Imagine if scientists discovered that an asteroid was hurtling toward Los Angeles.
The possibility has existed on the pages of Hollywood scripts. But in what may be a case of life imitating art, NASA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies engaged last month in a planetary protection exercise to consider the potentially devastating consequences of a 330-foot asteroid hitting the Earth.
The simulation projected a worst-case blast wave by an asteroid strike in 2020 that could level structures across 30 miles, require a mass evacuation of the Los Angeles area and cause tens of thousands of casualties.
In 1998, the movie “Armageddon” dramatized an even greater fictional threat. In that blockbuster, a ragtag crew was sent on a mission to drill into an asteroid and set off a nuclear bomb to avert a global catastrophe. As the character Harry Stamper, portrayed by Bruce Willis, summed up to his crewmates: “The United States government just asked us to save the world.”