How to take out an asteroid and save Earth
“Ground truth” information from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx rendezvous could save Earth from a killer asteroid.
Bringing rock samples back from asteroid Bennu on the OSIRIS-REx mission will help computer modelers refine plans for deflecting an asteroid or comet on target for Earth.
Even though asteroids don’t hit the Earth very often, they do hit at random, so there is a chance that an extinction-level event could happen to us. Planning for a way to protect ourselves is important.
How we are going to deflect an asteroid
Crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid could shift its orbital path. The spacecraft DART will be test-crashed on an asteroid, providing insight into future deflection.
When a team of LANL scientists modeled what would happen if an asteroid struck Earth, they discovered a Hollywood-worthy tsunami wouldn’t be the problem. Long-term effects on the climate might.
By Galen Gisler, Catherine Plesko, et al
Waves generated by impacts into oceans may represent the most significant danger from near-earth asteroids and comets. For impacts near populated shores, the crown splash and subsequent waves, accompanied by sediment lofting and high winds, are more damaging than storm surges from the strongest hurricanes. Asteroids less than 500 m in diameter, impacting deep water far from shores, produce waves that may be detectable over large distances, but are probably not significantly dangerous. We present new three-dimensional simulations of oblique impacts into deep water, with trajectory angles ranging from 27° to 60° (where 90° is vertical). These simulations are performed with the Los Alamos Rage hydrocode, and include atmospheric effects including ablation and airbursts. These oblique impact simulations are specifically performed in order to help determine whether there are additional dangers from the obliquity of impact not covered by previous two-dimensional studies. Water surface elevation profiles, surface pressures, and depth-averaged mass fluxes within the water are prepared for use in propagation studies.
By Galen Gisler, Catherine Plesko, et al
This paper is part of an integrated study by NASA and the NNSA to quantitatively understand the response timeframe should a threatening Earth-impacting near-Earth object (NEO) be identified. The two realistic responses considered are the use of a spacecraft functioning as either a kinetic impactor or a nuclear explosive carrier to deflect the approaching NEO. The choice depends on the NEO size and mass, the available response time prior to Earth impact, and the various uncertainties. Whenever practical, the kinetic impactor is the preferred approach, but various factors, such as large uncertainties or short available response time, reduce the kinetic impactor’s suitability and, ultimately, eliminate its sufficiency.
Visualization of Threats from Asteroid Ocean Impacts
Here's what would it would look like if an asteroid struck the ocean—and what would happen to the planet as we know it.
OSIRIS-REx, bringing back a bit of an asteroid
The OSIRIS-REx mission will help determine the timeframe within which we must launch a kinetic impactor or a nuclear explosive carrier.
Los Alamos Asteroid Killer
LANL scientists use a supercomputer to model what would happen if we used nuclear energy to deflect an Earth-threatening asteroid.
Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory are using high performance computing to investigate how an asteroid’s kinetic energy is transferred to the atmosphere and ocean. (Download an animation by astrophysicist Galen Gisler.)
Cathy Plesko is a Research Scientist in Applied Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She uses the hydrodynamic codes on supercomputers to study what happens when asteroids and comets hit a planet and how to prevent them from hitting Earth.
Mark Boslough is a research physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and an expert on planetary impacts and global catastrophes. His work on airbursts challenged the conventional view of asteroid collision risk and is now widely accepted by the scientific community.