Lawrence Livermore researchers test nuclear defense against Earth-threatening asteroids

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LIVERMORE (TUSEN SF) – It looks like a scene from a Hollywood sci-fi thriller, but researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab have joined a team of Air Force technologists to test whether an explosion nuclear could be used to deflect a danger to the earth. asteroid.

Whether it’s Bruce Willis and his team of oil drillers tackling an asteroid as it approaches Earth in ‘Armageddon’ or Tia Leoni and her father waiting for a huge tidal wave following an asteroid attack in ‘Deep Impact’, Hollywood was mesmerized by the threat of space.

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Team member Lansing Horan IV said the research focused on neutron radiation from a nuclear detonation because neutrons can be more penetrating than x-rays.

“This means that a neutron yield can potentially heat larger amounts of asteroid surface material, and therefore be more efficient at deflecting asteroids than an x-ray yield,” he said.

Horan said there are two basic options for defeating an asteroid: disruption or deflection.

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Disturbance is the approach of transmitting so much energy to the asteroid that it is solidly shattered into numerous fragments moving at extreme speeds.

“Previous work has revealed that over 99.5% of the mass of the original asteroid will miss Earth,” he said. “This disturbance trajectory would likely be taken into account if the warning time before an asteroid impact is short and / or the asteroid is relatively small.”

Deflection is the smoother approach of transmitting a smaller amount of energy to the asteroid, keeping the object intact, and pushing it into a slightly different orbit with a slightly changed speed.

“Over time, with many years before impact, even a tiny change in speed could add up to a missing distance to Earth,” Horan said. “Diversion could generally be preferred as the safer and more ‘elegant’ option, if we have sufficient warning time to implement this type of response. This is why our work has focused on the deviation. “

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Horan said the work was a small step forward for nuclear deflection simulations.

“An ultimate goal would be to determine the optimal neutron energy spectrum, the propagation of neutron energy outputs that deposit their energies in the most ideal way to maximize the resulting change in speed or deflection,” he said. -he declares.

Horan said research has shown that the precision and accuracy of energy deposition data is important.

“If the energy deposit input is incorrect, we shouldn’t have much faith in the asteroid’s deflection output,” he said. “We now know that the energy deposition profile is most important for large yields that would be used to deflect large asteroids.”

He said if there were to be a plan to mitigate an incoming large asteroid, the spatial profile of the energy deposition would have to be taken into account to correctly model the expected change in speed of the asteroid.

“On the other hand, the efficiency of the energy coupling is always important to consider, even for low yields against small asteroids,” he said. “We found that the magnitude of the energy deposition is the factor that most strongly predicts the overall deviation of the asteroid, influencing the final velocity change more than the spatial distribution.”

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To plan an asteroid mitigation mission, it will be necessary to take into account these energy parameters in order to have correct simulations and expectations.

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“It is important that we continue our research and understand all of the asteroid mitigation technologies in order to maximize the tools in our toolbox,” said Horan. “In some scenarios, using a nuclear device to deflect an asteroid would have several advantages over non-nuclear alternatives. In fact, if the warning time is short and / or the incident asteroid is large, a nuclear explosive might be our only practical option for deflection and / or disturbance. “

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