The idea that a nuke could save ol’ Planet Earth from a devastating asteroid impact was made popular in the world of science fiction and blockbuster Hollywood movies, but scientists were always quick to point out that the use of a nuke would make things worse, not better.
Or so they thought, at least. According to a new study, nukes may actually be effective in stopping an asteroid after all–or at least in preventing unimaginable, civilization-ending casualties.
A team of scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico used a supercomputer to run simulations on the impact nukes would have if detonated on the surface of an asteroid. It was previously widely believed that such a tactic, if it even worked, would cause a hail of smaller, but still devastating asteroid fragments to rain down on the earth and cause more widespread damage, but it may not be as bad a trade-off as scientists originally thought.
Using the vast processing power of the supercomputer at their disposal, scientists ran simulations on detonating a 1-megaton nuke–50 times more powerful than the nuke used on Nagasaki, Japan to end World War II–on the surface of a 1,650-foot-long asteroid. The results were surprising.
“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 video (see below).
Weaver was quick to stress that the use of nukes would likely only be employed as a last resort when all other options–such as slamming the asteroid off-course–are off the table. Additionally, the simulation didn’t show that asteroid fragments wouldn’t be a problem, and such a thing would need to be accounted for.
Still, it’s nice to know that we may have one more option to save us all from a mass extinction event resulting from an asteroid impact. That’s always good news!
If you’d like to check out the video on the study, see below.