ASTRONOMY: Nuclear bombs will not save the earth

From: Terry W. Colvin (
Date: Sat Jun 24 2000 - 23:21:06 MDT

Science Frontiers, No. 127, Jan-Feb, 2000

Not too long ago, geologists adamantly denied that there were any large
meteor craters pockmarking our planet. Now, they find 100-kilometer
craters on a regular basis. And scientists are casting worried looks
at those near-earth asteroids, knowing that one day one will be on a
collision course.

Not to worry, say the modern-day Technocrats, we will launch nuclear-armed
rockets that will nudge such cosmic threats into harmless trajectories.

These Pollyannas are presumptuous. They assume that asteroids are hard,
cohesive objects that will be shoved aside by a few megatons of explosive
energy. There are two things wrong with this idea, and these reveal how
radically our ideas about the nature of asteroids have changed in just
10 years.

First, most astronomers will now agree that asteroids are orbiting rubble
piles rather than monolithic objects. For example, the near-earth
asteroid Mathilde, 53 kilometers in diameter, has a density of only
1.3 grams/cubic centimeter. Its porosity must be greater than 50%.
It is not a hard, coherent object. Instead of a bullet, it is more
like a cloud of shotgun pellets. It would be hard to divert all this
debris with a nuclear blast.

[Photo/sketch caption]:
Many asteroids are really probably only plum-puddings of accreted debris.

To make matters worse, asteroids like Mathilde are stickier than a cloud
of buckshot. This fact is deduced from photos of asteroids showing many
to be marked by huge craters. (Mathilde has one 33 kilometers wide.)
K.R. Housen et al, using laboratory tests and scaling data, argue that
asteroid craters were not blasted out by collision. (Mathilde is not
"shattered" as one would expect given such a huge crater.) Rather, the
craters are "dents" instead of holes! Cosmic rubble piles are like
sponges. Collisions with other rubble piles result in compression of the
target surface and accretion of the smaller object. In effect, asteroids
are energy absorbers and will hardly be fazed by a nuclear detonation.

(Asphaug, Erik; "Survival of the Weakest," Nature, 402:127, 1999.

Comment. We are doomed---but not right away.

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA)
< >
Home Page: < >
Sites: Fortean Times * Northwest Mysteries * Mystic's Cyberpage *
   TLCB * U.S. Message Text Formatting (USMTF) Program
Member: Thailand-Laos-Cambodia Brotherhood (TLCB) Mailing List
   TLCB Web Site: < >[Allies, CIA/NSA,
                  and Vietnam veterans welcome]
Southeast Asia (SEA) service:
Vietnam - Theater Telecommunications Center/HHC, 1st Aviation Brigade
   (Jan 71 - Aug 72)
 - Telecommunications Center/U.S. Army Support Thailand
   (USARSUPTHAI), Camp Samae San (Jan 73 - Aug 73)
 - Special Security/Strategic Communications - Thailand
   (STRATCOM - Thailand), Phu Mu (Pig Mountain) Signal Site
   (Aug 73 - Jan 74)

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:14:23 MDT