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The schlocky 1998 Bruce Willis movie Armageddon was the highest grossing film of that year. The blockbuster saw a master oil driller (Willis) and an unlikely crew of misfits place a nuclear bomb inside a giant asteroid heading for Earth, blow it up – and save humanity. Armageddon isn't exactly a documentary: it's packed full of sci-fi nonsense. But, 20 years on, its basic plot – of using a nuclear explosion to avert a cataclysmic asteroid collision – doesn't seem quite as silly as it did at the time.
Major asteroid impact is a low-probability, but high-consequence risk to life on Earth. Large "Near Earth Objects" (NEOs) don't hit Earth often, but it only takes one (just ask the dinosaurs – oh, wait, you can't). Of course, low probability risks are easily dismissed, however high the consequences of them manifesting might be – and until recently the countries of the world largely viewed the threat posed by NEOs as something best left to Hollywood.
Impact - Ways - Meteoroid - Chelyabinsk - Russia
But that's all changed, following the impact (in more ways than one) of the meteoroid that hit Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013, which injured more than 1,000 people. Suddenly, the NEO threat became "real", and major players – the US, Russia and the EU – all started pumping money into NEO preparedness, and developing formal strategies for response (see, for example, the production of the US's first ever National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy in December 2016).
At the UN, we've recently witnessed the creation of an embryonic international institutional infrastructure to detect and respond to asteroids. As part of all this – and in line with increasing scientific opinion – there is also a notable focus at governmental and intergovernmental levels on the use of nuclear weapons as our best hope. The US and Russia have even mooted working...
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