Armageddon: Exploding an asteroid with the potential to hit Earth could be a viable alternative to saving the planet from a catastrophic scenario. A new study, led by physicist Patrick King of Johns Hopkins University (USA), said that the strategy should only be used as a last resort, through a defense system called by the authors “delayed interruption of small bodies”.
The idea is to use nuclear bombs to destroy relatively small invading space bodies when the detection of possible threats is made at least six months before the collision. For lovers of the seventh art, the initiative now validated by science may recall the premise of the movie “Armageddon” (1998) — directed by Michael Bay, starring Bruce Willis and with the remarkable theme song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, by the band Aerosmith.
The article, entitled “Late-time small body disruptions for planetary defense”, was published in the scientific journal Acta Astronautica. The team simulated the effects of a nuclear bomb with an output of 1 megaton (energy equivalent to 70 times that of Hiroshima) on an asteroid 100 meters wide — 20% the size of Bennu, an asteroid with the potential to hit Earth in 2182.
The researchers calculated that the invading body’s explosion would cause its pieces to have only 1% of their original mass in space if detection took place six months before impact — an alternative called by the authors “very effective”. However, this process would generate numerous small fragments, which could cause a kind of rain of rocks on the planet.
“One of the challenges in evaluating this action is that you need to model all of the fragment’s orbits, which is often much more complicated [than simulating the entry of a single target]. However, we need to face this challenge if we are to consider this a possible strategy”, commented King in an interview with Science Alert.
To discover the fate of the numerous fragments, they used Spheral software — specialized in dispersing materials. Thus, it was found that some of these remains can be attracted by gravity, such as terrestrial, and other forces. Therefore, a hypothetical case would have to be analyzed completely to prevent pieces from entering orbit and causing damage at different points on Earth.
Despite the warning, it is worth noting that the proposal was made considering the arrival of an unexpected asteroid. Space agencies around the world constantly study the trajectory of space bodies to also detect potential dangers in a timely manner, in order to find ways to combat a threat to the integrity of the planet as soon as possible.