Science 3 min read

New Study Reveals Unforeseen Challenges of Destroying Asteroids

Dima Zel /

Dima Zel /

A new study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University revealed how difficult it would be to destroy asteroids. The research team mainly focused on incoming asteroids or massive space rocks that might potentially hit Earth.

While sci-fi movies like Armageddon made splitting a gigantic asteroid into two look simple by using nukes, there’s more to it than that. According to this new study, asteroids are much harder to destroy than previously thought.

Charles El Mir, a Ph.D. graduate from Johns Hopkins University and first author of the paper, said in a statement:

“We used to believe that the larger the object, the more easily it would break because bigger objects are more likely to have flaws. Our findings, however, show that asteroids are stronger than we used to think and require more energy to be completely shattered.”

It’s not That Easy to Destroy Asteroids

El Mir and his colleagues developed a new computer model called Tonge-Ramesh that can simulate the processes that occur during an asteroid impact. In these simulations, Tonge-Ramesh accounted for more information not considered by previous models like the limited speed of cracks in the asteroids.

The team’s simulations focused on answering one crucial question: how much energy is needed to destroy asteroids?

The team conducted two simulation phases: a short-timescale fragmentation phase and a long-timescale gravitational reaccumulation phase.

The first phase of the simulations targets the processes that begin immediately after an asteroid collision. The second phase considers the gravitational effect on the pieces that fly off the surface of the asteroid after impact.

The simulations revealed that hitting an asteroid for the first time would not immediately break it apart. The hit would only create a crater as well as millions of cracks across the asteroid’s surface. These results are far from what the team expected.

However, the data also showed that the core of the asteroid sustained severe damage which in turn exerted a strong gravitational pull on the fragments that flew off its surface.

In general, the experiment revealed that an impact would not reduce an asteroid to a rubble pile. Instead, the impacted asteroid would just remain intact. This means that significant amounts of energy would be needed to crack one completely.

El Mir added:

“It may sound like science fiction but a great deal of research considers asteroid collisions. For example, if there’s an asteroid coming at earth, are we better off breaking it into small pieces, or nudging it to go a different direction? And if the latter, how much force should we hit it with to move it away without causing it to break? These are actual questions under consideration.”

Read More: NASA And ESA Conduct World’s First Space Defense Test

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Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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    Dana Brubeck March 06 at 1:24 pm GMT

    If an asteroid was coming towards us, I doubt we would even have a chance of throwing a nuke at it before it destroyed us. Nice to have a bit of existential dread with your morning coffee.

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