N-bomb ‘can save Earth from asteroid collision`

Last Updated: Sunday, February 12, 2012 - 19:00

London: Scientists say they have found a way to blast an asteroid into space dust using an atomic bomb.

The plan has potentially world-saving consequences should an asteroid emerge on a collision course with Earth.

The bomb could be delivered by rocket, according to the scientists.

Physicists have calculated the effect of a nuclear blast on an incoming space rock using one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Although NASA and other space agencies have mapped most nearby asteroids, the effect of one catching us by surprise would be catastrophic and, they believe, is worth preparing for.

Robert Weaver, R ’n’ D scientist at Los Alamos, used Cielo, their newest Cray supercomputer, to simulate the effect of nuking an asteroid.

“If one of these objects is discovered at a short notice time, say a few months away, and is on an Earth crossing trajectory there could be potentially devastation on a world-wide scale,” the Daily Mail quoted him as sayng.

Weaver’s team believes asteroids are really conglomerates of rocks held together by the force of gravity and that one atomic blast could be enough to shatter them into harmless space dust.

The calculation uses an asteroid of the size and shape of the mapped Itokawa asteroid, which has 500m across by 250m wide and is thought to be composed of granite rocks.

By placing a one-megaton bomb on the side of Itokawa, the simulation shows how a shockwave will travel through the asteroid from the detonation point and shake it to harmless rubble.

“As the shock wave moves through, ultimately this one megaton blast will disrupt all the rocks in the rock pile of this asteroid and if this were an Earth-crossing asteroid it would fully mitigate the hazard posed by the initial asteroid itself,” Weaver explained.

It is only since Los Alamos got their hands on Cielo, which runs on 32,000 processors, giving it a remarkable 1.35 petaflop calculating capacity, that simulations of this complexity could be run.

“The calculations I’m running new on Cielo in 3D are state of the art calculations on 32,000 processors. This is mind boggling to me. We’ve never run on this many processors,” Weaver said.

ANI



First Published: Sunday, February 12, 2012 - 19:00

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