If an asteroid was found on a collision course with Earth, what would we do? If the movie Armageddon is anything to go by, trying to blow up the space object itself might be the preferred option.
But Russian and European scientists have proposed something slightly different. As reported by the Russian news agency TASS, they say that if we detonated a nuclear weapon near an asteroid, not on it, the resultant blast could deflect the asteroid enough that it would miss Earth – if the action was taken with enough time to significantly change the source of the asteroid before it hit Earth, likely several years in advance.
It should be noted that this proposal is not entirely new. Another idea called the Emergency Asteroid Defence Project (EADP) was unveiled in 2014 that would destroy an asteroid with nuclear weapons, while in 2022 the proposed NASA-ESA Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission will study the change in motion of an asteroid when it is struck by an impactor.
The Russian and European proposal was drawn up as part of the NEOShield project, an assessment from 2012 to 2015 to see how potentially hazardous objects could be stopped. "The work was distributed among different participants from various countries, and the task on deflecting hazardous space objects by nuclear explosions was placed with Russia, represented by the Central Machine Building Research Institute," said the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, reported TASS.
NASA and ESA plan to try deflecting an asteroid next decade. ESA/NASA
Further details on exactly what size of explosion would be required, and how early in an asteroid’s orbit it would need to be carried out, have not been released. It should also be noted that launching nuclear weapons into space is currently banned. But the scientists are confident of a reversal of the ban if Earth’s survival was at stake.
"However, if due to an asteroid threat will rise the issue of enormous damage or even the very existence of life on the Earth, those bans, of course, will be dropped," Roscosmos said.
Currently, we do not know of any asteroids that are on a collision course with Earth, so this is purely for hypothetical purposes at the moment. But there are many asteroids we currently aren’t tracking; NASA recently set up a new asteroid office to ensure we know of all that could pose us a risk.
The chances of an asteroid striking Earth equivalent to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs are slim at the moment, but many think it is an inevitably in the next few thousand years. Thus, having defense measures in place like this could be vital if Earth needs saving, and Bruce Willis isn’t available.
[H/T: The Telegraph]