According to Scientific American, NASA and several other federal, state and local agencies battled asteroid impacts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The image depicts the discovery of the 70-meter-diameter asteroid shortly before it entered Earth’s atmosphere. The asteroid will explode within eight miles of the city with the force of a 10 megaton nuclear bomb. The explosion would lay waste to the city and the surrounding area and cause thousands of casualties.

The exercise produced several critical findings.

First, a few days, a few weeks or even, more likely, a few months would be too late to detect a destructive space rock headed for Earth for a profound impact. No means exist to stop the killer asteroid at that point. The science-fiction movie method of launching a nuclear weapon at it would also exacerbate the problem, creating many smaller radioactive rocks from one large rock, falling over a wide area.

Secondly, people have become so distrustful of authority, be it the political class or the media, that a large number of people will not believe the announcement of a killer asteroid on the way. It would be challenging enough to evacuate the strike zone if everyone was willing to leave, but most people would probably flat out refuse to go.

Of course, every problem has many solutions.

NASA’s recent Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission that diverted the path of a distant asteroid was a great success. However, DART took five years of planning and implementation. We need a system to deflect asteroids that can launch on demand. That technology needs to be continually tested on asteroids approaching Earth. The US Space Force should be tasked with developing, testing and maintaining an asteroid diversion unit.

Systematic surveys of the solar system must be initiated as soon as possible to detect and classify objects approaching Earth. The NEO Surveyor telescope should be launched and operational. To complement those efforts, the government should reward amateur astronomers for every object that comes close to Earth.

The exercise also exposed the potential for misinformation and misinformation to spread with the impending impact of the asteroid, lacking a quick, technological fix. Social media and ideologically biased TV news are perfect vectors for spreading confusion and misinformation. A concerted effort by humanity is needed to prevent and, if the worst happens, to mitigate the impact of impending asteroids.

Widespread public ignorance on space issues has already been documented. But it is worrying that a certain percentage of people will not believe the announcement of an imminent asteroid impact. Some people refuse to leave the strike zone, whatever the authorities tell them – meaning they will die if an asteroid destroys their community.

How can government officials convince the public that the threat of an asteroid strike is real? The study notes that NASA has a lot of credibility on space issues. Part of the solution might be to entrust a space agency with the lead in disseminating information about an impending disaster.

The best way to deal with an asteroid impact is to stop it from happening. While an asteroid impact and its aftermath may make for exciting cinema, in real life, such an event would be a disaster in terms of loss of life and treasure.

The asteroid described in the exercise was relatively small. The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago is believed to have been about 12 kilometers wide, the size of a mountain. Such an asteroid impact would destroy most of the life on this planet and end the human species. No mitigation strategy exists for such a disaster.

To protect the planet from asteroid impacts, an effective detection and diversion system must be put in place as soon as possible. Asteroid defense can be expensive but allowing a relatively small space rock to pass through would be more expensive.

Some have observed that the dinosaurs died out due to the lack of a space program. Humans have a space program, many of which are real. There is no excuse for not trying to prevent the Day of Judgment from coming from Heaven.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of the space exploration study “Why is it so hard to get back to the moon?” Also “The Moon, Mars and Beyond” and “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.