If you thought the old Hollywood flick “Armageddon” with Bruce Willis was too far-fetched to work when it comes to destroying asteroids, it appears you were wrong. In that movie, astronauts went to the surface of an asteroid coming towards Earth, where they drilled holes and placed bombs to destroy the asteroid. Scientists were wondering if that exact plan could actually work in the real world should Earth ever be posed with the threat of a direct asteroid strike.
Scientists have Los Alamos National Laboratory used a supercomputer to model the effectiveness of nuclear weapons to destroy an asteroid. The team attacked a 1650-foot long virtual asteroid using a 1-megaton nuclear weapon. That nuclear weapon is about 50 times more powerful than the one dropped by the US during World War II.
According to the team of scientists, the results are very encouraging and the blast was able to fully mitigate the threat of the pending strike in simulations. The 3-D modeling study ran on a supercomputer called Cielo with 32,000 processors. The bomb would only have to be set off on the surface of the asteroid, so oilfield drilling crews are safe. The scientists did note that a nuclear weapon would be the last resort and could have potential side effects. One such side effect would be many small space rocks coming at Earth instead of one large rock.
Another potential solution would be to send out a robotic probe that would run along with the asteroid exerting a small gravitational force on the asteroid over months or years, acting as a sort of gravity tractor to change the asteroid’s trajectory. Another option would be to crash a rendezvous craft into the asteroid using brute force to push it off course.
“Ultimately this 1-megaton blast will disrupt all of the rocks in the rockpile of this asteroid, and if this were an Earth-crossing asteroid, would fully mitigate the hazard represented by the initial asteroid itself,” Los Alamos scientist Bob Weaver said in a recent video released by the lab.