The use of nuclear weapons to drive off asteroids has often been used in science fiction, but real-world scientists have often touted the idea of a nuclear asteroid deterrent as a horrible idea. Researchers have been studying the effects and implications of a nuclear blast on an asteroid. They say that it could work, as long as the technique is used correctly.
One reason that many have warned against the use of nuclear weapons to fend off asteroids is the fact that destroying a large asteroid would only create a bunch of smaller pieces, thereby causing Earth to be bombarded by multiple asteroids inside of just one planet-killer rock. To understand just how effective or dangerous this might be, scientists turned to simulations.
These simulations used an explosive technique called nuclear ablation. According to researchers, this could produce enough explosive thrust for it to be a nuclear asteroid-deterrent. Not only would it vaporize part of the asteroid, but the explosive thrust and change in velocity could help push the asteroid to a new course.
The simulation model can be easily configured, and researchers have designed it so that they are able to include a variety of starting conditions. This allows them to simulate asteroids which we have been able study in detail. But the researchers look at more than just whether or not we could destroy the asteroid. They also looked at how the nuclear blast and subsequent radiation would interact with the asteroid.
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“If we have enough warning time, we could potentially launch a nuclear device, sending it millions of miles away to an asteroid that is headed toward Earth,” researcher Mary Burkey from LLNL explained. “We would then detonate the device and either deflect the asteroid, keeping it intact but providing a controlled push away from Earth, or we could disrupt the asteroid, breaking it up into small, fast-moving fragments that would also miss the planet.”
A new paper on the possibilities of a nuclear asteroid deterrent has been published in The Planetary Science Journal. While it could prove helpful, the scientists have noted that predicting the effectiveness of a nuclear blast to fend off an asteroid relies heavily on accurate Multiphysics simulations, which means we’ll need a lot of data about the asteroid we’re trying to nuke. And unfortunately, that’s an area we’re still sorely lacking in.
Of course, other asteroid deterrent systems do exist, like slamming a spacecraft into an incoming asteroid, which NASA showcased with its DART spacecraft last year. Japan has also been looking at alternative solutions ,.
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