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Asteroids are harder to shatter than we thought


Posted on Monday, 4 March, 2019 | Comment icon 7 comments

What would it take to shatter a large asteroid ? Image Credit: NASA
New computer models have indicated that large asteroids are much tougher than anyone had expected.
Exactly what we should do to stop a large incoming asteroid has long remained a topic of debate among physicists. One possibility - which would be to try blowing it to pieces - relies on accurately calculating just how much energy it would take to disintegrate it entirely.

Around 20 years ago, researchers used a computer model to determine that a 25km-wide asteroid would be completely shattered if it were struck by a 1km-wide asteroid traveling at around 11,000mph.

Now though, revised computer models have cast doubt on this conclusion and have instead indicated that such a collision would still leave behind an intact core with a sufficient enough gravitational pull to attract the remaining fragments back towards it.

"We used to believe that the larger the object, the more easily it would break, because bigger objects are more likely to have flaws," said mechanical engineer Charles El Mir of Johns Hopkins University.
"Our findings, however, show that asteroids are stronger than we used to think and require more energy to be completely shattered."

This begs the question - just what should we do to neutralize an incoming asteroid ?

"It may sound like science fiction, but a great deal of research considers asteroid collisions," said El Mir. "For example, if there's an asteroid coming at Earth, are we better off breaking it into small pieces, or nudging it to go a different direction ?"

"And if the latter, how much force should we hit it with to move it away without causing it to break ?"

"These are actual questions under consideration."

Source: Astronomy Now | Comments (7)

Tags: Asteroid

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Jon the frog on 5 March, 2019, 2:21
Deviation with a rocket thug... still need to be done far away and it would take time and good fuel reserve.
Comment icon #2 Posted by bison on 5 March, 2019, 3:24
Asteroids are likelier to resist disruption by explosions than expected. Simply increasing the size of the explosion, as the article seems to suggest, still doesn't solve the problem of the pieces. Some could be quite large, and still strike the Earth.  It seems better to detonate an explosion farther away from the asteroid, giving it a nudge away from its Earth-bound path. We're already pretty good at putting bombs on the tops of rockets. This would only need a bigger rocket, for which we already have plans.   
Comment icon #3 Posted by DieChecker on 5 March, 2019, 4:41
I've been a fan of the "push" idea. As long as we catch it soon enough to make a difference. 
Comment icon #4 Posted by AllPossible on 5 March, 2019, 18:28
Interesting... Nasa did a computer model collision 20 years ago right after the movie Armageddon came out.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Rolltide on 5 March, 2019, 19:27
Good thing Nasa has got these boys on standby..
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 5 March, 2019, 20:55
You seem to be forgetting that space is essentially a vacuum. What exactly is going to nudge the asteroid given that there is no shock-wave? It has been suggested that nuclear weapons could be detonated at a distance from an asteroid in order to deflect them, but even this isn't given them a "nudge" as such. The heat and radiation from the blast would vaporise some of the surface material of the asteroid. This material would work like a thruster, changing the orbit of the asteroid.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Jon the frog on 5 March, 2019, 22:19
Like using a big laser to heat it. still need to be prepared a long time before it come near.


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