Physicists Claim It Would Be Impossible To Nuke An Earth-Killing Asteroid

If you've always assumed that the idea proposed in Armageddon could save us in the face of a crisis, by destroying an asteroid to avert the destruction of Earth, think again. Physicists from Leicester University, UK, have calculated that such a feat would require a bomb a billion times stronger than the biggest bomb ever detonated on Earth.

The team of scientists considered the energy dump required to neutralise the threat of an Earth-destroying asteroid. Using the asteroid from Armageddon as a yardstick, the team took into account the likely density of the asteroid, its speed, its proximity to Earth and a handful of other factors to work out how much kinetic and potential energy it had.

Turns out that 800 trillion terajoules of energy would be required to split the asteroid featured in Armageddon in two, in such a way that both pieces cleared Earth. By comparison, the biggest bomb ever detonated on Earth -- the Soviet Union's 50 megaton hydrogen bomb "Big Ivan" -- provides only 418,000 terajoules. That a factor of a billion different.

Of course, plenty of assumptions have been made along the way, not least that the asteroid in question was spherical and that the film's suggestion of it being the "size of Texas" held true. Aslo, the further away the hunk of rock is when it's spotted, the less energy would be required -- and in the movie, it's not seen until very late in the day.

In reality, then it might not be quite as difficult to nuke an incoming asteroid as the scientists claim -- but it would be a hell of a lot harder than the movies seem to suggest. [University of Leicester via Network World]

Image: NASA

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    So... we're not going by records set from the blast of North Korea's underground nuclear test site? You know, the one that caused an earthquake felt in Japan? Ok. Sure.

      This is a joke right? Your sarcasm is too subtle Bigfoot.

    And that's why physicists won't be doing it, Bruce Willis will, and a bunch of oil drillers. Cause they've got balls! And won't let their brains get in the way!

      nah man, we wont be sending oil drillers now, it would be Sly, Arnie, Bruce and the rest of the Expendables. as if they wouldnt fuck that asteroid up.

        What's Jet Li going to do, body slam Dolphe into the asteroid until he apologises for Apollo's death?

    I think the idea of warheads was to just change the course of the object.

    Sure if it's that size we are screwed, but what about something smaller like a city sized rock? I'm sure we blow that up.

    Put NASA on the job, and soon Earth will have a new satellite. Asteroid mining, anyone?

    But remember kids!! Detonating nuclear war heads in space is bad! Seeing as there is no atmosphere they create a mass wave of radiation that travels off in all directions at high speed. Although our atmosphere may protect us from most of it as it does from other space rads. It could potentially effect a number of satellites and pollute our pristine solar system.

      What has the atmosphere/space got to do with it? The only thing that is going to effect satellites is the gamma pulse which travels at the speed of light (which is what it is) and is utterly unaffected by atmosphere.
      As for polluting pristine space - that's just silly. The size of the solar system is so vast that no matter how big or many of these devices were detonated it would make precisely zero measurable difference. In any case space already has vastly more inhospitable substances and radiation. Again, trivial by comparison.

        Not quite. 100km of atmosphere is actually pretty good at absorbing gamma radiation, and the x-rays that would be produced. However, this wouldn't be a factor anyway, as the amount of radiation actually reaching the earth would be pretty small. Some would be absorbed by the asteroid, seeing as the device would need to be close to the middle of it, the rest would be attenuated over a spherical wavefront, only a small proportion of which would intersect with the earth.

      It's better than a huge freaking rock crashing into the planet and flattening a portion of it.

    It was a movie?

    You don't have to destroy it just change it's course by a fraction of a degree kind of like snooker. Keep hitting it on one side and even a fraction of a degree hundreds of thousands of miles away translates into missing earth by an enormous margin. Of course you need missiles designed to get out there and behave that way...

      You are still accelerating the same mass the same amount, just all in one direction instead of half in each direction. The same energy is required.

      Ye canna change the laws o physics cap'n!

        Don't forget the energy required to deform and fracture the asteroid before accelerating the halves, if you intend to split it.

    We now have the "SCIENCE “to prove that meteors are a threat to Human existence. Don’t tell Julia Gillard or we’ll have a new Meteor Tax. A tax we need to save us from this potential catastrophe.

    Why split the asteroid in two so it goes around earth, why not split earth in two so it geos around the asteroid?

      Good idea bro

      oh, Snap !

    I know, let's collect smaller asteroids in the LaGrange points , power them with mini-nukes and then use them like billiard balls to knock the big asteroids out of the way.


    It would be better to send a large mass into it, like a big lump of metal or something. Using bombs is not only illegal under the international nuclear test ban treaty (I know, kinda moot point if facing armageddon), but also risks splitting one giant headache into thousands of smaller but still lethal headaches. Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer) has written a very entertaining book analysing a bunch of cosmically induced extinction scenarios - Death From the Skies. Get it, read it and be scaaaarrrrrrrred!

      Just launch a giant ball of garbage into it

    I think if a Texas size asteroid did belt us, it'd be doing a massive favour to the universe in years to come, We are no better than cockroaches moving to the apartment next door when we become too numerous.

    Is Steven Segal still alive?

    All this crap talk about destroying an earth bound asteroid with a nuclear bomb. The bloody nuclear bomb is the real treath that is going to destroy the earth as we know it.

    Just paint one side black an one side white and let the sun do the pushing

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