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Scientists say we can blow up asteroids with nuclear bombs

Scientists say a nuclear bomb might be the best bet to stop future asteroids from barreling into Earth.

By
Brooks Hays
This NASA image shows Asteroid Lutetia as photographed from the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft July 10, 2010. UPI/NASA
This NASA image shows Asteroid Lutetia as photographed from the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft July 10, 2010. UPI/NASA | License Photo

AMES, Iowa, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Last night, a giant asteroid zipped by Earth, traveling 27,000 mph and coming within roughly two million miles of the planet. Scientists tracking debris flying through outer space had known about the 900-foot-wide rock well in advance, and predicted that it would pass safely by.

But what about a rock on a direct path toward Earth? How would we stop it? Scientists say a nuclear bomb might be the best bet.

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A year ago, scientists were taken by surprise when a small asteroid exploded over Russia, sending out shock waves that shattered windows and injured some 1,500 people.

It was a wakeup call, they say, a reminder of the damages an asteroid could wreak. "A couple of years ago, I had to use the dinosaur example to justify our research," Bong Wie, director of the Asteroid Research Deflection Center (ADRC) at Iowa State University, told Space.com. "Now, that's no more -- we had this major event."

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Wie and his colleagues are working on developing a Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle (HAIV), a rocket-like vehicle that could deliver a nuclear bomb to an asteroid propelling toward Earth.

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"We have the solution, using our baseline concept, to be able to mitigate the asteroid-impact threat, with any range of warning," Wie told attendees at a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts meeting at Stanford University earlier this month.

Wie's team say they've conducted computer models to prove that -- with a roughly 30-day warning -- they could halt an asteroid as wide as 1,000 feet. A smaller meteor shower could result from the exploding debris -- one similar to the incident in Russia -- but nothing compared to what Earth would suffer in the even of a direct hit.

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Wie says once his team develops its HAIV, it could be coupled with an asteroid tracking system to protect Earth.

The University of Hawaii has already developed a tracking systems called the Asteroid Terrestial-impact Last Alert System, or ATLAS. The system can predict the collision of 26-foot asteroids 24 hours in advance, 148-foot asteroids a week ahead of time, and 459-foot asteroids three weeks before expected impact.

[Space.com]

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