An Asteroid Impact Could Wipe Out Humanity – US Agencies Preparing Nukes

Motherboard notes that comet or asteroid impacts could obliterate humanity. In Hollywood movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact, the government takes action to save us all – but who will protect us if the doomsday scenario becomes real?

“The entire Earth, rotating on its axis every day, is exposed to these hazardous comets and asteroids,” says Dan Mazanek, a senior space systems engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

The effects of an impact, even a comet or asteroid of a modest size, would be devastating.

A Nuclear Blast Could Deflect a Large Asteroid, Say NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration

Chelyabinsk meteorIn 2013 the meteor shown in the image, traveling at approximately 40,000 mph when it entered Earth’s atmosphere, burst at an altitude of about 97,000 feet above Chelyabinsk, a Russian city of 1 million near the Kazakhstan border, and released about 500 kilotons of energy – roughly 25 times more energy released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima (see video below). It’s important to note that the meteor, which was unexpected and injured at least 1200 people in the fallout produced by its shockwave, was only around 20 meters in diameter.

The impact of an asteroid or comet with a diameter of half a mile would be a global disaster, say the scientists. There are more than 1,000 such objects known that periodically cross the Earth’s path, though none seems headed for impact in the foreseeable future.

Larger objects could be detected many years or even decades before the impact. But the Motherboard article notes that, unfortunately for the future of the world, the effort to detect life-threatening comets and asteroids that could impact the Earth appears to be floundering due to organizational and funding challenges.

Washington is catching up, The New York Times reports. NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration sealed an agreement to start working together on planetary defense. The new interagency agreement would deepen the levels of expert cooperation and governmental planning, ultimately increasing the chances of a successful deflection.

“It’s a big step forward,” said Kevin Greenaugh, a senior official at the nuclear security agency. “Whenever you have multiple agencies coming together for the common defense, that’s news.”

The two agencies have designed rocket interceptors and run supercomputer simulations to see if a nuclear blast could change the course of a large asteroid on its way to impact the Earth.

The agencies have declined to say whether any specific arms in the US nuclear arsenal have been set aside for countering asteroid strikes. Eight years ago, NASA scientists detailed plans for an asteroid interceptor tipped with a B83 warhead, about 75 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb.

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.