A New Plan For Asteroid Defense: Nukes
By Lenny Pierce on February 18, 2014
In the discussion as to how we can best protect ourselves from oncoming asteroids, scientists are taking a page from Michael Bay’s book, considering the feasibility of blowing one up with a nuclear bomb.
Who would have thought that one of the most destructive creations of human history could be the key to our survival? Bong Wie of Iowa State University feels that if we were to discover an asteroid headed our way with less than a year of warning, a nuclear detonation would be our best shot of extinguishing the threat. “We have the solution, using our baseline concept, to be able to mitigate the asteroid-impact threat” said Wie, at the 2014 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) meeting.
The video below shows how the nuclear blast would effect the actual composition of an asteroid.
Wie and his team are working on a concept spacecraft called a Hypervelocity Asteroid Impact Vehicle (HAIV) which could actually deliver the nuke to the hypothetical asteroid, and no, it doesn’t look like the Armadillo from Armageddon. The HAIV would travel to deep space, where it would meet up with the asteroid and fire a “kinetic impactor” into its surface to create a crater. A mere millisecond later, the nuclear bomb would enter the crater and detonate, blowing the rock into millions of harmless fragments and sending a message to all other asteroids not to try and step to Planet Earth. Thug life.
Computer simulations show that a 1,000 foot wide asteroid could be effectively neutralized outside the earth’s gravitational field, as long as it was at least 30 days away. Small fragments of the asteroid still might find their way to the Earth’s surface, but Wie feels that the pieces would be too small to cause any meaningful damage, saying that in total only 0.1% of the asteroid’s mass would hit our planet.
A diagram of the HAIV mission. (Bong Wei/Iowa State University)
Scientists say the ideal situation would be if we could detect Earth-bound flying space rocks decades in advance, allowing us enough time to launch gravity tractors out into space that could “nudge” them off of their fateful courses. But then I suppose the really ideal situation would be no asteroids at all and no extra charge for guac at Chipotle. Since neither of these fantastical scenarios are currently realistic, a nuclear detonation remains one of the most practical — and let’s be honest, awesome — courses of action.
This new concept for impact prevention comes only months after NASA released the refinements to the the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Said project would aim not to destroy an oncoming asteroid, but rather to capture it mid-flight and haul it into our moon’s orbit.
What do you think is the best asteroid defense strategy? Do you think we’d have an easier time wrangling one into our moon’s orbit or blowing one to smithereens? And what’s a smithereen? Discuss below.