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A large team of Russian researchers from Rosatom, joined by three MIPT physicists, has modeled the impact of a nuclear explosion on an Earth-threatening asteroid. They manufactured miniature asteroids and blasted them with a laser. The modeling technique developed in this study is a way of experimentally evaluating asteroid destruction criteria such as the explosion energy needed to eliminate a dangerous object on a collision course with Earth. The English translation of the paper reporting the results will appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics.
Asteroids are celestial bodies consisting of carbon, silicon, metal, and sometimes ice. Scientists usually classify objects larger than 1 meter as asteroids, although this lower limit is disputed. On the other end of the scale, asteroids get as big as 900 kilometers across. Traveling at 20 kilometers per second, such giants pose a threat of obliterating all life on Earth.
Options - Planet - Collision - Pieces - Earth
There are two basic options when it comes to protecting the planet from a collision with an asteroid: It either has to be deflected or blown into pieces, most of which will miss the Earth entirely or burn up in the atmosphere. The authors of the paper explored the second option by modeling the effects of a powerful shock wave released by a nuclear explosion on the asteroid surface. The research team showed that a brief laser pulse aimed at a miniature replica of an asteroid produces destructive effects similar to those of a nuclear explosion on an actual space rock. The distributions of heat and pressure predicted for the real event generally matched those measured in the scaled-down experiment.
For accuracy, the researchers made sure the small-scale asteroids features, including density, rigidity and shape, mimicked the real thing, and controlled the shockwave pressures. Thus, the researchers had a way of directly...
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