We Already Have the Technology to Save Earth From a “Don’t Look Up” Comet or Asteroid

What if a 10 km wide asteroid hit Earth in six months? The recent movie, "Don't Look Up", has led many to wonder if we have the resources and technology to avoid such a disaster.

The technical aspects of such an endeavor are looked at in a new paper. We do.

We show that humanity has crossed a technological threshold to prevent us from going the way of the dinosaurs, wrote Philip Lubin and Alex Cohen, researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara.

They said that the dinosaurs never took a physics class and failed to fund planetary defense.

Artist's impression of an asteroid impact on early Earth (credit: NASA)
Artist’s impression of an asteroid impact on early Earth (credit: NASA)

Similar to articles we have published previously on Universe Today, this new paper looks at different ways that have been devised to divert an asteroid.

The most effective method of pulverizing is using small nuclear explosives in the penetrators according to the duo. It is sufficient to mitigate this threat because of the combination of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and the soon-to-be-realized heavy lift launch assets.

This method wouldn't completely destroy an asteroid of that size. It would cause an explosion on the asteroid's surface and cause a change in speed. This would change the asteroid's path so it doesn't hit our planet.

It is not a controversial opinion that we have the technology we have today. We talked about the topic with Apollo astronauts, one of whom helped found the asteroid research organization B612. The technology needed to divert an asteroid exists today.

He said that the technology had not been put together in a system design, but that they did not have to go into a big technology development program.

That is about to change. The first ever planetary defense test mission was launched by NASA last year. It will show that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to and perform a hit on a small asteroid. This will be used to see if this is a viable way to avoid a dangerous asteroid.

Artist’s impression of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft speeding toward the smaller of the two bodies in the Didymos asteroid system. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

It is likely that a planet killer event will happen in the near future.

The paper by Lubin and Cohen states that a threat of this magnitude hitting the Earth at a closing speed of 40 km/s would have an impact energy of roughly 300 Teratons TNT, or about 40 thousand times larger than the current combined nuclear arsenal of the entire world.

The KT extinction event that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago is similar to this one. If not mitigated, such an event would be a threat to humanity.

In a thought experiment, they looked at what would be needed to divert an asteroid the size of Texas. This is the size of a dwarf planet.

They asked, "What do you do now?" They can either move to Mars or the Moon to party, or they can do what they did in Chicken Run.

The purpose of their paper was to show that even in relatively extreme short-term warning cases, we can respond, but only if we prepare.

It is not out of the realm of possibility even at this point in human technological development, according to Lubin and Cohen. We would never be in this situation, but better prepared than dead.

Lead image caption: Don't look down (L to R) Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy, Jenifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky. There is a person who is named cr. NIKOTAVERISE/NETFLIX will be available in 2021.

Further reading:

B612 Foundation.

Don't forget to look up.