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NASA Space Hardware

Nukes Against Earth-Impacting Asteroids 491

Posted by kdawson
from the armageddon-outta-here dept.
TopSpin writes "Flight International reports that scientists at the Marshall Space Flight Center have developed designs for an array of asteroid interceptors wielding 1.2-megaton B83 nuclear warheads. The hypothetical mission for these designs is based on an Apophis-sized Earth impactor 2 to 5 years out. According to NASA, 'Nuclear standoff explosions are assessed to be 10-100 times more effective [at deflection] than the non-nuclear alternatives analyzed in this study." On April 13, 2029, Apophis will pass closer to earth than geosynchronous satellites orbit.
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Nukes Against Earth-Impacting Asteroids

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  • by Will the Chill (78436) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:25PM (#20137127) Homepage
    extinction-level-event nuke-shielded overlords!

    -WtC

    *please insert sig*
    • by Compholio (770966) on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:36PM (#20137733)

      I, for one, welcome our... extinction-level-event nuke-shielded overlords!
      Kree Hol Mel.... Apophis!
    • by boaworm (180781) <boaworm@gmail.com> on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:37PM (#20137739) Homepage Journal
      Dont worry, TFA clearly states:

      According to the WSS, there are no known safety issues associated with the B83.
    • by rben (542324) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:43AM (#20141127) Homepage
      I read a novel, I can't remember which, where the author made a great case for using enhanced radiation weapons against asteroids instead of conventional nuclear devices. His argument was that a non-impacting explosion using an enhanced radiation device might be able to divert even a fragile asteroid without necessarily breaking it up. The radiation from the weapon would transfer it's energy evenly to the surface of the asteroid. (Not exactly, but way better than a regular nuke) That would blow away the top layer of the asteroid on the side facing the blast, pushing the asteroid in the opposite direction. A series of such blasts might be able to divert the asteroid without causing it to break up.

      I'm sure there are problems with the idea, but it seems logical to me.
      • It's probably not clear from the submission or perhaps even the article, but the same effect is being described in both.

        When a nuclear reaction occurs, energy is released primarily in two ways:
        1.) Kinetic/thermal energy carried away the reaction products and free neutrons and electrons.
        2.) Radiation (mostly x-rays and gamma rays) emitted directly or by secondary effects like Bremsstrahlung (collisions of particles from method 1).

        If there's a lot of extra matter around, like an atmosphere, it absorbs
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I, for one, welcome over-used cliche "jokes" that are posted in every single slash dot thread. We should really utilize all the cliches that are posted and launch them at incoming earth destroying rocks from space. I'm sure the bulk of them will easily deflect any sized asteroid.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:29PM (#20137159)
    If it's not going to hit Earth, will Skynet or the terminators even care?
  • by nebaz (453974) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:30PM (#20137171)
    with an alternate reality gateway, and a crack commando team consisting of a linguist with allergies, a wise cracking Colonel, a brilliant astrophysicist, and someone with a horrible gastronomical infection. Also some grenades.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by BearRanger (945122)
      Depends on what it's made of. . .it would be much safer to just open a hyperspace window and have it pass through the Earth. No grenades necessary. ;-)
  • APOP-Whut? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:30PM (#20137175) Homepage Journal
    In case you were wondering, Apophis is the Greek form of the name for the Egyptian Demon Apep [wikipedia.org].

    Otherwise known as the personification of all that is evil.
    • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:37PM (#20137735) Journal
      "In case you were wondering, Apophis is the Greek form of the name for the Egyptian Demon Apep."

      Thanks. Because if there's one thing that you can be sure about the average Slashdot reader it's that none of us has ever seen an episode of Stargate SG-1, and thus the name Apophis, and associating that name with evil personified, would be totally new to us all.

    • by caluml (551744)
      Apophis is the Greek form of the name for the Egyptian Demon Apep.

      Shouldn't that be apophisd and apepd respectively?
  • Quick ! (Score:4, Funny)

    by jfclavette (961511) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:33PM (#20137195)
    Get Ben Affleck's spacesuit ready.
  • FUD alert.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by fadeaway (531137) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:33PM (#20137201)
    Apophis was lowered to 0 on the Torino scale sometime last fall. I'm not sure why it even warranted a mention in this particular context..
    • Re:FUD alert.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by daeg (828071) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:46PM (#20137317)
      "Apophis-sized" implying that the plans would be equally valid for similarly sized bodies even with Apophis missing us in a few decades.
      • by fadeaway (531137)
        I was referring to the line "On April 13, 2029, Apophis will pass closer to earth than the orbits of geosynchronous satellites.", not to the comparison.

        If someone were to read that without proper background information, they may assume that Apophis is a threat, which has been proven to be false.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sholden (12227)
      Because that didn't change its size...
    • Re:FUD alert.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:10PM (#20137517) Homepage Journal
      Apophis is a perfect example of how flawed the current system for identifying potentially hazardous near-earth asteroids is. A two body analysis showed that it was on a collision course, but a more intensive three body analysis showed it would miss by a lot. Thing is, the opposite could potentially also be true - a two body analysis might show that an object is not a threat when, in fact, it is and a more heavy analysis would show that. We need more resources dedicated to this very real threat to our planet. Only with early detection do we have any chance of deflecting a planet killer.

  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:37PM (#20137231) Journal
    exploding nuclear weapons from a distance only works if the asteroid is fairly solid, like the metallic [M-type] asteroids. The more porous asteroids [there seem to be many] don't seem to respond as well to such explosions. As for the Armageddon-type way of dealing with asteroids, you just made a single asteroid into a hail of dangerous shrapnel. Although if we exploded a nuclear charge [a smaller one] that only tosses up a part of the asteroid and direct the shrapnel away from Eath, the shrapnel would go in one direction [wherever your plan dictates] and the asteroid generally goes in the opposing direction, knocking it off course. over a period of several years even a small orbital change will result in Earth being safe for now. [hopefully we have that much time if not start sipping your favorite alcoholic beverage :) ]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Reaperducer (871695)

      The more porous asteroids don't seem to respond as well to such explosions.
      You say this based on... what? Exactly how many nuclear weapons has NASA detonated in space while I was asleep?
    • by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:53PM (#20137389) Homepage Journal

      you just made a single asteroid into a hail of dangerous shrapnel.

      Shrapnel == Greater Cross Section
      Greater Cross Section == Atmosphere has greater effect on projectile
      Atmosphere has greater effect on projectile == Energy dissapated over wider area
      Energy dissapated over wider area == No boom today. Boom tomorrow. Always boom tomorrow.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cdrguru (88047)
        While small pieces are likely to be burned up in the atmosphere, this isn't exactly a joyous event.

        Atmospheric heating of the objects, if there are enough of them, can result in a significant increase in the temperature of the atmosphere in general. This is the very, very bad effect of either the "Armageddon" or the endgame in "Deep Impact".

        Deflection is the right answer. Probably the only good answer.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bigpat (158134)

          While small pieces are likely to be burned up in the atmosphere, this isn't exactly a joyous event.

          Atmospheric heating of the objects, if there are enough of them, can result in a significant increase in the temperature of the atmosphere in general. This is the very, very bad effect of either the "Armageddon" or the endgame in "Deep Impact".

          Deflection is the right answer. Probably the only good answer.

          Totally depends on the original size of the asteroid/comet and the resulting size of the fragments. The smaller that both are, the better off we would be. Something just a couple hundred meters across like the estimated size of apophis and it might make sense to break it up into as many chunks as possible. Anything less than a few meters diameter in size will not cause much damage. Spread out over a large enough area, or over the ocean and meteors that size will not cause much damage at all. I think t

      • by myowntrueself (607117) on Monday August 06, 2007 @10:11PM (#20138013)
        No boom today. Boom tomorrow. Always boom tomorrow.

        Oh thats just such a Russian attitude...
  • by darkhitman (939662) on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:41PM (#20137267)
    Couldn't we simply send a small spacecraft to intercept the asteroid? Say, a small craft, probably with one primary weapon that has plenty of ammo... probably shaped like a triangle, I think. It could use this "weapon" to then shoot at any incoming asteroids.

    Of course, the weapon wouldn't be as powerful as a nuke, and would probably split the asteroid in, say, half. The ship would then have to shoot both halves, breaking them again into half, creating four asteroids where just one was originally. The pilot would repeat this process until the asteroid is broken into such small pieces that they'll be deflected by earth's atmosphere.

    I'm still working on how the ship and asteroid fragments would warp to the other side of the field when they hit the edges, though... probably why NASA decided against this approach. That, and they wanted to avoid ripping off The Last Starfighter too much.
  • by zegota (1105649) <rpgfanatic.gmail@com> on Monday August 06, 2007 @08:43PM (#20137287)
    Because I don't want to miss a thing!
  • ...always wondered what happened to them after their big radio hit ""Keep Your Hands to Yourself".
  • I would like to know what margin of error would be required in order for Apophis to hit Earth? not large, I'll bet.
  • Ad impact! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SEWilco (27983)
    I, for one, wish the Flash ad window did not land on top of the first article.
  • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:24PM (#20137631)
    They claim 10-100 times more effective than other methods. First of all they dont define more effective. Second of all, they seem to dismiss ideas like a gravity tug out of hand as not developed enough.

    The idea of throwing nukes at an object of potentially unknown size bugs me, especially when much more controlled options exist. All that needs to be done is to nudge the NEO out of small zones known as "keyholes" that are small, finite portions of space where the pull of the Earth will push the object into a collision course on its next orbit rather than another random non-intersecting orbit.

    A fairly massive object (something a Delta IV Heavy could launch) would be perfectly capable of handling an Apophis sized object with enough lead time (on the order of years, but certainly less than decades), by flying in formation with the object in the right location to shift its orbit slightly. This is a lot easier than Apollo, which we pulled off in less than 10 years, so to dismiss it as too difficult is ridiculous, and it seems a lot more responsible than launching nukes at an object we dont fully understand.

    Just my thoughts anyway.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by E++99 (880734)

      They claim 10-100 times more effective than other methods. First of all they dont define more effective. Second of all, they seem to dismiss ideas like a gravity tug out of hand as not developed enough.

      The idea of throwing nukes at an object of potentially unknown size bugs me, especially when much more controlled options exist. All that needs to be done is to nudge the NEO out of small zones known as "keyholes" that are small, finite portions of space where the pull of the Earth will push the object into a

  • worse yet ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blandthrax (575357) on Monday August 06, 2007 @09:26PM (#20137651)
    April 13, 2029 is a Friday.
  • Liv Tyler is still hot... I hope they keep her. I hear that Cowboy Neal is going to try out for Ben Affleck's part and that the title is going to be "Armageddon II: This time we'll just shoot the fucker".
  • Great Idea (Score:2, Funny)

    by drsquare (530038)
    And if there are no asteroids, just direct the nukes to Argentina instead. Two birds with one stone.
  • I remember this one! This is one where the coyote sat his ass in a slingshot then strapped himself to an acme rocket. Is that what we're doing here?
  • by SetupWeasel (54062) on Monday August 06, 2007 @10:08PM (#20137983) Homepage
    My 51st birthday. If it does hit, at least I will have some student loans left when I die.
  • by E++99 (880734) on Monday August 06, 2007 @11:04PM (#20138323) Homepage
    Momentum change [in log10(kg m/s)], given a 9,000kg vehicle launch mass:
    Nuclear, Subsurface: 11.9
    Nuclear, Surface: 11.5
    Nuclear, Standoff - Neutron: 10.3
    Nuclear, Standoff - X-ray: 9.9
    Kinetic @50km/s (avg): 9.0
    Kinetic @10km/s (avg): 8.5
    Surface Thruster (non-rotating asteroid) @10 years: 8.1
    Surface Thruster (rotating asteroid) @10 years: 7.7
    Gravity Tractor, @10 years: 6.9
    Conventional Explosive, Subsurface: 6.8
    Conventional Explosive, Surface: 6.4

    Momentum change [in log10(kg m/s)] required to deflect the following:
    Hypothetical long-period 1km comet with 9-24 months to impact: 12.8
    Hypothetical 1km asteroid 15yr ahead: 10.5
    VD17, a 500m asteroid for 2088: 9.6
    Apophis after 2029 approach, assuming a 2036 a collision prediction: 9.4
    Hypothetical 200m asteroid 10 yr ahead: 8.7
    Apophis by 2029 (with current orbit knowledge): 8.5
    Apophis by 2029 (with highly accurate orbit knowledge): 6.3

    The point of the distinction between the last two is that the probability window we have to push out of the earth's path becomes much smaller the more accurately we know the orbital parameters of the object. So the more accurately we can calculate it, the less we have to actually push it (up to a point, of course). Also, it looks like very little is gained by exploding things underground as opposed to on the surface. So we apparently aren't going to need a crack team of good-looking drilling experts after all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fredmosby (545378)
      They are using a logarithmic scale so a sub-sueface blast is twice as large as a surface blast. 10^11.9 vs. 10^11.4 We may need Bruce Willis after all.
  • by XNormal (8617) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @02:59AM (#20139327) Homepage
    I would feel much more comfortable with a planetary defense system that does not rely on a single, unbuilt launch vehicle.

    Instead of carrying six weapons on a single platform it would be better to have smaller vehicles that can be launched on Atlas, Delta, Ariane, SpaceX falcon, etc.

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