An atomic blast is not the preferred solution for planetary defense, but 3-D models are helping scientists prepare for a worst-case scenario.
One day, astronomers may spot an asteroid months away from a cataclysmic rendezvous with Earth. Our only chance of survival at such a late stage would be to try to use a nuclear explosive to obliterate it, the New York Times reports.
But would it work?
Using high-fidelity simulations, scientists reported in a study published earlier this month that a stealthy asteroid as long as 330 feet could be annihilated by a one-megaton nuclear device, with 99.9 percent of its mass being blasted out of Earth’s way, if the asteroid is attacked at least two months before impact.
Ideally, asteroids targeting our blue marble would be identified decades ahead of time. If so, the hope is that an uncrewed spacecraft could slam into them with sufficient momentum to nudge them out of Earth’s way. This strategy, known as deflection, is getting its first test next year with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) space mission.
Using a nuclear blast to obliterate an interplanetary interloper “will always be the last resort,” said Patrick Michel, an asteroid expert at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur who was not involved in the study. But if we are short on time, it may be our only hope.
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