Long before humans roamed the Earth, our planet was dominated by the dinosaurs. The huge reptiles got extinct after a huge asteroid smashed into Earth 60 million years ago. An enormous blanket of dust surrounded the planet and didn’t allow the sunlight to nurture life anymore for a thousand years.
It happened before, and it will happen again someday. The right question is ‘When?’. And, most of all, we should ask ourselves what will we do when that terrifying scenario becomes a reality.
Unfortunately, even though the 1998 movie Armageddon was a masterpiece, it was only a Science Fiction creation, and its scenario cannot be applied in real life (at least for now). Although, climbing on a deadly asteroid isn’t excluded.
Basically, there are several main options humanity has if we ever encounter an “unwanted visitor”: obliterate it with nuclear weapons, change its trajectory by slamming a spacecraft into it, slow it down with concentrated sunlight, etc. A team of MIT researchers analyzed the options, having Sung Wook Paek as the lead author. They ultimately decided that there are truly only three options available for humanity if a ‘global-killer’ asteroid pays us a visit:
- A “type 0” mission: a single and heavy spacecraft is fired at the incoming asteroid to knock it off course. The spacecraft is aimed by using precise information and calculation about the object’s composition and trajectory.
- A “type 1” mission: mostly like the type 0 mission, with the difference that here a scout is launched first and gathers close-up data about the asteroid. This will help in better aiming the spacecraft and deciding how heavy it should be.
- A “type 2” mission: one small impactor is launched simultaneously with the scout to change the asteroid’s trajectory. All of the information gathered by the scout and the first impact will be used to prepare another relatively small impact that finishes the job.
However, researchers are claiming that the best bet is the type 2 mission, although it requires plenty of time and resources. Of course, you might ask, “why not just blow that space rock apart with some nukes?”. This would also be a risky measure because it’s unknown how the asteroid will behave after a nuclear detonation occurs on its surface.
MIT researchers have brought a complete detailed guide for dealing with ‘killer’ asteroids, and it was published in the journal Acta Astronautica.