It’s no ordinary meeting when a bad decision could spell global catastrophe.

For the experts assembled at a conference hall in Italy this spring, the choices were agonizing. A gigantic space rock was bearing down on Earth. If it slammed into the planet, it could damage an area the size of Ireland. But a campaign to push the rock, known as an asteroid, off course could shatter it, possibly widening the devastation, if not done correctly,

The officials opted to shift the monster’s path, and it prevented unfathomable devastation. There was just one small problem: a chunk of the asteroid broke away and made a beeline for Bangladesh.

The looming space rock was imaginary — and utterly realistic. Researchers crafted every last detail of the scenario, which was unveiled at a scientific meeting to test how the world would respond to an incoming asteroid. And it was only one of a slew of recent efforts to ensure that if a dangerous asteroid takes aim at our planet, it won’t catch us unprepared.

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