Destroying Earthbound Asteroid Harder Than Thought

Earthbound Asteroid
Image Credit: Elena Scotti/FUSION

Around 66 million years ago, a huge 10-15 kilometers wide asteroid abruptly ended the 180 million year reign of the dinosaurs. The devastation which has left a 150 kilometers in diameter crater, the second-largest crater on Earth, also wiped out 75% of the planet’s animals.

Consequently, scientists have spent time exploring the possibility of averting a similar doomsday event by nuking an incoming asteroid threat. New research, however, is casting doubt on any such hope for humanity. In fact, a new study suggests that any such approach would prove utterly ineffective.

Asteroids Stronger Than Previously Imagined

The new study was led by Charles El Mir from the Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. As the Ph.D. graduate stated in a recent press release:

“Our question was, how much energy does it take to actually destroy an asteroid and break it into pieces?”

The answer his team found was that asteroids are considerably stronger than previously thought. They would therefore require a lot more energy to completely shatter than ever imagined.

Asteroid Collision Modeling

A computer simulation model was run in which a 0.75-mile-diameter (1.21 km) basalt asteroid smashed into a 15 miles (25 km) wide asteroid traveling at 3 miles (5 km) per second, or 11,200 miles per hour. The collision subsequently caused the larger object to fracture, with debris flowing outward. Nevertheless, the core of the asteroid remained mostly undamaged. Furthermore, the core’s gravitational pull was then able to pull back ejected shards and start to rebuild itself.

Studies such as these help scientists to determine the best response to an asteroid threat. Should a potential threat be tackled by trying to break the body into small pieces? Or alternatively, would nudging it in a different direction prove more effective? If the latter, scientists can then calculate how much force would we required to hit and move it away without causing the asteroid to break up. Commenting upon the findings, co-author K.T. Ramesh of the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute stated:

“It is only a matter of time before these questions go from being academic to defining our response to a major threat. We need to have a good idea of what we should do when that time comes – and scientific efforts like this one are critical to help us make those decisions.”

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