Are you worried about an asteroid hitting the Earth?
Categories: Science & Technology
Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico presented a simulation of what would happen if a one-megaton bomb were detonated on the surface of an asteroid 500 metres in diameter.
The simulation, powered by 32,000 computer processors to handle the necessary calculations, concluded that the resulting explosion would prevent it from slamming into the planet.
"Ultimately this one-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," said Los Alamos scientist Bob Weaver.
Like planets, asteroids are loosely held together by gravity. A large enough explosion would split the asteroid apart with enough force to push any debris away from a collision course with Earth, according to Discovery News.
Weaver stressed that detonating a nuclear weapon to destroy an asteroid would be a last resort - required, for example, if the asteroid was discovered mere months before an expected collision. Scientists have devised several other potential solutions, including sending a space craft to detonate a smaller-scale "impactor" that would deflect the asteroid enough to avoid hitting our planet.
Researchers have found that some nearby asteroids aren't an imminent threat, despite their featured status in some 2012 doomsday theories. Asteroid DA14, which measures a relatively small 46 metres, will pass closer to the Earth than some geostationary satellites in orbit on Feb. 15, 2013, but poses no real danger of a collision.
Researchers have been gathering more information about asteroids that may help our understanding of how to deal with a potential impact. Samples collected by the spacecraft Hayabusa found that asteroids are bombarded constantly by micrometeorites moving at speeds between three to six miles per seconds, causing countless tiny fractures in its surface.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft is currently orbiting Vesta, one of the largest known asteroids in the solar system.
Are you worried about an asteroid hitting the Earth? What more would you want to learn about asteroids from projects such as NASA's Dawn? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
You can also share your astronomy photos with us at email@example.com.
(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)
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