Study: Bruce Willis Cannot Save Us from Armageddon
August 9, 2012 9:39 PM
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A new study shows that the movie's idea of blowing up the asteroid is way off
If Bruce Willis' ability to destroy
put your mind at ease about the end of the world, here's a study to bring you back to reality.
Michael Bay's 1998 hit movie
depicted Bruce Willis and a team of oil drilling heroes setting off nuclear bombs on an asteroid that was rushing toward Earth, thus saving all of humanity from the end of the world -- aka Armageddon.
A class of physics students from the University of Leicester in the UK decided to look into whether this kind of scenario would ever be possible. The short answer is no, but they provided some evidence as to why.
To debunk this mystery, the class first gathered basic
information about the asteroid
itself (which were mentioned in the film), such as the total volume of the asteroid pieces, the clearance radius (radius of Earth plus 400 miles), its distance from Earth at detonation, the asteroid's pre-detonation velocity, and the density of the asteroid pieces.
Harry Stamper is not amused
Using this information, they created a formula to find the total amount of kinetic energy needed to blow the asteroid to smithereens. As it turns out, 800 trillion terajoules of energy would be needed to break the asteroid into two pieces, allowing it to bypass planet Earth. This means that any bomb used would have to be a billion times stronger than any bomb ever detonated on Earth.
FYI -- the largest bomb ever detonated on Earth was the Soviet Union's "Big Ivan," which was a 50 megaton hydrogen bomb that only had an energy output of 418,000 terajoules.
From there, issues arose with the time needed to detect the asteroid in order to be able to successfully blow it up. It would need to explode at the point in which it is detected at 8 billion miles.
"A series of assumptions must be made due to limited information in the film," said the class paper titled,
'Could Bruce Willis Save the World?'
"First, the asteroid is approximated as a spherical object 1000km in diameter (the asteroid is quoted being the size of Texas) that splits into two equal-sized hemispheres. The asteroid in the film reaches a clearance either side of the Earth of 400 miles (640km) which is the assumed value for our calculation."
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5 megawatts by mid-May!
8/10/2012 11:45:24 AM
I wonder if NASA or [insert your favorite international space agency here] is also examining other platforms to shoot down asteroids. One that comes to mind is the 1985 classic Val Kilmer flick, Real Genius, where they developed a 5 megawatt laser which was then mounted on a B-1 bomber for the USAF. Granted, this concept wasn't just movie fiction (Northrop Grumman's prototype is designed to shoot down inbound ballistic missiles) and I think it could be adapted to shoot down bigger targets like Texas-sized asteroids...
RE: 5 megawatts by mid-May!
8/10/2012 1:02:09 PM
There's lots of possibilities, but virtually all of them involve detecting the asteroid well before it's going to get here. The most likely solution is to launch up some nukes, detonate them above the asteroid's surface so that some of the rock boils away. The boiling rock will push the rest of the mass just a touch in the opposite direction.
Repeat that 20 or 30 times, and 20 or 30 years before the asteroid is scheduled to arrive, and you'll have changed the course by several million miles, enough to guarantee Earth's safety. And as a bonus, the technique works with 'rubble pile' asteroids ass well (loose collection of small rocks clumped up in one place).
If for whatever reason that won't work, there's gravity tractors (piloting a mass large enough to pull the asteroid off course), ion engines (landed on the surface pointing outward), mass drivers (throw small chunks of asteroid as your reaction mass), solar sails (anchoring a sail to the asteroid), and even just painting half the asteroid black and half white (letting light pressure do the work).
RE: 5 megawatts by mid-May!
8/10/2012 3:16:42 PM
Yeah but I reckon detonating 20-30 nukes in space near (or far) from Earth might produce a toxic radioactive environment which I can only guess would be detrimental to Earth.
Now I'm reminded of the first Starship Troopers movie where the Earth has a missile defense system positioned along a man-made planetary ring around the moon and the automated missile battery quickly targets and destroys an Earth-bound bug meteorite (but how it missed the one that destroyed Buenos Aires is a bit of a plot hole)....
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