NASA has confirmed the possibility of using nuclear weapons against any stray asteroids to blow them up before they hit the Earth. The agency has said that using a nuclear missile would be the best bet in defending our planet from random space rocks, meteorites or asteroids. Days after dismissing the claims that suggested a meteor strike in September 2015, it has been reported that NASA has collaborated with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in its efforts to beef up defense against random, unmonitored space rocks.
NNSA is a part of the Department of Energy which deals with improving national security by using military application of nuclear science. Both organizations have been conducting independent research about the ways of harnessing nuclear missiles to deflect meteors, comets and asteroids on short notice. The new partnership is bound to boost efforts as it would bring nuclear specialists and rocket scientists, the best brains in the world of astrophysics to share their knowledge and work together.
The proof that a random asteroid could strike the Earth any time was seen on February 15, 2014 when a space rock with energy equal to 20 to 30 times the Hiroshima atomic bomb, exploded over Chelyabinsk in the Siberian region. It caused widespread injuries and damages due to the resulting shock waves. At the SXSW conference held in Texas last year, NASA scientist Jason Kessler, basically guaranteed the likelihood of a space rock hitting the Earth in the future. Although, he mentioned that there is no imminent threat yet and there is no need to freak out or panic.
In 2014 a team of scientists from Iowa shared a similar strategy at a NASA conference and said that they would require only a few weeks to prepare and launch if their system named Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle or HAIV was developed. The craft would engage with the asteroid in deep space, and its leader spacecraft would hit the asteroid and create a blast crater. Within the next one millisecond, a follower spacecraft carrying nuclear payload would hit the crater and detonate. This, the team claimed, would increase its effectiveness by more than 20 times.
For last 20 years, NASA has been searching for dangerous near-Earth space rocks which are larger than one kilometer (1000 meters) in size and have apparently found 98 percent of these space objects. Scientists at NASA say that they are now more concerned about mid-sized comets and asteroids which are still not being monitored which have a diameter between 50 to 150 meters. Scientists have also said that there could be around one million near-Earth asteroids which may pose a threat to our planet. Only a small fraction out of these has been detected so far.
The existing asteroid detection systems are only capable of tracking one percent of such objects that are orbiting the Sun. NASA has stated that larger bodies which could intersect the path of our planet, have been detected and mapped pretty well. There is no immediate threat from any of the bigger space rocks which are being tracked by NASA. It has been suggested by computer simulations that the scientists could be successful in blowing up a mid-sized asteroid.
Exploding an asteroid in space could be a major cause of concern for our geo-satellites, telecommunication satellites, the International Space Station and the astronauts presently onboard the ISS. The fragments of rocks resulting from the explosion could make the situation worse. Eventually, the most important factor that the agency would need to consider before using the nuke option is the distance between the comet or the asteroid and the Earth. However, NASA has confirmed the possibility of using nuclear weapons against any stray meteors and asteroids to blow them up before they hit the Earth.
Another solution to incoming asteroids, which could pose a serious threat to life on the Earth, is that the nuclear bomb could be used to deflect it from its path and change its trajectory. Other suggested proposals for dealing with the problem of untracked space rocks include using a high-speed spacecraft to bump the asteroid away from its course of collision with the Earth, using lasers and gravity tractors. A study conducted by NASA in 2007 had also confirmed the use of nuclear weapons against asteroids that may be on a collision course with the Earth as the best possible strategy for defending our planet.
By Ankur Sinha
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