October 19, 2021

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As in Armageddon: the atomic bomb prevents an asteroid impact – according to the study

Hollywood has already come up with the idea. Now there is scientific research. The researchers calculated how an atomic bomb prevents the impact of an asteroid.

Armageddon and Deep Impact deal with the danger of an asteroid on a collision course with earth. Both Hollywood films describe a similar solution to the problem: placing an atomic bomb on the object and then destroying or throwing it off course to earth. A new study from the United States shows that the plot of disaster films is not that absurd. In it, the researchers made calculations on how such a maneuver could be successfully managed.

Imminent impact of an asteroid: the danger is real

Especially since the risk of an asteroid impact for research is quite real. Bennu, a space rock about 500 meters high, threatens to collide with the earth, NASA recently announced. The possible collision is therefore expected to occur on September 24, 2182 – with a probability of 1 in 2,700. The problem: It could be that other asteroids are on a collision course with Earth, but these have not yet been discovered.

As a result, the US research team around study author Patrick King is concerned about avoiding imminent danger just before a possible impact. Specifically, it is a period of less than one year. According to the study entitled “Late-time small body disruptions for planetary defense”, which appeared in the November issue of Acta Astronautica, the use of an atomic bomb would be “very effective”. The researchers calculated this using simulation software, which they used Bennu as a model.

However, the study’s model asteroid was only 100 meters in diameter, so it was significantly smaller than Bennu. As part of the study, an atomic bomb explosion was simulated up to two months before impact on Earth, Futurezone writes. The bomb had an explosive power of one megaton. In the ideal case, only a fraction of the asteroid (one thousandth) would hit the Earth. If the asteroid were bigger, it would still be a penny.

Earth protection: atomic bomb against space probe

King and his team point out that if the asteroid is discovered much earlier and there is more time available for a reaction, other methods would be more effective. Specifically, it involves making a space probe collide with the asteroid and sending it off course. This is exactly what NASA wants to test as part of the so-called darts mission. In the next year, a 500-kilogram spacecraft is expected to hit the 170-meter-large moon asteroid Didymos B, which orbits the asteroid Didymos A at a speed of 6.6 kilometers per second.

The resulting course change should be measurable from Earth. According to NASA, it is the first test mission to ward off threats to earth from asteroids. The large spacecraft is accompanied by two small cubesats that are supposed to record collision data. The Esa Hera spacecraft will follow in 2024 and collect further data from the experiment.

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