Is it possible to blow up an asteroid with an atomic bomb?

Scientists have developed a new model that shows what would happen if a nuclear charge were detonated near an asteroid. They have taken into account all possible interactions between different types of radiation and the materials of which this object may consist, and assure that it is quite real to destroy an asteroid this way.

Астероїд можна підірвати ядерним зарядом
The asteroid can be detonated with a nuclear charge. Source:

How to divert an asteroid from the Earth

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States have published a study of what would happen if an asteroid were blown up with a nuclear bomb. This issue has long been of concern to scientists around the world, as it is believed that a space rock could seriously threaten both human civilization and life on our planet in general.

The use of nuclear weapons is not a new idea to eliminate the asteroid threat. However, scientists usually prefer other methods, such as a kinetic strike, an ion engine that slowly changes its orbit, and a gravity tractor.

The reason is that the main goal of all efforts should not be to split the asteroid into separate fragments, but to move it away from the Earth. And the described methods, being more accurate, better meet this condition.

However, they are not ideal either, since they operate with an extremely small amount of energy compared to a nuclear explosion. This means that they can effectively affect only a fairly small asteroid, and it will take a lot of time.

Calculation of a nuclear explosion

In a new study, American physicists decided to accurately model what would happen to an asteroid in the event of an atomic explosion. All the calculations of explosions on Earth that have been conducted over the decades are not very helpful in this case. After all, in the Earth’s atmosphere, the main factor of damage is a sharp increase in air pressure, which is called a shock wave.

In space, where there is no environment, the energy of an explosion is transmitted by a whole spectrum of particles — from gamma rays to radio waves that propagate in space. And it was their interaction with matter that scientists modeled. They took into account that the asteroid itself can be heterogeneous, and the silicates, metals, and ice it consists of can interact differently with different photons.

The centerpiece of the model is the Kull hydrodynamic and radiation calculation program. It allows setting a wide range of initial conditions. The result obtained by the scientists may not seem very striking.

This is a system of complex equations that describe what is happening. However, they are quite sufficient to predict the results of an atomic explosion. The general conclusion of the scientists is that it is indeed possible to knock an asteroid off its course toward Earth or split it so that the debris does not pose a great threat.

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