NASA Plans to Prevent Armageddon by Nuking Asteroids

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 - 4:59PM
Tuesday, 23 June 2015 - 4:59PM
NASA Plans to Prevent Armageddon by Nuking Asteroids
At one point, NASA planned to capture an asteroid in order to prevent an Armageddon-style apocalypse, but now it seems that they have something a little less subtle in mind. The New York Times reports that the space agency has just completed a deal with the National Nuclear Security Administration, the branch of the Department of Energy that's "responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science," in order to protect Earth from killer asteroids. In other words, they're just going to nuke 'em.

That's right - nuclear space warfare could be in our very near future. Since any near-Earth object greater than half a mile in diameter can become a deadly threat, and there are currently 1,300 floating space chunks that fit this criterium, it makes sense that NASA is stepping up its game. We currently have the technology to at least attempt to obliterate these killer rocks with nuclear force. The real question scientists grappled with was - will it work?

Computer simulations done earlier this year suggest that we could successfully blow up a medium-sized space rock, which are exactly the size NASA wants to target. Large asteroids are too far away from Earth to cause damage in the foreseeable future, while smaller asteroids wouldn't cause massive damage even if they did fall to Earth.

However, the resulting fragments from nuking a medium-sized asteroid could potentially result in peripheral damage to our planet, depending on the asteroid's proximity to Earth when it explodes. As a result, scientists have argued that using a bomb to deflect the asteroid, rather than destroy it, is a preferably strategy.

Although this sounds like a primitive solution, it might also be the best one on the table. Los Alamos astrophysicist Robert Weaver claims that nonnuclear options would need a decade of planning and development before they could be deployed. In addition, they would need to be deployed many years in advance of the impending collision. This conclusion is also supported by the results of a 2007 NASA study, which stated that a nuclear option is the best solution to this problem.

"From my perspective," Weaver told Popular Science, "the nuclear option is for the surprise asteroid or comet that we haven't seen before, one that basically comes out of nowhere." One like the Chelyabinsk impactor, a relatively small meteor by interplanetary standards, but one that managed to injure 1,500 people and damage 7,000 buildings in 2013. And if thats what a small meteor can do, let's hope that the simple solution to killer space rocks is just to nuke 'em.
Science
NASA

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