What if a 10 km long asteroid was heading straight for Earth, with a cataclysmic collision that would kill us all in just 6 months? What would we do?
This is the plot of Netflix’s latest sci-fi blockbuster “Don’t Look Up”. The film follows 2 astronomers, played by Leonardo DiCaprio & Jennifer Lawrence, as they desperately try to warn the world of impending doom & persuade politicians to take necessary action needed to avoid a disaster, only to-be met with absolute in-difference.
The asteroid and the public’s apathy towards it is an allegory of world’s inaction in the face of global warming, but now 2 physicists have taken a more literal approach to movie central question, examining whether We now have the means and the technology to prevent such a catastrophe.
The answer? From a strictly technical point of view, it seems like yes, we do.
In their paper, which was published this week in the Arxiv database, Philip Lubin & Alex Cohen from University of California, Santa Barbara wrote: “We show that humanity has crossed a technological threshold to prevent us from follow the path of the dinosaurs.
What would it take to stop asteroid?
To stop an asteroid that size in less than six months, researchers believe we would have to use nuclear devices to “disassemble” the object. And this is apparently possible with less than 10% of the current world nuclear arsenal.
Nuclear devices, which would have been positioned at the top of 1,000 Javelin shaped penetrators, could be launched on the NASA space launch system or reusable spacex reusable vehicle, for example, which are still in phases of development.
However, since the launch is expected to take place 5 months before the expected asteroid impact, we would only have one month to prepare. If we had managed to meet the strict deadline, the penetrators would have reached their target one month before the date of impact.
Only this plan will give us the best opportunity to crush the asteroid into quite small pieces and move it mostly out of the path of the earth.
According to Detlef Koschny, the acting head of ESA’s planetary defense office, idea seems reasonable; however, it is not certain that we would have enough time to implement this plan.
“Even if there are enough nuclear explosive-devices, you’d have to get them on a rocket in 4 weeks,” he says, according to New Scientist. “I don’t see how this can happen.
But do we really have to worry? Well, not really, since the chances of such a call-to-arm situation are pretty slim. “There’s nothing to worry about for at least the next 100 years,” Áine O’Brien from University of Glasgow Notes: “But it is always interesting to read these types of things.
What about Armageddon scenario?
The researchers also pondered what it would take to redirect a Texas-sized asteroid with a diameter of about 830 km.
“What are you doing now?” they asked. “You’re going to have to work hard to get through this. A few options:
b) Move to Mars or the Moon to celebrate,
c) do what they did at Chicken Run during take off.
With all jokes aside, however, This offers us the optimism that a comprehensive planetary defense system can be reached even short term existential dangers such-as this one. “Ideally, we would never be in this situation,” said the researchers, “but better ready-than-dead.
While the paper offers an interesting insight into the plot of Don’t Look Up, some scientists were less enthusiastic about-it, with Mark McCaughrean, ESA’s Chief Science and Exploration Advisor, going so far as to describing working as a “space bubble nerdery“.
“Answer the technical question, but it is completely miss the point of film, which means the advice of scienctists is routinely ignored” McCaughrean wrote on Twitter. “Especially when the real disaster is happening now and in a way that too-slow and boring for people to care’.