Armageddon and Deep Impact are about the danger of an asteroid that is on a collision course with the earth. Both Hollywood films describe a similar solution to the problem: to place an atom bomb on the object and thereby destroy it or throw it off course to earth. A new study from the USA shows that the plot of the disaster films is not so absurd. In it, researchers have made calculations on how such a maneuver could be successfully managed.
Impending asteroid impact: danger is real
Especially since the risk of an asteroid impact for research is quite real. Bennu, a space rock around 500 meters tall, threatens to collide with the earth, as NASA recently announced. The possible collision should therefore take place on September 24, 2182 – with a probability of 1 in 2,700. The problem: It may be that other asteroids are on a collision course with Earth, but these have just not yet been discovered.
Accordingly, the US research team around study author Patrick King is concerned with averting an impending danger shortly before a possible impact. Specifically, it is about a period of less than a year. According to the study entitled “Late-time small body disruptions for planetary defense”, which appears 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 model asteroid of the study had a diameter of only 100 meters, so it was significantly smaller than Bennu. As part of the study, an atomic bomb explosion was simulated up to two months before the impact on Earth, as the 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 Earth. If the asteroid were larger, it would still be a hundredth.
Protection of the earth: atomic bomb versus space probe
The resulting change of course should be measurable from Earth. According to NASA, it is the first test mission to avert threats to the earth from asteroids. The large space probe is accompanied by two small cubesats that are supposed to record data relating to the collision. The Esa spacecraft Hera is to follow in 2024 and collect further data from the experiment.