Scientists Reveal What A Nuclear Explosion Can Do to an Asteroid

Although it’s a favorite disaster movie theme, nuking an incoming asteroid in the real world is considered a bad idea.

While a nuclear bomb can obliterate a small asteroid, nuking a larger asteroid will only destroy it. Those pieces can still threaten our planet, and maybe even make things worse by creating more planet-wide effects.

But is using nuclear weapons on a future asteroid a bad idea? If the right technique is used, a nuclear explosion can be used as an asteroid deflection device.

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have now developed a modeling tool that can simulate what would happen if a nuclear device exploded on the surface of an asteroid. The tool helps improve understanding of how radiation from a nuclear explosion interacts with the surface of an asteroid, and also looks at shockwave dynamics that may affect the interior of the asteroid.

The explosive technique is called nuclear ablation, where radiation from the explosion vaporizes part of the asteroid’s surface, producing explosive thrust and a change in velocity in response.

A modeling tool developed by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows the development of an asteroid that is broken up by a theoretical nuclear device detonated near the surface of the near-Earth object. (Mary Burkey)

The model can include a wide variety of initial conditions that mimic the types of asteroids we’ve recently studied up close, from solid rocks to piles of rubble. These simulations give planetary scientists more insights and more options for when a space rock might one day hit Earth.

“If we had enough warning time, we could launch a nuclear device, sending it millions of miles away on an asteroid headed for Earth,” said researcher Mary Burkey from at LLNL.

“Then we fire the device and deflect the asteroid, keeping it intact but giving a controlled push away from Earth, or we can destroy the asteroid, break it up into small, fast-moving fragments that don’t the planet will disappear.”

Thanks to the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in which a kinetic impactor was deliberately crashed into an asteroid to change its trajectory, scientists learned a lot about what it takes to redirect one. dangerous asteroid. This new model, called the X-ray energy deposition model, gives researchers the tools to build on the insights gained from DART while exploring how nuclear ablation can be a viable alternative to kinetic impact missions.

Burkey said in an LLNL press release that nuclear devices have the highest ratio of energy density per unit mass of any human technology, making them a valuable tool in mitigating threats to asteroid.

However, as the team wrote in their paper, published in The Planetary Science Journal“Predicting the effectiveness of a possible nuclear deflection or disruption mission depends on accurate multiphysics simulations of the X-ray energy deposition of the device onto the asteroid and the resulting material ablation.”

The team says that the relevant physics of these simulations requires a variety of complex physics packages, they span several orders of magnitude and are computationally demanding. Burkey and his colleagues set out to develop an efficient and accurate way to model nuclear deflection for the various physical properties of an asteroid.

Burkey said their high-fidelity simulations can track photons that penetrate the surface of asteroid-like materials such as rock, iron, and ice, while accounting for more complex processes, such as reradiation. .

The model also takes into account a wide variety of asteroid bodies. They say this comprehensive approach makes the model applicable to a wide range of potential asteroid scenarios.

If a real planetary defense emergency were to arise, Megan Bruck Syal, LLNL’s planetary defense project lead, said this high-fidelity simulation modeling would be critical in providing decision makers with have actionable, hazard-aware information that can prevent an asteroid impact, protect critical infrastructure. and saving lives, explained.

“While the probability of a large asteroid impact during our lifetime is low, the potential consequences can be devastating,” said Bruck Syal.

This article was originally published on Universe Today. Read the original article.

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