Can an atomic bomb destroy an asteroid?

Asteroids are not easy to destroy

Mission Impossible
In Hollywood films, asteroids that threaten the earth are often broken into thousands of pieces. But it's not that simple.
Illustration of a breaking up asteroid.

You have to know that

  • Asteroids hit the earth again and again. It is only a matter of time before another major impact threatens.
  • What to do? Could the asteroids be broken up like Hollywood movies like to do?
  • Not really, as a new computer model shows. Because that would require enormous amounts of energy.

It's a Hollywood-compatible plot, but unrealistic: you can't just blow up an asteroid. Because an atom bomb is not enough. Not even several. But what if you shoot a huge stone at the asteroid? Researchers at the American John Hopkins University have investigated this with a new computer model.

The computer model shows how the fragments fall back to the core after the impact.

The computer model simulated the impact of a rock with a diameter of one kilometer on a 25-kilometer asteroid at a speed of five kilometers per second - that is, a full 18,000 kilometers per hour. In earlier computer models by other research groups, such an impact resulted in the asteroids being completely destroyed. But the more detailed program, which better depicts small cracks inside the giant, now shows that even such a large impact is not enough to destroy it. The core of the 25-kilometer asteroid survived the bombardment.

And not only that: The core even continues to exert gravity and thus collect its fragments again, which then form a stable chunk. The researchers discovered this when they let the computer model run longer and looked at what would happen in the hours after the impact. In this way, they also gained insight into how asteroids were formed. The researchers write findings that are also useful for any missions to extract raw materials on asteroids. Because the model shows that valuable materials from the inside can also be found on the surface after collisions.

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