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  (Source: Touchstone Pictures)
The mother of all bombs would sit in wait in an orbitary platform

Purdue University Geophysics Professor H. Jay Melosh has spent his career studying massive impact craters such as Chicxulub, a massive, partially underwater impact region in the Yucatan.  

Thanks to Professor Melosh's research, scientists now feel reasonably confident that it was this massive asteroid impact that triggered the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs.  And for the last two decades, Professor Melosh had been chief evangelist for a campaign urging the U.S. and other spacefaring nations to adopt a plan to design asteroid diverting devices to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to mankind.

I. To Nuke?

Opinion on how exactly to end an extinction-event size asteroid is sharply divided in the research communities of Russia and the U.S. -- the world's veteran space superpowers.

One camp was formerly led by Edward Teller, a veteran U.S. researcher referred to as the "father of the [American] hydrogen (fusion) bomb".  Before his passing he urged lawmakers in the 1990s to consider the use of a massive nuclear warhead, the mother of all bombs, to literally blow an asteroid off its orbit-crossing impact course with Earth.  At a 1995 meeting at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Calif., he pitched the idea to a collective of U.S. and Russian ex-Cold War weapons designers and space engineers.

Nuclear fiery explosion
[Image Source: YouTube]

On the other side is a coalition of experts who believe a non-nuclear solution is possible, and that those on the other side are willfully overlooking the potential security risks of a space nuke for their own self-interest.

Nukes and asteroids... where have we seen this before??? Oh, right...
[Image Source: Touchstone Pictures]
George Mason University (GMU) anthropology Professor Hugh Gusterson is cynical about the effort, remarking, "It was a response to the loss of the weapons lab mission, it was not a response to the asteroid threat."

In his 1998 book about the effects of the Cold War on nuclear weapons testers at LLNL "Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War" he argues that interest peaked when nuclear researchers feared that if they did not convinced the government to switch gears and develop nukes to target asteroids, they might lose their jobs.  But after they obtained jobs maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, he says, these clamoring calls largely died down, save for a few holdouts like Ed Teller.

II. Not to Nuke?

Professor Melosh is also a skeptic of those who advocate a nuclear answer.  He is leading a campaign to use an alternate, non-nuclear solution.  In a recent interview with The Center For Public Integrity he recalls the 1995 meeting at LLNL, complaining, "It was a really bizarre thing to see that these weapons designers were willing to work together—to build the biggest bombs ever."

He points out that no very large asteroids are in near-term orbits that overlap with the Earth.  He adds, "The remaining smaller objects can be dealt with by non-nuclear means, kinetic detection being the most straightforward [feasible].  I think that the need for deflecting very large objects that might require nuclear detonations is waning and that a reevaluation of realistic needs is very much in order."

Purdue University Geophysics Professor H. Jay Melosh [Image Source: Purdue University] 

His plan is to shoot large mechanical impactors -- battering rams of sorts -- at the meteorite, which could come with ion boosters to further "push" the asteroid post-impact with the object.  Together, he argues, this mechanical solution could prove far more safe and effective than his nuclear alternative.  The disadvantage is that mechanical solutions would admittedly take more time.

Asteroid event
Researchers believe mankind must find a way to prevent an extinction level asteroid from htting the Earth. [Image Source: LANL]

Others like Princeton University Professor Christopher Chyba -- a nuclear weapons expert and a member of President Obama’s 18-person Council of Advisors on Science and Technology -- sit somewhere in the middle.  He argues that the U.S. and its allies need to increase spending for asteroid surveys to predict potential threats, which could be averted with mechanical solutions such as Professor Melosh's.  On the other hand, since surveys could miss a dangerous asteroid, he supports a nuclear solution too.

He comments, "This is a hazard I take seriously, and I think this civilization needs to take it seriously.  I have no qualms with research on deflection strategies, including nuclear deflection strategies.  Nothing will be done to jeopardize existing arms control treaties. There, the game’s not worth the candle.  Nobody’s talking about testing."

III. Obama, Russia Leaning Towards Mega Space Nuke

The deck seems stacked against the nuclear camp.  Today there are several major international treaties that ban nuclear weapons testing including the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) which forbids nuclear weapons tests underground and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which prohibits all tests.  The former treaty was signed by the U.S. and ratified by Congress, while the latter test was signed by President Bill Clinton, but not yet ratified by Congress.

And then there's the 1967 Outer Space Treaty -- a treaty that prohibits the use of or testing of weapons in space.  That treaty has been signed by 129 nations in total -- including China, Russia, and the U.S.  Every spacefaring nation, in fact, has signed it except for Iran.

But despite its possibility to breach international treaties, the Obama administration has come to support the nuclear idea.  Last month the U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Russian nuclear agency (Rosatom) Director Sergey Kirienko signed a shadowy agreement to collaborate on "defense from asteroids" and other topics.  The 47-page document, published in both English and Russian was not made public, but the Center of Public Integrity managed to obtain a copy and make it publicly available.

Russia and U.S. deal
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (left) and Russian atomic agency (Rosatom) Director Sergey Kirienko claims their collaboration will be for peace. [Image Source: State Dept.]

Strangely, there's no mention of asteroids at all in the "agreement" (a semantics game used by recent Presidents to circumvent the authority of Congress, whom are required to sign all "treaties").  Instead the actual text only describes peacetime efforts to improve nuclear fission power, study the potential for nuclear fusion power, safeguard nuclear stocks against terrorists, and come up with more effective means of disposing of nuclear waste.

But some experts believe the agreement may be an opening overture in an agreement between the world's two largest nuclear nations to breach both space weapons and nuclear testing treaties, testing warheads in space.

In February the Russia's deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin received a proposal from the Russia’s Academy of Sciences to spend $2B USD on asteroid defense.  The academy told Russian state-support television channel RT, "Destruction of an asteroid in emergency cases may be performed by a rocket with a powerful megaton-class nuclear warhead.  If the threat is detected early, more advanced means of changing an asteroid’s orbit may be considered."

David Dearborn
David Dearborn, a LLNL researcher, is America's senior anti-asteroid researcher and key advocate of a nuclear solution. [Image Source CFPI]

Rosatom's deputy director Oleg Shubin -- an attendee at the 1995 LLNL meeting -- is his country's counterpart to Ed Teller.  He has authored several papers exploring the idea.  A March article by state-owned news agency RIA Novosti said that Mr. Shubin was campaigning among Russia's leadership to develop space nukes.  The article states, "In the opinion of Oleg Shubin, a departmental director at Rosatom, nonnuclear ways of deflecting and destroying Earth-bound asteroids may be exotic but ineffective."

IV. U.S. is Backing Nuclear Option With Research Funding

In the U.S. funding for examining nuclear deterrents to an asteroid is gaining ground.  Government-funded research scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico have been studying the effect of a nuclear warhead on an asteroid using simulations.

Robert Weaver and research physicist Cathy Plesko are among the small collective of government researchers at the lab working at least part time to study the idea using the LANL's Cielo supercomputer.  The researchers are trying to determine -- whether "an energy source of this magnitude" could "really disrupt this asteroid and prevent the hazard to the entire Earth," in Mr. Weaver's words.

Catherine Plesko
Catherine Plesko, LANL researcher [Image Source: Santa Fe Radio Cafe]

University of Washington (UW) engineering professor has received a $1.25M USD grant from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to study a ballistic impactor designed to deliver a nuclear warhead into an asteroid.

A 1997 concept for a nuclear interceptor to be used on an incoming asteroid

He says in an interview, "When we first started looking at this about a dozen years ago, very early on, the nuclear option was the one that everyone said, ‘Hey, we can do this.'  But that was politically incorrect, so there was a lot of hesitation for anyone to say that this is a solution."

Iowa State University (ISU) is another key player in the nuclear effort, with Professor Bong Wie launching the Asteroid Deflection Research Center, a center looking to model and build model impactors.  Professor Wie and the center received a $600,000 USD grant to investigate a "hypervelocity nuclear interceptor system", which would rocket towards an asteroid, fire a secondary impactor, which would create a crater, which would serve as landing site for the warhead in the main missile, preventing the missile from "bouncing" off the asteroid and corralling the blast.

Asteroid attacker
A rendering of the anti-asteroid missile by ISU Professor Bong Wie's group.

Professor Wie estimates a two-stage launcher based on his design would cost $500M USD and could be launched in coming years to demonstrate the technology he's currently developing.

The senior U.S. research studying the nuclear solution is nuclear weapons designer David S. P. Dearborn, who was working on the problem on his own time until 2012, when he obtained a grant to make it his full time project at LLNL.  You fragment it with enough force so that the pieces spread out ... [and most] miss the Earth.  Small bits of rock would burn up in the atmosphere, or fall as dust. Fragmentation may reduce a catastrophe to an inconvenience.

V. Feasibility Concerns Remain

A nuclear explosion would look much different in space than Earth, taking a spherical shape, rather than the mushroom cloud we know.  It's unclear whether a nuclear blast could destroy a large asteroid, and if so what size blast would be necessary.

Russian researchers in February mentioned a 1-megaton device, but by March Oleg Shubin said he believed a multi-megaton device might be necessary.  (Russia's "Tzar Bombs" built in the 1960s packed 50-100 megatons of explosive energy.)  The effect on the asteroid could depend somewhat on its composition as the electro magnetic pulse (EMP) could result in complex magnetization and heating if the asteroid was rich in certain metallic elements, such as iron.

Even if research can hash out what size device they need, there's the question of how to deliver it.  Mr. Dearborn and Professor Wie want to deliver it directly.  But Ed Teller prefered an orbital platform with the nuke onboard -- and some nuclear advocates think that's a good solution.  Such a platform could make for a slightly faster response (due to less launch prep) and more precise targeting (due to the effects of atmospheric exit versus space launch) -- but critics like Mr. Dearborn complain that such a platform could pose a security risk, could be damaged by space debris, and would require regular maintenance by astronauts.

A similar "orbiting platform" non-nuclear solution has been proposed by University of California physics Professor Phillip Lubin who wants to build a six-mile (10 km) wide targeting mirror (dubbed "DE-STAR"), combined with a network of laser satellites, which together could focus over a megaton of force a day to a target object.

Prof. Phillip Lubin's "DE-STAR" laser system [UCSB]

A final feasibility problem is what to do with the remains.  A shot at a far away object could safely remedy a threat, but a shot near enough to Earth could create a small flock of asteroids that could prove only slightly less dangerous.  It's possible such smaller targets could be dealt with by land-based missile defenses, but it's a topic researchers are taking seriously.

At the end of the day of these technologies remain proven, so mankind is as vulnerable as ever to an asteroid strike.  But some are working to change that, even if they remain bitterly divided on the topic of nukes in space.

Sources: The Center for Public Integrity [1], [2], DOE, Rosatom

Comments     Threshold

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By techxx on 10/17/2013 4:16:36 PM , Rating: 1
I urge anyone who hasn't seen this movie to watch it. :3

RE: Armageddon
By uibo on 10/17/2013 4:24:00 PM , Rating: 2
I could stay awake just to hear you breathing

RE: Armageddon
By techxx on 10/17/2013 4:32:56 PM , Rating: 4
I will breath in your ear all night!

RE: Armageddon
By Samus on 10/17/2013 6:44:41 PM , Rating: 2
If they don't build this nuke, nobody gonna be breathing.

RE: Armageddon
By Reclaimer77 on 10/17/13, Rating: -1
RE: Armageddon
By praeses on 10/17/2013 6:27:04 PM , Rating: 5
I'm not sure if you're just trolling or not but a minigun would work in space just fine providing it doesn't have condensation or temperature contraction/expansion issues. We use cartridges that are crimped together with the primer and smokeless powder containing all the oxygen it needs, and in some situations they even seal them.

It is theorized that a shotgun would be suitable for emergency maneuvers on the moon to propel the astronaut in the opposite direction.

RE: Armageddon
By Reclaimer77 on 10/17/13, Rating: -1
RE: Armageddon
By JKflipflop98 on 10/17/2013 8:02:40 PM , Rating: 1
I don't recall any minigun at all in this movie. And they did talk about the fact that he actually brought a handgun to space. . . it was kind of intentional. Of course, don't let that stop you from running your mouth off as usual.

RE: Armageddon
By Reclaimer77 on 10/17/13, Rating: -1
RE: Armageddon
By FITCamaro on 10/18/2013 7:28:53 AM , Rating: 3
You're correct. There was a minigun. And what's going into space if you're not properly prepared for Aliens vs Predator?

RE: Armageddon
By lexluthermiester on 10/20/2013 4:18:16 AM , Rating: 2
And that would an excellent reason to bring more than a few, with lots of ammo, assuming of course you kill all of the them before they get close enough to splatter you with their very toxic blood! For that reason alone I rather face a Predator...

RE: Armageddon
By DerMack on 10/18/2013 8:04:27 AM , Rating: 2
Do you know how cold space is? It's so cold that the gunpowder in the cartridge no longer reliably ignites and burns fast enough to produce an explosion.
if the gun was in direct sunlight it migth have been warm enough u know... Anything that is directly lit by sunlight will warm up quite nicely, anything that isn't will get rather cold...
(I haven't seen the movie and dont intendt to either :P)

RE: Armageddon
By MrBlastman on 10/18/2013 11:26:57 AM , Rating: 1
Space is actually a really good insulator. You can only transfer heat in three ways--conduction, convection and radiation. Space nullifies conduction and convection for the most part so the only thing left is radiation. Taking that into consideration, the rate of heat dissipation is significantly slower than say here, on Earth, depending on the type of device/craft/material/state of matter/energy level. Different states have different properties, but for the most part, at Humanities "normal" range, dissipation by radiation is pretty slow.

In fact, keeping things cool in space is actually a pretty big problem depending in the spacecraft/satellite. High-heat output systems are difficult to manage. In addition, you're only going to find truly "cold" space when you are out of view of our Sun. If you are in sunlight, you are receiving twice the wattage per square meter in space versus what you feel on Earth!

Lastly, ammunition depends on a chemical explosion in a self-contained and sealed cartridge. Lack of oxygen is a non-issue. Remaining still after firing... that's a much bigger problem. :) Gravity and friction help do a lot of that work for us here, on Earth.

RE: Armageddon
By lexluthermiester on 10/20/2013 5:37:43 AM , Rating: 2
Good points all. If by stating;

Remaining still after firing...

you meant the recoil action produced by the rounds being fired, then that problem was a non-issue. The gun itself was mounted on the rover/drilling craft which was itself secured to the asteroid to facilitate the drilling. The movie makers got that part of the physics right, even if only accidentally. Hollywood has the freedom to bend physics to their own will for the sake of story telling. The movie in question was meant to be an adventure that entertained, not to be a statement of practical science. "Deep Impact" was an example of practical science being used to express a "what if" situation. It was a far more plausible expression, yet still had a few flaws. Both are meant to entertain. And for differing reasons both succeeded and to differing audiences. I liked both actually, even given the absurdity of Armageddon's "physic's". Still, such a solution could be possible. After all, we got men to the moon using FAR less and robots to Mars which have remained operational years longer than originally estimated. We, as a civilization have done amazing things, who's to say we couldn't pull off an "Armageddon" or "Deep Impact".

They[Armageddon's creators] did make a good point about the physics of a nuke being used to deflect an asteroid of that size. We "could fire every nuke we have at it and it would just smile at us and keep on coming". Even if we managed to make a gigaton device, it still would not be enough. Against something smaller? maybe, if we detected it and hit it soon enough... The closer it gets the more nukes we'd need and they'd need to be exponentially more powerful. Whether or not it would plausibly work would greatly depend on circumstances and the resources focused on such an effort. The reality is that the firecracker in the palm of the hand point is valid. But nuke would not break and asteroid or comet down the center if deposited into a drilled hole. It would blast the thing to pieces and possibly not favorably.

I personally think the creators of those two movies didn't only want to make money, but also wanted the ideas of such possibilities to become wide-spread and talked about, as we are doing here. Could we survive events similar to those which have caused mass-extinctions in the past[including that of the dinosaurs]? Maybe. Are we wise enough to plan for such possibilities? Maybe. Are we smart and creative enough to be able to prevent such? Given the creativity displayed by those in Hollywood, I would suggest that it is distinctly likely. So it boils down to whether or not we are wise enough to plan for, develop the tools and have ready to go those tools to effect a prevention of such types of events... But will the governments of the world yield to prudence and practicality? That is where I have little faith...

RE: Armageddon
By lexluthermiester on 10/20/2013 4:13:56 AM , Rating: 1
I still maintain the entire premise of bringing a minigun into space for that mission was SO ridiculous!.

Good point, and indeed most of the physics in that movie bordered on the absurd. But your argument that mini/gatling guns wouldn't fire in space for lack of oxygen/temperature limitations is not valid. Gunpowder can be formulated to fire full-strength so long as the temperature is maintained above 243 degrees celsius, and as another poster alluded to, gunpowder contains all the oxygen it needs to function properly, even in a full vacuum. And in such extreme cold, a preheater can be used to warm up the rounds before they're loaded, to great effect. This has already been developed and tested in the Arctic/Antarctic regions of earth by multiple militaries. Therefore, the use of gunpowder based projectile weapons is not only possible but can be achieved with only modest efforts.

Why you would need such weapons in space is debatable. But whether or not they would function properly is not.

RE: Armageddon
By Nexos on 10/18/2013 9:02:29 AM , Rating: 5
Staying on topic (for what its worth): The soviet/russian manned capsules are required to carry a handgun and ammo on-board because unlike US capsules which would splash down in an ocean somewhere, they were designed to land on solid ground in the siberian taiga, where the crew might have to defend themselves (for days, potentially) from wild animals, before rescue crews arrive on site.

The soviets even made a special three-barreled gun that shot slugs, bird shot and flares, all in one.

RE: Armageddon
By 91TTZ on 10/17/2013 11:36:02 PM , Rating: 3
The minigun being used in space, an oxygen free environment, was especially entertaining

Huh? You do realize that gunpowder contains its own oxidizer, don't you? I thought this was common sense? The gun will fire.

RE: Armageddon
By Reclaimer77 on 10/17/13, Rating: -1
RE: Armageddon
By slunkius on 10/18/2013 1:07:00 AM , Rating: 5
What could have been a fun and light discussion has just been ruined by your heavy handed know-it-all BS. Thanks!

so what about that fun discussion you was clamoring for earlier? ah, f*** it!

RE: Armageddon
By maven81 on 10/18/2013 10:07:23 AM , Rating: 2
Guns in space have actually been tested. The Soviet Salyut 3 (really Almaz) space station had a 23mm canon and they test fired it.
Once again you're spouting off without doing any research.

RE: Armageddon
By Reclaimer77 on 10/18/2013 10:23:52 AM , Rating: 1
What research? The movie was ridiculous!

RE: Armageddon
By maven81 on 10/18/2013 10:28:07 AM , Rating: 2
On that we can agree! But the funny part is, of all the crap in the movie, that part may actually work.

RE: Armageddon
By ClownPuncher on 10/17/2013 6:30:27 PM , Rating: 5
Yea. I don't know how Michael Bay does it, but his movies are the most artistic and culturally significant masterpieces the world has ever known.

RE: Armageddon
By NicodemusMM on 10/17/2013 7:15:08 PM , Rating: 4

Now there's sarcasm all over my keyboard and displays. Thanks!

RE: Armageddon
By Omega215D on 10/18/2013 12:22:24 AM , Rating: 2
American components, Russian components... all made in Taiwan!

RE: Armageddon
By FaaR on 10/18/2013 4:10:29 PM , Rating: 2
Ok... Nuke to kill asteroid...check. Bruce Willis...check. Steve Buscemi...check. Peter Stormare...check. Michael Duncan Clarke...

Michael Duncan Clarke...oh shit! We're doomed, all doomed!

Fight fire with fire.
By JKflipflop98 on 10/17/2013 8:07:11 PM , Rating: 6
I'm thinking the best idea to stop an incoming asteroid is to hit it with another asteroid that we control. Capture one and bring it to Earth orbit. Install some bigass thrusters on it like Planetary Annihilation and let it orbit the Earth at high speeds.

When needed, direct it into the path of the incoming asteroid that wants to kill us all.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By JasonMick on 10/17/2013 8:39:43 PM , Rating: 2
That's actually not a bad idea... it'd be a much more controllable projectile, and with ion thrusters could have a lot of momentum behind it.

Granted your calculations would have to be dead on. Imagine if it pulled a NASA Mars probe-style miss... "Whoops, forgot to convert to metric!"... O_O

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By Master Kenobi on 10/17/2013 9:04:13 PM , Rating: 2
The added benefit of being able to mine the captured asteroid first and throw the useless husk at the incoming asteroid makes it even more economical.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By Samus on 10/18/2013 1:10:19 AM , Rating: 5
Strap a few politicians to it for good measure.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By seamonkey79 on 10/18/2013 7:26:20 AM , Rating: 3
If we mined it, it may not have enough mass left over to do anything to an incoming asteroid.

Also, if we missed, we may hit a planet with it, and they may think we're attacking them, and then we may end up with Starship Troopers. Nobody wants that.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By lexluthermiester on 10/20/2013 8:52:03 AM , Rating: 2
Seriously? If you mine it and remove anything, than you remove the very mass you want to use to deflect/destroy an incoming object. Your notion is idiotic at best.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By slunkius on 10/18/2013 1:10:38 AM , Rating: 4
yeah, nice idea. except that if we learn to capture asteroids, incoming asteroid would not be a problem anymore. you know, we could just *capture* it.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By JasonMick on 10/18/2013 8:32:26 AM , Rating: 1
yeah, nice idea. except that if we learn to capture asteroids, incoming asteroid would not be a problem anymore. you know, we could just *capture* it.
You're missing his idea.... I think he's suggesting capturing a smaller asteroid and using it against a larger asteroid... it still could have more energy than any nuke made so far, if properly equipped with a lot of ion thrusters or something like that.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By Nexos on 10/18/2013 9:53:05 AM , Rating: 2
I think your not quite grasping the energy required to get something with the mass of an asteroid into an orbit. if we tried that using conventional propellant (hardcore back of the envelope type of math incoming) like on the Apollo lander, we would expect to require an amount of fuel roughly equal to the mass of the asteroid itself. (the Apollo lander was about 50% fuel by weight, and didn't even try to orbit itself around earth, also assuming the delta-V required to get an asteroid to orbit the earth is equal to landing on the moon and returning to moon orbit, which it probably isn't)

To get that amount of fuel into space in the first place would require a rocket about 10-20x the mass of that asteroid (going back to Saturn V again, it was about 90% fuel, 5% structure and 5% payload), which is completely impractical. Using something like space cannons or elevators to get the fuel into earth orbit would make things much easier, but those technologies don't really exist yet.

Ion thrusters on the other hand have a much higher specific impulse, which means it might be conceivably possible to launch and land them and their fuel/power source on a small-ish asteroid using current tech rockets. BUT the thrust of ion engines is many orders of magnitude below that of traditional rocket engines, so it might take centuries of constant thrusting to get an asteroid into orbit, again making it completely impractical.

I'm not saying those methods (and others) shouldn't be researched, but currently, the only things we have available that could influence an object the size of an asteroid are nuclear warheads.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By JKflipflop98 on 10/19/2013 7:13:27 PM , Rating: 2
If you honestly think any warhead we have is going to do anything to a world-ender the size of Manhattan, you got another think coming.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By BRB29 on 10/21/2013 2:10:27 PM , Rating: 2
If the asteroid still have even just a few days until impact, nudging it just a .1 degree off its course will most likely make it miss earth.

We don't need to hit the asteroid with the nuke. We just need the nuke close to the side and detonate so it changes the direction of the asteroid. Not one but probably a series of nukes after we calculate the direction change.

Sure, there will be radiation in space but it is far away and spread out quite a bit. It won't affect us by that much since we are constantly bombarded with radiation and solar wind from the sun. We're fine.

Blowing up the asteroid will actually cause problems because now you have a spread that will definitely leave some hitting earth. It will also bring the radiation with it.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By talonvor on 10/23/2013 1:21:46 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is mass, any asteroid that's so large that we need to do something about it is going to require an unimaginable amount of energy to make it move that .1 degrees.

Yes, blowing up an asteroid will create a bunch of smaller asteroids that can impact in many locations versus a single location. However a few asteroids that can cause impacts equal to meteor crater are a heck of a lot better than an asteroid that's big enough to be a continent killer. So while some scientists think that blowing up that asteroid is a bad idea, it would cause less damage than the original.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By SAN-Man on 10/18/2013 11:12:25 AM , Rating: 2
Please. Easier to control? You have no idea what you're talking about, as usual.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By Reclaimer77 on 10/17/13, Rating: 0
RE: Fight fire with fire.
By inperfectdarkness on 10/18/2013 4:01:30 AM , Rating: 2
No matter what method we use, the debris from fending off an rogue asteroid means that Earth orbit will be inhospitable for all types of satellites for decades to come--the debris cloud would be tremendous.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By augiem on 10/18/2013 3:45:14 PM , Rating: 2
On the plus side, we might get our own ring! Bling bling, baby!

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By ipay on 10/19/2013 12:06:29 AM , Rating: 2
If Professor Philip Lubin's Mirror Idea works (I'm not sure how effective the range is), the mirror idea can be used to clear the debris field.

I feel like this was MY idea! oh well.
(I've done some simple calcs myself and I think it could produce 1 newton of force for every 400 megawatts equivalent of a concentrated solar thermal power station on Earth. In space, I can't confirm so it might as well be bs, but someone said the solar power is double). I took some 80 megawatt projects on earth and it's not efficient conversion, it's the amount of electricity after conversion from light, to heat, to electricity so there already is ~30% inefficiency in heat to electricity conversion loss already.

So definitely there is 80MW of light for sure, and you just use 80MW of light in radiance equations to get the force. I got some weird ~0.25 newton for 1 square meter target, I forget if it was 1 or 10, so I just scaled up the 80MW till my newton reaches 1. Just double the watts in space and use more surface area and pray that effective range is very good. Some more might be necessary because not all the light might be absorbed as a force.

This thing can sit above the debris field and shoot stuff down to earth or maybe aim at asteroids. Or they could use this to power big projects in space. I'm not a physicist or anything, so I have no idea what I don't know and will have to defer to Professor Lubin or other to solve the rest.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By ipay on 10/19/2013 1:09:11 AM , Rating: 2
I should add that I have my doubts since Bill Nye said the further you go away from the sun, the less intense the sun is in an inverse square relationship, move 2 feet lose 4 times power. So to think the mirrors can have enough force over an extremely great distance like 1 AU or something must be hard to imagine.

I'm sure a well placed detonated in advance nuke nudge or kinetic rocket and all other solutions have their usefulness.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By Piiman on 10/19/2013 1:42:42 PM , Rating: 1
why would deflecting it cause a debris field? Wouldn't it just fly past?

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By Jeffk464 on 10/18/2013 9:12:11 PM , Rating: 2
If you catch it far enough ahead of time you just have to give it a little nudge right?

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By Jeffk464 on 10/18/2013 9:13:45 PM , Rating: 2
I sure hope its a reliable rocket they use to shoot this thing off.

RE: Fight fire with fire.
By Aloonatic on 10/20/2013 3:30:41 PM , Rating: 2
An interesting idea, and it would work. Unfortunately, it's as technically feasible as using happy thoughts.

How do you "capture" an asteroid big enough to cover all eventualities in the first place, let alone get it into a stable orbit and make sure that nothing happens to it?

Probability Problem
By coburn_c on 10/17/2013 6:40:24 PM , Rating: 3
I'm far more leery of any member of either government having the 'mother of all nukes' than an asteroid wiping out the human race.

RE: Probability Problem
By superstition on 10/18/2013 2:00:10 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, it would be so lovely for this "mega nuke" to blow up because of a failure -- in our atmosphere.

RE: Probability Problem
By vortmax2 on 10/18/2013 4:46:20 PM , Rating: 2
They could design it so that it would have to be manually armed. So, in order to detonate the device, it would require a spacewalk. I'm assuming we'd have the necessary lead time to launch people up there (especially if we're dealing with a humanity-ending collision).

The only other problem is keeping it from being impacted by debris.

RE: Probability Problem
By Jeffk464 on 10/18/2013 9:18:45 PM , Rating: 2
Nukes can't blow up that way, but they could for sure spread a lot of radioactive material all over the place.

RE: Probability Problem
By superstition on 10/21/2013 1:41:59 PM , Rating: 2
That's what I was referring to.

Step one
By ianweck on 10/17/2013 4:24:45 PM , Rating: 2
Step one should be to fund development to detect the smaller bodies faster and more efficiently. Ion boosters might be a good idea, but we'd need who knows how many years' heads up.

This guy has the right idea.

Others like Princeton University Professor Christopher Chyba -- a nuclear weapons expert and a member of President Obama’s 18-person Council of Advisors on Science and Technology -- sit somewhere in the middle. He argues that the U.S. and its allies need to increase spending for asteroid surveys to predict potential threats, which could be averted with mechanical solutions such as Professor Melosh's. On the other hand, since surveys could miss a dangerous asteroid, he supports a nuclear solution too.

RE: Step one
By DaveLessnau on 10/17/2013 4:56:49 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Don't blow the asteroid up. Intercept it and change its orbit to put it into near Earth orbit. Then, we could mine it, hollow it out, send it into deep space, and then thru time to come back to Earth in our past:

RE: Step one
By Reclaimer77 on 10/17/13, Rating: 0
RE: Step one
By Samus on 10/18/2013 1:13:43 AM , Rating: 2
If it were to enter our atmosphere because of an orbital miscalculation, it would enter so slowly it wouldn't be a huge threat.

The threat of asteroids isn't so much their mass as it is their velocity.

hazard to the entire Earth
By coburn_c on 10/17/2013 6:46:43 PM , Rating: 3
"'really disrupt this asteroid and prevent the hazard to the entire Earth,' in Mr. Weaver's words"

Oh my Mr. Weaver, the Earth? Allow me to quote the late great George Carlin:

"The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages ... The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!"

RE: hazard to the entire Earth
By ianweck on 10/17/2013 7:14:12 PM , Rating: 2
really disrupt this asteroid and prevent the hazard to the entire Earth

...and by extension, people.

It's always funny to me how...
By gwem557 on 10/18/2013 6:29:31 PM , Rating: 1
...people get their panties in a bunch over 'nukes in space', or nuclear reactors on spacecraft, OR -- worst of all -- how they gasp in horror and shock at the idea of disposing of terrestrial nuclear waste by shooting it into the sun.

Hello, people? Shite-tons more radiation out in space than we are even CAPBABLE of causing. So the discussion of nukes should ONLY be whether or not they'd be effective against a given object.

RE: It's always funny to me how...
By Jeffk464 on 10/18/2013 9:24:28 PM , Rating: 2
I think its the fact that rockets fail, and could spew radiation over a large area. If all goes well, sure its not problem.

RE: It's always funny to me how...
By Jeffk464 on 10/18/2013 9:25:50 PM , Rating: 2
I'm also thinking using this as a method of disposing terrestrial waste is not cost effective.

By anotherthought on 10/18/2013 12:32:13 AM , Rating: 2
Did anyone forget the moon? A asteroid that would impact that, would be just as bad as hitting the earth, or worse. Not only do we have to protect earth, but that too. Could you imagine if something disturbed it's orbit, or heavens forbid, destroyed it? The moon gives balance to the earth, and helps it's rotation to stabilize. Without the moon, the rotation of the earth would be too uncontrollable for human life.

RE: anotherthought
By Visual on 10/18/2013 8:41:38 AM , Rating: 2
I like your name, and I'm certainly happy for you now that you've finally had more than one thought in your life. I'm afraid I'd have to burst your bubble though, and point out it was not thought out all that well. An asteroid can not impact the moon's orbit in any measurable way, and most certainly can not destroy it, unless it was made of antimatter. The moon has had its fair share of impacts and is still standing.
Also, the effect of the Moon on the Earth's rotation is extremely slow, so even if it disappeared (somehow magically without crashing into the planet and destroying it completely, or even without raining a hell of debris on it and destroying life on the surface) we wouldn't have to worry about it for millions of years. In fact, while the moon does have a stabilizing effect on the axis of our planet, it also slows its rotation down, so getting rid of it might be a good thing... bring on the antimatter asteroids, please.

By HoosierEngineer5 on 10/17/2013 4:43:20 PM , Rating: 3
"His plan is to shoot large mechanical impactors -- battering rams of sorts -- at the meteorite,"

Once it's a meteorite, it's too late.

About time
By freedom4556 on 10/17/2013 4:23:15 PM , Rating: 2
This has always been my problem with those asteroid end of the world movies. Any dolt can see that the thing to do would be to take 3-4 conventional megaton ICBMs into low earth orbit and launch them at the offending object as soon as its collision trajectory is confirmed (no need to blow up a near miss). Sure, the missiles will likely need different guidance computers (for linear as opposed to ballistic trajectory, and something other than GPS guidance). But still, I don't see any reason why this couldn't happen while the object is still out by Neptune or wherever these are going to come from. We don't need to even destroy it. Just alter its orbit so it misses Earth.

Say what?
By BobsYourUncle on 10/19/2013 3:22:18 PM , Rating: 2
This just screams "BAD IDEA" on so many levels.

Launch from the Moon
By gman64 on 10/21/2013 1:39:58 PM , Rating: 2
Having a launch platform on the moon would eliminate problem of exiting Earth's atmosphere while keeping it far enough way from Earth to prevent space junk from running into it. Another benefit would be that it would be far enough away that if some rogue country/group/individual succesffully hacked the system to launch it back at the Earth, there would be enough time to launch a countermeasure before impact. If the nuke was orbiting close to the Earth, by the time we realized someone had launched the missle it may be too late.

Aren't these...
By purerice on 10/22/2013 2:02:17 AM , Rating: 2
...the same politicians calling for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, especially of space?

Well I suppose this is another crisis that we should not let go to waste.

There are two types of asteroids, those that may potentially hit Earth on the first known pass and those that may potentially hit Earth on a 3rd or 4th pass. For the latter type, even a small blast could change the trajectory enough that it would miss us on the subsequent pass. For the former type, you'd have to hit it from far enough away so that the debris from the impact or explosion would not damage Earth or man-made satellites. For that, the hardest part is not the warhead but in the scanning capabilities.

US and Russia
By op-pop on 10/31/2013 2:29:29 AM , Rating: 2
Building a massive nuclear device with the Russians? What could possibly go wrong?

"One camp is led by Edward Teller ..."
By cbf on 10/17/13, Rating: -1
By futrtrubl on 10/17/13, Rating: -1
RE: Editing
By ianweck on 10/17/2013 4:30:49 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Editing
By kwrzesien on 10/18/2013 3:20:37 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, usually this would be written: " an orbital platform"

Hey, even the DT spellchecker complained about "orbitary". :)

RE: Editing
By LemmingOverlord on 10/22/2013 4:50:41 AM , Rating: 2
The "sit in wait" isn't correct either.

You can "sit in waiting" or you can "sit and wait".

The problem is that some writers try to be clever and demonstrate their mastery of the English language. It doesn't make the news less relevant or important, it just shows that sites are unedited, nowadays.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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