Don’t Look Up: Could we save Earth from a comet in just six months?

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Astrophysicists cipher that we could usage atomic devices to halt a “planet killer” from colliding with Earth successful a script similar the 1 successful the film

Space 28 January 2022

By Jonathan O’Callaghan

DON'T LOOK UP (L to R) Cate Blanchett arsenic  Brie Evantee and Tyler Perry arsenic  Jack Bremmer, Leonardo DiCaprio arsenic  Dr. Randall Mindy, and Jennifer Lawrence arsenic  Kate Dibiasky. Cr. Niko Tavernise / Netflix ?? 2021

A country from Don’t Look Up, successful which astronomers effort to pass the satellite astir a comet heading for Earth

NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX

Earth could prevention itself from the menace of a devastating asteroid oregon comet interaction with conscionable a abbreviated model to act, according to caller research.

Netflix’s caller science-fiction blockbuster Don’t Look Up depicts a script wherever astronomers observe a 10-kilometre-wide comet acceptable to collide with Earth successful six months. The movie charts their efforts to pass the satellite of impending doom and person politicians to instrumentality the indispensable enactment to avert catastrophe.

Although the communicative is intended arsenic an allegory for clime change, Philip Lubin and Alexander Cohen astatine the University of California, Santa Barbara, wondered if specified a script would beryllium survivable successful the existent world. “It looks possible,” says Lubin. “It looks similar you could bash it.”

Given a timescale to enactment of respective years, the preferred strategy would beryllium to deflect the incoming object. But to halt an asteroid oregon comet of this size successful conscionable six months, Lubin and Cohen recovered that we would alternatively person to usage atomic devices to “disassemble” the object. They suggest this would beryllium doable with little than 10 per cent of the world’s existent atomic arsenal.

The atomic devices would request to beryllium equipped connected 1000 javelin-shaped penetrators, which could beryllium launched connected 1 of 2 super-rockets that are presently successful development: NASA’s Space Launch System oregon SpaceX’s reusable Starship vehicle, both expected to motorboat connected their archetypal trial flights to abstraction successful the coming months.

The motorboat would person to hap 5 months earlier the asteroid oregon comet was owed to hit, giving america conscionable a period to prepare. “You person to beryllium ready. You can’t wait,” says Lubin.

The penetrators would past onslaught a period earlier the interaction date, exploding successful concentric rings from the outer borderline of the asteroid oregon comet towards its centre. That would springiness america the top accidental of blasting it into small-enough fragments that would beryllium mostly pushed retired of Earth’s path.

“Will immoderate of them hit? Probably,” says Lubin. “But if it’s a prime betwixt everybody dying and some, you person to marque immoderate choices.”

Detlef Koschny, the acting caput of the European Space Agency’s planetary defence office, says the thought seems reasonable, but wonders if we would person capable clip to act. “Even if determination are capable atomic explosive devices, you’d inactive request to get them up connected a rocket successful 4 weeks,” helium says. “I don’t spot however that tin happen.”

Thankfully, our champion surveillance efforts suggest we won’t request specified a telephone to arms immoderate clip soon. “There’s thing that we are disquieted astir for astatine slightest the adjacent 100 years,” says Áine O’Brien astatine the University of Glasgow, UK, “but it’s ever chill to work these kinds of things.”

Reference: arxiv.org/abs/2201.10663

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