14 February, 2012
If one asteroid is detected at a short notice time, it could pose a potential danger on a world-wide scale.
Scientists are now working on a new supercomputer that can prevent an asteroid with Earth.
The idea is to blast the asteroid into space dust using an atomic bomb.
The use of an atomic bomb raises public concern, but scientists are convinced that since asteroids are
really conglomerates of rocks held together by the force of gravity, one atomic blast could be enough to shatter them into harmless space dust
This research is being conducted at Los Alamos laboratory.
Robert Weaver, R&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," he said.
The simulation is done on the Itokawa asteroid.
Itokawa, an elongated rocky object nearly as long as five football fields. It circles the sun more than 321 million miles away from Earth.
Along with a few hundred known asteroids, Itokawa's orbit is close to Earth's orbit and was discovered by the
Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid (LINEAR) program, which detects near-Earth asteroids and provides advance warning if any are bound for Earth.
Itokawa doesn't currently pose such a threat
Some years ago, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hayabusa spacecraft brought home to Earth tiny pieces of the asteroid Itokawa.
It was the third time ever that samples of a solid extraterrestrial body have been brought back to Earth. The Apollo astronauts and Soviet Luna robots were first.
They brought us samples of moondust and NASA's Stardust spacecraft returned samples of comet Wild 2 in 2006.
The Itokawa sample has enabled scientists to examine what an asteroid is actually made of.
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," Mr Weaver said.