Friday, October 7, 2011

What Should We Do If An Asteroid Heads For Us?

2012? Armageddon?

In the movie Armageddon, for instant, a team of oil drillers were sent up to land on the surface of the asteroid to blow it off. Hey wait! There could be valuable minerals up on that rock!
At least that's what a team of Chinese scientists said on ArXiv.

There are a lot more space debris drifting just outside of our atmosphere than any of us could ever think of. At any moment there could be thousands of satellites and tiny space rocks hovering above your head. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize the threat poses by asteroids. Dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid the size of Isle of Wight, which generated a force a billion times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. 
But what if we could catch one and bring it home? And maybe put it in Earth's orbit and perhaps do some real-time asteroid research, or, if the rock contains valuable minerals, we could send miners-cum-astronauts up there to generate some cash.
In fact, according to the Chinese scientists, there’s a snazzy little number approaching the Earth right now. It’s about 30 feet (10 meters) wide. We can use conventional explosive, kinetic impactor and nuclear explosive as outlined in the paper.

The nuclear route, however, may not be advisable: “Because the nuclear explosion can release a very large amount of energy, the result may be a fragmentation of the target near-earth-object (NEO).”
A better solution would be the kinetic impactor:  little tap to the ol’ asteroid, and it will accelerate just enough to get stuck orbiting the Earth. After that, well, the orbit could be unstable, and eventually the rock would fly off across the heavens. But with that as practice, one could could move on to mile-wide rocks, which, according to calculations made by gobsmacked tech and science bloggers around the web, could yield trillions of dollars of metals.
The thing is, this sorta business is kinda risky. Now, were something to get screwed up and that mile-wide metallic asteroid hit Earth instead, we’d be looking at something like a 24-mile-wide crater and a fireball so large that trees 200 miles away would spontaneously burst into flames, among other fun effects.

But of course, should NASA decides to mine the next asteroid that's heading for Earth, please consider signing me up  =).


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