Russian Scientists Tested Their Asteroid-Nuking Plan with Powerful Lasers

Mar 19, 2018

By Rafi Letzter

Russian scientists have a plan to deal with a hypothetical asteroid threat that’s straight out of the movie “Armageddon.”

A team of government scientists has proposed that nuclear weapons well within the power of those already developed could be used to break up incoming asteroids, protecting the planet from a major asteroid strike. They then demonstrated, in a paper published online March 8 in the Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics, the effect of a nuclear strike on an asteroid using scale model “asteroids” and powerful lasers.

Striking a tiny model asteroid with a powerful laser on Earth is obviously not the exact same thing as striking a full-size asteroid with a laser out in space. But there’s a reasonable degree of comparison between the two situations.

The researchers took careful steps to make sure the scale models were created from the same materials and had similar structures to chondrites (common, stony asteroids). And the immense energy deposited by a pulsed laser onto a single point on the model was reasonably similar to the effect of a nuclear blast on a single point on the asteroid’s surface. They wrote that their experiment showed they could use a a 3-megaton bomb to blast a 656-foot-wide (200 meters) asteroid — 10 times wider than the asteroid that detonated over Russia in  2013 — to harmless bits that would spread out and miss Earth.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

One comment on “Russian Scientists Tested Their Asteroid-Nuking Plan with Powerful Lasers”

  • @OP – The researchers took careful steps to make sure the scale models were created from the same materials and had similar structures to chondrites (common, stony asteroids).

    It is a mistake to class all chondrites as the same!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chondrite#Composition
    Because chondrites accumulated from material that formed very early in the history of the solar system, and because chondritic asteroids did not melt, they have very primitive compositions. “Primitive,” in this sense, means that the abundances of most chemical elements do not differ greatly from those that are measured by spectroscopic methods in the photosphere of the sun, which in turn should be well-representative of the entire solar system (note: to make such a comparison between a gaseous object like the sun and a rock like a chondrite, scientists choose one rock-forming element, such as silicon, to use as a reference point, and then compare ratios. Thus, the atomic ratio of Mg/Si measured in the sun (1.07) is identical to that measured in CI chondrites[29]).

    Although all chondrite compositions can be considered primitive, there is variation among the different groups, as discussed above.
    CI chondrites seem to be nearly identical in composition to the sun for all but the gas-forming elements (e.g., hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and noble gases).
    Other chondrite groups deviate from the solar composition (i.e., they are fractionated) in highly systematic ways:

    At some point during the formation of many chondrites, particles of metal became partially separated from particles of silicate minerals.
    As a result, chondrites coming from asteroids that did not accrete with their full complement of metal (e.g., L, LL, and EL chondrites) are depleted in all siderophile elements, whereas those that accreted too much metal (e.g., CH, CB, and EH chondrites) are enriched in these elements compared to the sun.

    Because these asteroids are a loose aggregation of separate pieces, they can easily be scattered and changed from a “bullet” into a scatter-shot “shotgun blast”! There may however be large chunks of metal or rock from pieces of early planetoids in that mix!

    And the immense energy deposited by a pulsed laser onto a single point on the model was reasonably similar to the effect of a nuclear blast on a single point on the asteroid’s surface.

    I am very sceptical about this, and doubt that such models can be scaled up into and effective system!

    As I commented on this related discussion, it is much more constructive to use lasers to gently and safely move the whole asteroid intact, into a new trajectory which misses the Earth.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2018/03/spacecraft-could-nuke-dangerous-asteroid-to-defend-earth/#li-comment-230955

    Then there is the issue of the other asteroids, which are essentially massive solid chunks of metal! (See #3 on the link), which would not be broken up by a nuclear explosion!

    The use of nukes appears to be a last ditch plan after late detection – which adds radioactive nuclear fall-out to the mix!

    Late detection, of course implies a lack of time to clearly identify the type of asteroid involved, or match an appropriate strategy to the type in question – leading to the sort of mistakes which make matters MUCH worse!

    They wrote that their experiment showed they could use a a 3-megaton bomb
    to blast a 656-foot-wide (200 meters) asteroid —
    10 times wider than the asteroid that detonated over Russia in 2013 —
    to harmless bits that would spread out and miss Earth.

    There is no reason to believe that breaking up an asteroid, will cause all the bits to miss Earth. Some bits may miss, but it is much more likely that impacts will continue (with far too many pieces to track and deal with separately), over and extended time period, and over numerous unpredictable sites on Earth!
    Some may even come back on a later orbit – as do the Perseid meteor showers every August, – as ancient residues from a passing comet!



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.