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Asteroid Self-Defense

Posted September 26, 2012 9:53 AM by HUSH

A military-class space shuttle lands on the back of an Earth-approaching asteroid, with the intention of implanting a nuclear weapon deep within the core. This asteroid will likely kill every species on Earth and the fate of humanity rests in the hands of Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck.

Okay, so I may have just described the plot of Michael Bay's Armageddon, a stinker of a movie in 1998 and a film that was roundly criticized for its scientific credibility. In fact, NASA shows the film in training programs, asking participants for detail inaccuracies. So far, 168 have been confirmed, and that's not including Billy Bob Thornton as intelligent.

So, while Bruce and Ben aren't going to be saving us from an asteroid, there is indeed a real possibility an asteroid is on a collision course with our green and blue home. This has prompted speculation on a plan for if/when that day comes.

Scientists better get steppin' on it. In 2028, half-mile-sized asteroid 1997 XF11 will pass Earth at a distance of 930,000 miles. As the closest encounter with an asteroid yet, it will be observable with the naked eye.

The four most promising--and plausible--asteroid deterrents are listed below.

  • The Nuclear Option: The detonation of a nuclear-grade weapon at, near, or beneath the surface of an asteroid isn't movie fiction. As a type of nuclear pulse propulsion, this could severely alter the course of the projectile. It should be noted that destroying the asteroid could have a more catastrophic effect-particles blown off the asteroid could be radiated and enter the Earth's atmosphere anyhow. Discovering the asteroid early enough would mean even a small nuclear explosion would be enough to change the asteroid's trajectory.
  • Gravity: Positioning a large-mass object near, but not on the asteroid, would draw the asteroid towards it over time, such as in the representation to the right. This object would need to have a source of thrust to keep the objects from touching, and would also need at least a few years to be effective.
  • Kinetic energy: Collision with another large-mass object would change the course of the asteroid considerably. For completely accurate and scientific representation, Dr. Farnsworth solves the asteroid problem with a giant ball of garbage launched at an asteroid.
  • Ion beam: The force from a slow, constant thrust from a ion beam thruster directed at the asteroid alters the trajectory of the asteroid in a similar fashion as the gravity from a nearby mass.

There are some methods which require articulation on the asteroid's surface. Physically attaching rocket engines to the asteroid has been proposed, as has been building a mass driver on the asteroid. The Yarkovsky Effect has been thoroughly discussed as a possibility. By releasing thermal photons, the rotating asteroid would gain enough anisotropic direction to alter its course. While it is scientifically feasible, enormous amounts of international engineering and cooperation would be required. The asteroid would need to be painted first, or a gigantic solar lens would need to be positioned -in space-to focus the solar rays. Again, while scientifically feasible-it would take years to organize, perhaps too long to destroy the asteroid.

And what happens when we fail to protect ourselves from cosmic destruction?

Enter the Tunguska Event.

Shortly after 7 a.m. on June 30, 1908, an exceptionally bright light streaked across the Russian sky in remote part of Siberia. Its intersection with Earth knocked individuals down and broke windows hundreds of miles away.

While its origin is widely debated, there is little scientific doubt that the resulting non-crater is a result of an impact with a cosmic body: most likely an asteroid that exploded several miles above the Earth's surface from atmospheric pressure. The blast was equivalent to 1,000 Little Boys, and had the capability to wipe out a major metropolis. Notably, the asteroid was relatively small, measuring just 100 meters in diameter. The explosion decimated an area of 830 sq. miles. While no major-impact crater has ever been found, hundreds of smaller-scale lakes and craters have materialized from the asteroid's fragments.

No amount of fall-out shelter reinforcement is going save you from an asteroid. It's likely a large-scale impact would be another extinction event.

So which defense should we go with? The best coverage would be a proverbial net that defends the planet on multiple levels. In a sense, the moon has already saved the Earth several times according to evidence presented by the NASA Lunar Science Institute.

Yet, the moon won't always have our backs. Eventually, an asteroid is going to run a blitz and the Earth is going to get sacked.

And just like Monday Night Football, I'll sit there with a beer and watch the travesty. What else can you do?

Image credits, in order: Will Sound; NASA; Wikimedia; Astroprof's Page; Wired; Chzscience

Resources

Wikipedia - Tunguska event; Yarkovsky effect;

Space.com: Asteroid Defense...; Asteroids Smacked Moon...;

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#1

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/26/2012 10:12 AM

"What else can you do?"

Play Asteroids!


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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/26/2012 10:58 AM

Playing Asteroids has been trending as of late.

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#3

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/26/2012 11:29 AM

Why couldn't we vaporize it with a hydrogen bomb? If we could turn the iron to a gas this would reduce the threat...

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#20
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 12:59 PM

I'm not talking about the blast effect, but the heat produced....With enough heat you can vaporize the asteroid, within a certain size limit.....If larger, then it stands to reason it would be spotted further away(hopefully)...then a deflection strategy could be imployed...

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#21
In reply to #20

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 2:29 PM

or, by breaking it up into smaller pieces, creating more surface area, with the pieces small enough to burn up upon entry into the earths atmosphere.

but remember, the pieces have to be small enough to burn up and not too big,

too big is bad, baaad. small enough is good, goood. SNL dana carvy for mizuti sake

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#4

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/26/2012 1:01 PM

With improved technology we see what was alway out there and never worried before. Some of these may have been around billions of years and never hit us.

Now that we can see them everyone is crying the sky is falling. Little good it will do to know if one were going to hit. The panic that would ensue this notice would cause more pain and suffering then necessary. Just let be quick.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/26/2012 1:05 PM

I like to think that we've come so far in telescopic technology that we'd have plenty of forewarning before something of substance starts a trajectory towards us, though that may just be the optimist in me speaking.

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#6
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/26/2012 1:54 PM

"Good morning, that's a nice tnetennba"

What?, this old thing?....

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#7
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/26/2012 2:21 PM

We have not and there have been a number of recent surprise visitors that have crossed between Earth and the Moon's orbit with little or no warning to prove that thought false.

None of those particular rocks were world extinction capable, but could cause serious damage, particularly if it strikes into the sea where the resulting tsunami could be catastrophic.

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#9
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 7:41 AM

Why would anyone want to be forewarn the public of an event that maybe the end of mankind or the end of civilization as we now know it. A lot of the people could not handle it. There would be mass chaos. I believe a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.

I understand man's desire to explore. There is a lot out there in universe we don't know.

What I don't understand is someone wanting to make public and event such as this. What for notoriety? Well the only notoriety they will get is as a quack if the event doesn't happen. If it does who will be here to pat them on the back.

Either they want to share their misery of the knowledge or their nut cases anyway.

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#10
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 8:20 AM

My perspective:

1. What right does any one individual have to knowingly lie to people? For example, how many doctors do you know that simply decide to not tell a patient they have a terminal disease?

2. What evidence do you have that such news would result in mass chaos?

3. Personally, I would be happy to be labeled a quack and suffer the humility of being wrong if it meant that humanity was not extinguished.

We already have that problem with hurricane prediction. The answer is to frame the potential results as a probability.

The same would apply with an asteroid strike.

4. Lastly, from a personal standpoint, if there was an extinction event coming and forewarning possible, yes, I would want to know!

At the least I might have the possibility to say, "I love you!" one last time. If that seems to have no meaning given all existence will be snuffed out momentarily, then the argument is why does it matter now or any time in the past?

If the answer is it doesn't matter, then we just as well might put hemlock in baby formula at the start.

However, that answer doesn't make sense and it then becomes reasonable to assume that there is something more to life and that every moment is precious and the bad news from the doctor or even the NASA channel provides us with that opportunity to reflect on what that value of life really means, revel in the things we have and have done, and tell someone that you love them.

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#13
In reply to #10

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 10:02 AM

AH I believe you are one of those that could handle the news.

1. I have not asked them to lie. I have not asked them or contracted with them as I would in seeing a doctor. To give you the news good or bad.

2. Even with out the news of such an event there are those that take advantage of others on a day to day occurrence. With limited time left with no chance of retribution by society more would join in. The level of the violence I believe would increase.

Just as you have said. You could express your love for those you hold dear and spend the little time left with them. So would many that protect and serve the community. I would not think any less of them.

3. How does someone in informing of such an event keep humanity from being extinguished. In a close call situation may even do more harm.

In all you reflect on it gives some idea of your character as a person and out look on life. Can you look around you and say that everyone shares it? That in that little time you would have left someone would not cause unnecessary pain to you or your love ones?

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#14
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 10:42 AM

1. This is like the lessons learned as a kid where not telling or withholding information is deemed as not lying, but it is. We already have that contract with the private news agencies and all public organizations that we pay out of our tax dollars as watchdogs.

2. Again, where is the compelling evidence to back up your assertion of mass chaos? I think if you look at natural disasters you will find more help and brotherhood than looting - however, the news will focus on the latter because it sensationalizes the situation and sells advertising time far better than the displays of human compassion.

3. I never said that it prevents the situation from occurring. I just said that as a person I do not believe I or anyone else has the right to withhold such monumental information.

The news is what it is, but how people react to it is their business and their right. I can not take that away from others just because I believe that I have a better idea what is good for them than they do.

Being born and raised in the USA I believe people have the "God given" right to be free and to self determination.

That "God given" right gives us the choice of either acting nobly or badly with all the fruits and penalties that come with it.

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#17
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 11:47 AM

1. Were not children being taught lessons in life. Withholding unasked for information is not a lie. I'm sure that I don't want the private news agencies(media) being the ones to bring the news. They sensationalize everything out of proportion. As far as the watchdogs we also pay them in the public's best interest. It will be up to them to decide.

2. I hope to never be able to answer this as there have been no natural disaster that would compare. All of those that man has survived there was some out look of a future. A future in which society will seek some retribution for wrong doing.

All I guess I'm saying is I know there are a lot of good people out there. Many will do the right things with the time they have left. It's that percentage of the people that will inflect undue pain and suffering on these good people. All because there will be no retribution from society.

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#8

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 4:25 AM

All we need is the Alan Parsons project!

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#11

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 8:42 AM

If a huge chunk of space rock is heading for us, then you might consider bending over deeply and kissing your *ss bye bye......anyhow, you'll never feel the pain of the impact.

What a lot of peeps just don't understand is that a Thermonuclear weapon will have diminished results in regard to destroying an asteroid or altering an asteroid's path; said weapons rely on atmosphere (ie, air) to do the destruction, mainly by blast overpressure. Space is a vacuum, therefore the weapon will have little or negated effects on the asteroid.

Just saying.....

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#12
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 9:14 AM

This is why either a surface blast or a blast inside the asteroid is best. Bunker busters do not have much in the way of atmosphere around them, but dirt and rocks.

The best plan I saw was a missile that would have a penetrator missile leading it by a small a margin. Sort of a missile with its own missile.

The main missile launches its secondary penetrator missile just before impact and that one detonates upon impact creating a hole into the target.

The primary missile follows into the hole and detonates inside the asteroid, maximizing the effect.

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#18
In reply to #12

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 12:11 PM

My favorite solution is the mass driver. Ejecting pieces of the asteroid mechanically over time will no doubt alter the course of the object, and it's also rather cost effective.

But it would require the time to build and operationalize, and an oncoming asteroid may not provide us with the forewarning necessary.

Examine Starfish Prime and the resulting effects of a high-altitude nuclear test.

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#19
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Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 12:21 PM

I would assume that any detonation would far, far from Earth. The best outcome for such a plan is detonating as far from Earth as possible.

However, push comes the shove, I would rather have EMP damage over a significant strike of an asteroid or large rock.

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#15

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 10:44 AM

What else can you do?
Die!

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#16

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/27/2012 11:41 AM

Pray God, and all the Saints in Heaven.

Vince

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#22

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/29/2012 6:53 PM

I have a couple of questions. How fast do the asteroids travel? Do some come at us at 50 MPH, or do some come at us at half the speed of light?

What chance do we have to intercept something that is really fast and our detection time would possibly be hours or days from impact?

Seems that if we are going to intercept these things we need to land on each one and apply thrust to move the coarse away from a collision direction with us.

I think that blowing one up would be just turning a bullet into shot gun b-b's of which some would still impact earth and be of random size that could still be big enough to cause "mass extinction".

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#23
In reply to #22

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

09/29/2012 10:57 PM

Asteroids generally are travelling in the same orbital plane as the Earth, so their speed relative to Earth will vary according to the angle of their path to the Earth's, and the size of their orbit(distance from Sun) which will increase in speed the closer the orbit is to the Sun...Generally speaking the differential speed of the asteroid compared to Earth is approximately 500 meters per second for each degree of inclination of the asteroid's orbit, and can be up to ~63º inclination....

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#24

Re: Asteroid Self-Defense

12/22/2012 11:18 PM

http://cr4.globalspec.com/thread/16889

http://cr4.globalspec.com/thread/13150

http://www.bestsyndication.com/?q=072407_solar-power-sailing-in-outer-space-extend-long-distance-travel.htm -- "This technology will negate the need to carry chemical fuel mass to the asteroid for the purpose of supplying impulse. It will allow mankind to use the orbital energy of the asteroid itself as the prime source of energy for deflection through an integration of Electro-dynamic braking, vectored electro-magnetic impulse, and Newtonian Propulsion Systems that use scavenged mass from the asteroid and accelerate it using propulsion coils."

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