Tiny asteroids measuring less than an inch wide have been blown up with lasers in lab to calculate how to prevent Earth being wiped out by a giant space rock.
A team of Russian researchers from Rosatom, the state nuclear energy corporation, and Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) constructed miniature asteroids based on the composition of a stony meteorite which landed in Lake Chebarkul following the Chelyabinsk strike in 2013.
Using laser pulses to simulate the effect of a nuclear bomb they found that to eliminate a 650 foot wide asteroid, the blast would need to deliver the energy equivalent of three megatons of TNT – the equivalent of 200 Hiroshima bombs.
The most powerful explosive device ever detonated was the Tsar Bomba, or “king of bombs,” built by the Soviet Union in 1961 which had an energy output of about 50 metatons of TNT.
“At the moment, there are no asteroid threats, so our team has the time to perfect this technique for use later in preventing a planetary disaster,” says study co-author Vladimir Yufa, an associate professor at the departments of Applied Physics and Laser Systems and Structured Materials, MIPT.
“We’re also looking into the possibility of deflecting an asteroid without destroying it and hope for international engagement.”
Asteroids are celestial bodies consisting of carbon, silicon, metal, and sometimes ice and can be as big as 550 miles across.
Traveling at 10 miles per second, the space rocks pose a threat of obliterating all life on Earth, similar to the destruction which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Nasa has said previously that Earth is overdue a huge asteroid strike and programmes are in places across the globe to map rocks as the move through the Solar System. Professor Stephen Hawkin has also said it is only a matter of time before the Earth as we know it is destroyed by a rock.
Last year an 100 foot asteroid named 2012TC4 past within 27,000 miles of Antarctica, a distance that astronomers described as ‘damn close.’
If a giant rock did end up on a collision course with Earth the only options are to attempt to deflect it, or blow it up.
In some of the experiments, the laser was targeted at a cavity made in the miniature asteroids ahead of time and found that a buried nuclear bomb would be more powerful than one on the surface.
The research team now plans to expand the study by experimenting with asteroid replicas of different composition, including those containing iron, nickel, and ice.
They also intend to identify more precisely how the shape of the asteroid and the presence of cavities on its surface affect the general destruction criterion.