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TECH: 3 Best Odds against an Extinction-Level Asteroid Collision
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3 Best Odds against an Extinction-Level Asteroid Collision
By Stella Law

BT 201908 TECH 05The last time a giant space rock capable of causing havoc on a planetary scale collided with the Earth, it ended up wiping out all non-avian dinosaurs alongside 75% of other plant and animal species. Unless we, as a species, want to suffer from a similar fate someday, it’s imperative that humanity gets its act together and buckle up for the inevitable.

Inevitable, yes! Because sooner or later, the Earth is bound to be hit by an asteroid or comet large enough to trigger another wave of mass extinction. Not to mention the smaller and much more common “city-busters” that could come virtually undetected through space and level entire cities, causing millions of deaths.

Fortunately, some of the smartest minds out there are trying to figure a viable solution to this existential crisis for humanity. Here are 3 such methods scientists are deliberating over in the hope that if push comes to shove, they will be able to help the Earth avoid any such cataclysmic event.



1. Powerful nuclear warheads

Nope, it’s not what you are probably thinking. The idea that a nuclear weapon can be used to shatter an incoming asteroid into oblivion may have been a charming concept in pop culture back in the days. In reality, however, it’s a super-terrible idea.

First of all, depending upon the size and composition of the asteroid, any such attempt to blow up an asteroid could prove totally futile. Worse even, consider a scenario when the nuclear blast splits the asteroid into two or three fragments of significant size. That would be simply a disaster considering that we would then have two or three different giant killer space rocks to dodge from.

Rather, scientists are considering a subtler approach, wherein they plan on detonating the weapon at a large enough distance from the asteroid so its structural integrity is not much affected by the unadulterated force from the blast. The intense radiation, however, could get the job done by vaporizing a significant part of the asteroid’s surface, which in turn, could alter its speed and trajectory enough, so it would miss Earth.

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2. Giving the asteroid a paint job

Yeah, we know it sounds a bit eccentric to plan something of this sort, while staring back at the bleak face of impending planetary doom. But, trust us when we say that scientists are not planning on sending a bunch of angry teenagers to do rebellious graffiti on the incoming lethal space potato.

Instead, they think it could be a good idea to paint a large part of the asteroid’s surface in white, so it reflects back more solar radiation than usual.

By the laws of physics, as the painted surface reflect incoming photons back into space, it also experiences a “counter-push” from the photons. While the push from the photons is pretty negligible, it eventually adds up over time (usually over many years). All goes well, this nudge could be just enough to steer the asteroid clear of Earth’s course.

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3. Using space-mirrors

If movies have taught us anything, mirrors are our best buddies if we were ever to fight monsters, such as vampires or gorgons. So, why not try using it to scare off killer asteroids, right?

Well, there are experts who believe mirrors could just do the trick. According to them, brandishing a large enough mirror against the asteroid would act just like the nuclear option mentioned earlier, but a lot safer. The idea here is to strategically place the mirror so it can converge solar rays and focus it on a small part on the asteroid’s surface.

Over time, the heat, resulting from the concentrated beam, will start vaporizing materials from the affected region. Give the process enough time, and the heat will have ejected enough material from the asteroid to give it thrust and change its momentum (thereby altering its trajectory).

However, the important thing to note here is that in order for any of these tactics to yield the desired outcome, we will have to identify the threat years prior to the possible collision. Another challenge would be to accurately predict the asteroid’s size, composition, and trajectory.

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