Scenario is an exercise that will form a key part of the conference.
It proposes that an asteroid will be discovered on April 21, and impact monitoring systems will identify October 20, 2021, as a potential impact date — giving Earth just six months to come up with a plan.
At first, the probability of Asteroid 2021 PDC actually colliding with our planet is only 1 in 2500 in this hypothetical situation.
However the simulation says that after a week scientists have to pause their observations because of sky glare from the full moon.
When they resume looking through their telescopes, the situation has become much more serious as it becomes clear the asteroid, whose estimated size ranges between 35 metres and 700 metres, is heading straight for us.
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"If the asteroid is on an impact trajectory, the probability will continue to rise, reaching as high as 30% by the end of the week, 70% by next week, and 90% during the following week," it explains.
As time goes on the scientists will be able to pinpoint where the asteroid will probably strike.
"The regions of the globe at risk will narrow considerably, first to an increasingly narrow corridor wrapping around much of the Earth, and then to a specific "footprint" location on the Earth," the brief states.
"The predominant hazard is an airburst causing blast overpressures possibly reaching unsurvivable levels. The size of the potential blast damage area could range from local (a few kilometres) at the small end at the possible range of asteroid sizes, to regional (hundreds of kilometres) at the large end."
One of the groups involved with the conference is the Planetary Society, an organisation that works with the scientific community and decision-makers with one goal in mind: "Decrease the risk of Earth being hit by an asteroid or comet."
The group emphasises the devastation such an impact could cause if we were unprepared — and not just the immediate damage of the asteroid but the long-term effects of the various crises it could cause.
"An impact on or over a densely populated city could cause millions of deaths, and an impact on water could cause massive flooding on coastlines," they say.
"Any major impact would lead to widespread damage, injury, and death, and would create unparalleled humanitarian and refugee crises around the world."
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In the conference simulation, Asteroid 2021 PDC is predicted to strike Europe, North America and parts of Africa while much of Asia, Indonesia and the Pacific region are outside the blast zone.
Billions of people live within this target area, and it's also home to much of the "first world" – a somewhat outdated term referring to the industrialised capitalised nations of western Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
The news of an impending asteroid set to wipe out this part of the world and make it uninhabitable for the foreseeable future would no doubt prompt mass panic and attempts at relocation to the "safe" part of the planet.
"As more observations occur, the impact location will get more specific than "half the world" which is the starting point in the PDC scenario," Dr Bruce Betts, The Planetary Society's chief scientist and head of the planetary defence programme, told the Daily Star.
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"So fewer refugees, but if impact couldn't be avoided still a huge refugee crisis."
Wealthy citizens would likely have little trouble moving across the world. New Zealand is already a popular bolthole for billionaires like Peter Thiel, who was granted citizenship to much controversy and allegedly has set up a "doomsday bunker" on the island nation should such a disaster ever come to pass.
However most people wouldn't have the means to privately relocate on their own dime, meaning some kind of emergency asylum programme would need to be established to allow people to escape.
This would likely cause immense strain on the resources of the "safe" countries and continents, and there's no telling what kind of requirements they might impose on those needing to enter.
It would be an ironic twist on the refugee crisis of the last decade, in which people have been fleeing conflict and persecution in the Middle East and parts of Africa and attempting to move to Europe.
Danica Remy from B612, another foundation dedicated to protecting the planet from asteroid impacts, echoed the Planetary Society's point that the impact of an asteroid would likely be limited rather than Earth-destroying.
"It's 100 percent certain we'll be hit, but we're not 100 percent certain when, so we need to accelerate the rate of asteroid discovery," she told the Daily Star.
"Remember the Earth is largely covered by water and it is largely unpopulated and so the probability of getting hit in your area is low.
"But the fact is, we as human beings have the capability to find them — the question is whether or not we have the will to fund the discovery work."
While it's a good thing Asteroid 2021 PDC wouldn't simply obliterate the entire planet, its uneven impact would result in more tension and inequality among Earth's citizens — even those not in its warpath.
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