How To Avoid an Armageddon Asteroid Scenario

How To Avoid an Armageddon Asteroid Scenario

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Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart outlines what we can do to avoid an asteroid striking the Earth and destroying all life.

It's the stuff of late 90s movies Deep Impact and Armageddon but the scenario is all too real. If an asteroid of sufficient size were to hit the Earth, the impact along with the dust it releases into our atmosphere would likely end all life on our planet, or at least make it much more of a pain in the ass. Rusty Schweickart doesn't want to sit and watch something like that happen and he doesn't think a ragtag group of oil drillers led by Bruce Willis is really going to save the day. Schweickart is leading a campaign to test the process by which we can alter an asteroid's trajectory to avoid the Earth and the extinction of the human race.

He calls for NASA to test a two-pronged plan with a kinetic impact (read: big explosion) to push the asteroid off course and a gravity tractor spacecraft to track the object and "pull" it by interacting with the asteroid's gravitational field.

"You want to know what happens when you do a kinetic impact, so you want an 'observer' spacecraft up there as well," Schweickart said. "You don't do a kinetic impact without an observation, because the impactor destroys itself in the process and without the observer you wouldn't know what happened except by tracking the object over time, which is not the best way to find out whether you got the job done."

He's not positive that everything he outlines will work, but that's why Schweickart thinks we need to start testing now.

"We need to demonstrate it because we - NASA, the technical community, the international community - need to learn what you find out when you do something for the first time," he said. "Playing a concerto in front of an audience is quite different from playing it alone in your house."

Plus, I don't think that Bruce Willis will be alive for much longer. We need to figure out what to do when he's no longer available.

Source: Space Fellowship

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I always wondered about that film, was there some reason they had to be oil drillers? Surely it would work better to train a team of astronauts to operate the drill?

If I'm not mistaken, the impact part of the plan has already been worked out. I have a friend whose father worked on an asteroid defense which essentially involved using a WHOLE lotta nukes not to destroy the asteroid but to push it off course. As I understand it, the plan was sketchy because an asteroid of sufficient mass usually will have enough momentum that, even if you presume that a high number of the missiles hit (An asteroid the size of Texas is still just a pinprick in space given how far out you would have to hit it to ensure that the trajectory is altered enough to miss), the thing might just barrel right through the nukes.

The main problem is detection. By it's own admission, NASA is only able to track 10% of the objects in the sky. Also, even if an object is made up of solid iron and is in the red on the Torino scale, if it is coming in at the right angle, they could be looking right at the object and still not see it. So there's a good chance that the first indication that we would have of being hit by such a world killer would be the wall of fire/dust sweeping towards us from the impact.

Here is my plan for dealing with the asteroid scenario... Nuke it to nothingness.

Before anybody corrects me, I know ONE nuke wouldn't destroy the astroid or at very most, create several Earth killing Asteroids instead of one, by why do we keep limiting ourselves to ONE nuke?

Can an asteroid survive five? Ten? Twenty Nukes? We have plenty of them down here, if it means our survivial, why let the asteroid have a chance of hurting us again?

Dr Salvador:
I always wondered about that film, was there some reason they had to be oil drillers? Surely it would work better to train a team of astronauts to operate the drill?

They initially tried but they found out that NASA couldn't build a good drill from Harry's (Bruce Willis) plans and the astronauts just didn't have the expertise to drill into the asteroid nor did Harry have the time to train them.

..........

Yeah, I know. You just gotta accept the premise that only Harry Stamper and his crew could do it and not think too much about it.

There's really no need to worry about asteroids, it's Jupiter's job to take em from us, if I remember my astronomy class, from like 20 yrs ago. In the worst care scenario we'd probably need to be more concern about clearing the dust in the aftermath than stopping the actual asteroid.

Not G. Ivingname:
Here is my plan for dealing with the asteroid scenario... Nuke it to nothingness.

Before anybody corrects me, I know ONE nuke wouldn't destroy the astroid or at very most, create several Earth killing Asteroids instead of one, by why do we keep limiting ourselves to ONE nuke?

Can an asteroid survive five? Ten? Twenty Nukes? We have plenty of them down here, if it means our survivial, why let the asteroid have a chance of hurting us again?

sounds good to me. :D

Dr Salvador:
I always wondered about that film, was there some reason they had to be oil drillers? Surely it would work better to train a team of astronauts to operate the drill?

I think it was because they were so good at drilling that NASA thought it would work the same on an Asteroid, to their credit they did send a couple of trained astronaughts with Bruce Willis and friends to do stuff. Stuff meaning play the pragmatist and try to blow up the nuke on the surface of the Asteroid which wouldn't have accomplished a lot (something a trained guy should've known), and to help us side with the drillers when they vouch for the human lives they'd be endangering.

Nuking an asteroid is right out. The blast wave won't push the asteroid a millimeter because there won't be a blast wave- that's caused by the sudden and immense temperature differential created by a nuclear blast within an atmosphere. There also wouldn't be a raging fireball of any sort, or even a wave of heat, because both of those require gasses to happen. Instead, we'd be simply irradiating a huge chunk of rock coming towards us at a cosmologically significant velocity- kind of like hiding from a gunman on the far side of an active X-ray machine and hoping that the radiation pushes the bullet off-course. We'd be a lot better off attempting to develop either a method of attaching propulsion (rockets) directly to the asteroid and pushing it that way, or find some way to affect local gravitational fields (implosion?) to pull it off-course.

Check my source.

Not G. Ivingname:
Here is my plan for dealing with the asteroid scenario... Nuke it to nothingness.

Before anybody corrects me, I know ONE nuke wouldn't destroy the astroid or at very most, create several Earth killing Asteroids instead of one, by why do we keep limiting ourselves to ONE nuke?

Can an asteroid survive five? Ten? Twenty Nukes? We have plenty of them down here, if it means our survivial, why let the asteroid have a chance of hurting us again?

I just read an article today that says that bombing asteroids is actually a perfectly viable solution, and not nearly as difficult nor dangerous as most people previously thought. The study claims that we already have nukes of sufficient power to blow up most solid asteroids that pose a threat to Earth. If the asteroids were not solid,but rather clumps of debris loosely held together, it would require even less power.

The idea of the asteroid breaking into smaller chunks that would then be even more threatening is also not a likely scenario. Rather if the blast was not powerful enough, the chunks would clump back together, reforming the asteroid. So a weak explosion wouldn't eliminate the asteroid, but it also would not permanently turn it into a bunch of mini asteroids. The key is to have a blast powerful enough to knock these shards far enough away that they don't clump into larger objects and instead harmlessly float away into space.

Am I saying that big explosives are guaranteed to solve any asteroid problems? Of course not. But this study does suggest that it is a viable option. As more research is done on extraterrestrial objects, I'm sure they will learn more about how to prefect any asteroid defense system.

Not G. Ivingname:
Can an asteroid survive five? Ten? Twenty Nukes? We have plenty of them down here, if it means our survivial, why let the asteroid have a chance of hurting us again?

If it's as big as the dino killer, yes. Asteroids get big. REALLY big. Vesta is the size of Texas; Eros is larger than Manhattan, and is only a bit larger than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. A lot of them are also chunks of iron, making them even more resistant to explosives. Then there's also the risk that you just shatter the thing, meaning that instead of getting hit by one big rock you're going to be hit by a thousand smaller rocks... and at that scale, it's like the difference between getting hit in the face by a cannon ball or by the same weight of shrapnel.

If you use nukes, you need to use them to "boil" off part of the rock/metal to act as a jet that pushes the asteroid away from its Earth-impacting course. Just blowin' it up real good probably isn't going to work.

-- Steve

Anton P. Nym:

Not G. Ivingname:
Can an asteroid survive five? Ten? Twenty Nukes? We have plenty of them down here, if it means our survivial, why let the asteroid have a chance of hurting us again?

If it's as big as the dino killer, yes. Asteroids get big. REALLY big. Vesta is the size of Texas; Eros is larger than Manhattan, and is only a bit larger than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. A lot of them are also chunks of iron, making them even more resistant to explosives. Then there's also the risk that you just shatter the thing, meaning that instead of getting hit by one big rock you're going to be hit by a thousand smaller rocks... and at that scale, it's like the difference between getting hit in the face by a cannon ball or by the same weight of shrapnel.

If you use nukes, you need to use them to "boil" off part of the rock/metal to act as a jet that pushes the asteroid away from its Earth-impacting course. Just blowin' it up real good probably isn't going to work.

-- Steve

Well, if you can catch them early enough, a relatively small force like a high-yield nuke can be enough to make it miss the Earth.

Also, shattering an asteroid might not necessarily be worse than allowing an impact. More pieces means more surface area, which means more of the asteroids energy will be lost to the atmosphere. Yeah it turns a cannon into a shotgun, but I'd reckon that a shotgun blast to the face would be marginally less fatal than getting decapitated by cannonball. Just ask Dick Cheney's hunting partners.

Though I still say it's preferable to just make the thing miss entirely.

Not G. Ivingname:
Here is my plan for dealing with the asteroid scenario... Nuke it to nothingness.

Before anybody corrects me, I know ONE nuke wouldn't destroy the astroid or at very most, create several Earth killing Asteroids instead of one, by why do we keep limiting ourselves to ONE nuke?

Can an asteroid survive five? Ten? Twenty Nukes? We have plenty of them down here, if it means our survivial, why let the asteroid have a chance of hurting us again?

........what if all those nukes just make the asteroid radioactive?

Im fairly sure radiation is just as bad.

Greg Tito:

Plus, I don't think that Bruce Willis will be alive for much longer. We need to figure out what to do when he's no longer available.

We grow another one.

I think people in this thread (assuming their responses are serious) are:
A) Overestimating the threat this poses, given that the 10% figure from NASA is a very general one and that the figure on objects capable of significant surface effects within a dangerously short period is likely MUCH closer to 100%
B) Unaware that we are already aware of at least one large extraterrestrial object that will pass within dangerous orbit twice in the next 30 years and are formulating plans to deal with it.
C) Severely underestimating the actual power of a nuke when it comes to destroying large, naturally-occurring objects. If I remember correctly, unloading the combined nuclear arsenals of every equipped nation on the planet at once would have a negligible effect on an object sufficiently large and resilient to make it through the atmosphere and have any significant effect on the surface.

The only situation along these lines that is even remotely worrying is one in which there is a presently-unknown object that is likely to collide with earth on its first pass through reasonably-observable space. The odds of this happening before its relevance to humanity's extinction is either greatly reduced or utterly trivialized are quite low, and scale lower as time goes by.

If only we had the technology to colonize other planets...

Kalezian:

Not G. Ivingname:
Here is my plan for dealing with the asteroid scenario... Nuke it to nothingness.

Before anybody corrects me, I know ONE nuke wouldn't destroy the astroid or at very most, create several Earth killing Asteroids instead of one, by why do we keep limiting ourselves to ONE nuke?

Can an asteroid survive five? Ten? Twenty Nukes? We have plenty of them down here, if it means our survivial, why let the asteroid have a chance of hurting us again?

........what if all those nukes just make the asteroid radioactive?

Im fairly sure radiation is just as bad.

If we break it up into tiny peices, most of it would burn up in the atmosphere or blown way off course.

We could just give bruce willis the immortality surem.

The problem with any kind of astroid defense strategy is the same as it always has been: international paranoia.

This is one of the reasons why I feel a world unity is a nessecity to do anything with space.

See, there have been plans through the years to do various things to avert possible astroid collisions. I mean heck, people have been discussing this kind of thing since I was a little kid and before then even. The "doom meteorite" was a concept explored back in things like the "Quartermass" movies (if I remember correctly).

Sending up shuttles or launching missles from the ground is touchy and limits our options, a lot of people have wanted to put missles on Satellites for that purpose. Of course few nations are willing to let other nations do anything like that in space because of the possibility those missles could be fired at them. Above and beyond missles and militant things like that, tons of things have been nixed due to international concerns.... something that has greatly influanced how I think about things (but gets well off subject).

At any rate, I think a meteorite threat is a threat mostly because of human paranoia. The plan I liked best was to tow some Astroids back into earth Orbit, rig them with rocket boosters, and then launch them at incoming meteors to knock them off course, with the interception vector plotted and adjusted by the same computers we use to predict the
incoming meteors.

As cool as Bruce Willis in a Space Shuttle is, the idea of say hitting a rock the size of Manhatten with another rock the size of Manhatten to deflect it has been around longer, and always struck me as being infinatly more plausible.

Of course seeing as the only ones who could do this is the US, and we of course care what other people think. Our shuttles are the only thing capable of performing the epic feat of towing astroids back (and admittedly it's iffy since it would be the longest space flight ever performed by the projections I remember reading). Then of course we'd be putting the rockets on it, and the US would then basically be Earth's space guardian and well... nobody wants the US to have that on top of everything else. Hence why it never got past the hypothetical stage.

A couple of decent sized rocket powered astroids in orbit on standby would certaintly make me a lot more confident of our abillity to survive the Armageddon Astroid scenario.

I've always thought that using rockets would work. You fly like a drone out to where the asteroid is, and with that attach a few rocks to one or multiple sides of it. Then, the rockets fire in a way that the asteroid, by the time it reaches Earth, has gone up enough or down enough or whatever direction it needs to in order to miss us and our moon. I mean sure you might have to invent some kind of drill rocket but I'm sure that have military applications so I'm sure that the government could find someone to do it.

One of those rocks, probably the size of a volkswagen or something, will one day hit a populated area and only then will people start paying attention and taking this kind of stuff seriously.

jonnosferatu:
I think people in this thread (assuming their responses are serious) are:
A) Overestimating the threat this poses, given that the 10% figure from NASA is a very general one and that the figure on objects capable of significant surface effects within a dangerously short period is likely MUCH closer to 100%

One of the problems with our current detection methods (other than funding) is that they can't see an asteroid that is headed directly toward us. Our methods of detection are more suited for asteroids that are running at a semi-parallel path to us. If it is aimed directly at us, it just appears as a pinprick in the sky until it's right on top of us. In fact, we've already had a few near misses that we didn't detect until they were close enough that, had they been aimed at us, it would have been too late to do anything. This is why the Torino scale not only takes size of asteroid but certainty of impact and how close it is before it'll strike us.

jonnosferatu:
B) Unaware that we are already aware of at least one large extraterrestrial object that will pass within dangerous orbit twice in the next 30 years and are formulating plans to deal with it.

Which asteroid are you talking about? We are aware of a number of them but, whether you use Torino or Palermo, supposedly none of them are more than a blip on either scale.

http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/#legend

jonnosferatu:

The only situation along these lines that is even remotely worrying is one in which there is a presently-unknown object that is likely to collide with earth on its first pass through reasonably-observable space. The odds of this happening before its relevance to humanity's extinction is either greatly reduced or utterly trivialized are quite low, and scale lower as time goes by.

Ignoring the reply of "Would they even tell us if there were such a rock?", this goes back to the detection issue. We don't cover as much of the sky as people think and we've already been taken by surprise a few times since we started monitoring for such things. The size of such things is also an issue. If you look at the moon right now, chances are that you could make an O with your fingers and encircle the whole thing. Yes, we have telescopes that sweep the skies using more than just the visual spectrum and all that but an asteroid the size of the Chrysler building is still difficult to detect, even with computerized monitoring.

And remember, we have to be able to detect it in sufficient time. I liked Armageddon. It blew things up real good. However, if a rock is already within the moon's orbit, it's already too late. To give you an idea on the speeds and distance involved, the moon's orbit (being an ellipse) is 360,000km to 420,000km from the earth. This sounds like an unfathomable long distance until you look at the Earth's speed in rotating the sun. Our planet moves at an estimated 107,000km/hour. Given how fast the asteroid in the movie was closing in on earth, it seemed to be coming at us pretty close to a head-on angle. So, even if you negate the asteroid's speed, you're still looking at 3 to 4 hours from when Harry and crew landed on the asteroid.

Another fault with the movie was how they treated the explosion. They were detonating the asteroid from the inside. Somehow, the asteroid fragments all diverted off to the side.....from an internal explosion instead of hurling rock in all directions. Even an 1/8 of that scattered rock would have wiped a large chunk of humanity off the map.

But, working with the missile theory, we're going to be firing the missiles straight at the rock. (Even then, we're going to have a high miss ratio.) Unless we have the means to fire the missiles out at an angle and then have them change direction and still have enough missiles to zero in on the rock, we won't really be doing too much diverting so much as trying to slow it which, as was mentioned before, is made more difficult due to the effects of the outer space environment as opposed to detonating a nuke in an atmosphere. Essentially, we're trying to divert a rolling boulder by throwing pebbles at it. Not impossible but, given our current technology, is a scenario that would currently be very much dependent on luck.

Everyone just needs to lean to the left.

That way, the earth will move out of the way.

Therumancer:
As cool as Bruce Willis in a Space Shuttle is, the idea of say hitting a rock the size of Manhatten with another rock the size of Manhatten to deflect it has been around longer, and always struck me as being infinatly more plausible.

that sounds to me something like hitting a billiard ball with a cueball

and we're the corner pocket

If an object the size of Texas were heading for Earth, you would need more nukes than what is curently available if you want to divert it.

If you want to drill and blow it up then what you will need depends on its weight and composition, either way you will have thousands of heavily irradiated chunks raining down on the planet.

easy...well, sort of

we just need a lot of Jedi

(or a few very focused ones on specially built temples to amplify their usage of the Force...what? fine shutting up)

((but it worked against Star Destroyers!!))

"Nuke 'em from orbit." Get it?

If a giant space rock comes flying at us and has a high probability of killing us I will make a thread right here and say "Hey, at least it wasn't zombies!" where we will all talk about our final moments on Earth. Of course the chance of this happening is actually fairly slim, and all we'd really need to do is slow the rock down enough for Earth to move out of the way. (you guys do remember that earth moves right?)

thepyrethatburns:
Lots of very informative text

Posting because I feel obligated to give props for an extremely informative response that I was not expecting in the slightest. Thanks!

Altorin:
Everyone just needs to lean to the left.

That way, the earth will move out of the way.

This is genious. I feel safer already.

 

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