back to article Russian boffins blow up teeny asteroids with tiny laser... to work out how to nuke the real thing

The next time a giant asteroid threatens the Earth, Russia may just know how many megatons of explosives are needed to blow the thing to smithereens. Boffins from the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have been busy modelling the impact of a nuclear explosion on …

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The Tsar Bomba was claimed to have been throttled back to about half its maximum possible yield, because setting it off at the full power of about 100 Megatons terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

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terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

It did not.

The issue with the maximum yield was that it was achieved using one more cascade of U238 as a tamper. That would have contaminated the atmosphere of entire northern hemisphere. As a result of the removing the tamper, the contamination was significantly less than from some of the other Russia tests on Novaia Zemlia,

The loonies who built it would have tested it at full if they could figure out how. Thankfully, they did not - 100Mt will probably split the Earth's crust leading to some interesting and protracted geological phenomena. That was the idea behind the weapon in the first place - its designated target was San Andreas or Yellowstone.

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Re: terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

Given how much energy is released in even a moderately sized earthquake, I think we'd need to be talking gigatons or more likely teratons of explosive yield to "split the crust".

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Windows

Re: terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

Thankfully, they did not - 100Mt will probably split the Earth's crust leading to some interesting and protracted geological phenomena. That was the idea behind the weapon in the first place - its designated target was San Andreas or Yellowstone.

Sounds like another meme about unbelievable Soviet weapons, Alien Contact and Tesla's supewrpower tachyon fields.

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Re: terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

I think we'd need to be talking gigatons or more likely teratons of explosive yield to "split the crust".

Not it you hit an existing fault. In that case even 10s of MT will probably suffice.

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Re: terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

That sounds like more fake science from Putin's right hand

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Re: terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

...100Mt will probably split the Earth's crust...

Actually, no. At these sizes, for an airburst the blast goes upwards. Most of the blast from a 50Mt bomb goes uselessly out into space. A 100mt blast would simply punch a small* temporary hole in the atmosphere. Which is one reason why the military are not interested in weapons of this size.

* where small is in comparison to the size of the Earth...

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Boffin

Re: terrified even the loonies who built the thing.

Voland is correct in the first part about the yield being reduced to reduce fallout. They were only intending to test the design, and it was assumed that scaling it up to the full 100MT would be 'easy' (or whatever a nuclear weapon designer considers easy).

As for splitting open the Earth, well, probably not, but it's probably a good thing they didn't try eh?

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Chuck Norris would be able to deal with it too

Just slide the asteroid into kicking distance and Chuck will take care of it.

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Re: Chuck Norris would be able to deal with it too

Wouldn't that be a demarcation dispute?

I could see Mr. Willis calling the brothers out on strike if Mr. Norris is trying to do the work of unionised men.

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Anonymous Coward

"Artist's impression" of asteroid destruction

I like panel three, which depicts the raining of of radioactive debris upon the earth.

Good job, Russia.

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Re: "Artist's impression" of asteroid destruction

Oh, ffs get a life.

You should be thankful at least someone is thinking about it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Artist's impression" of asteroid destruction

I quite enjoyed the artist's impression, it allowed me to imagine if the asteroid was going to hit water and the lasers were mounted on sharks.

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Anonymous Coward

You should be thankful at least someone is thinking about it

Thinking, sure. Not very hard, mind you, but thinking.

Sorry that I insulted your pals. Now that the petroleum market is down, I'll be interested to see how they intend to pay for all the next-gen weapons systems and asteroid nukers that they've been gushing about over the past few weeks.

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Re: "Artist's impression" of asteroid destruction

I like panel three, which depicts the raining of of radioactive debris upon the earth.

Good job, Russia.

Feck off into your Circus, May.

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Re: "Artist's impression" of asteroid destruction

Panel four is sadly missing, but it shows most of the radioactive debris landing on Itsu Sushi in Mayfair.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Artist's impression" of asteroid destruction

It's the bendy laser beam in image two I love.

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Joke

Re: "Artist's impression" of asteroid destruction

It's good to see they havent wasted any money on getting an actual artist in to create the impression - more money for friggin laser beams!!! (Or possibly on sharks on which to mount the laser beams....)

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MrT

One more thing...

... they've got to wait until Morgan Freeman is POTUS.

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Re: One more thing...

Oh, Trump will be just fine so long as they explain it in terms of a golfing analogy. "We're going to send up a nucular golf club. The best club. Made in Russia the USA."

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Re: One more thing...

... they've got to wait until Morgan Freeman is POTUS.

When is the campaign? Can we donate?

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Doesn't Really Put it in Context

The Tsar bomber doesn't put that figure of 3 megatons into context, a better yardstick would be to say that power would put it in the upper bracket of nuclear warheads currently deployed on modern ICBMs.

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Mushroom

> There are two courses of action when faced with a civilisation-ending rock hurtling towards the earth at 20km per second

...and both require that you spot it in time, something we apparently aren't very good at right now. Just saying.

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Mushroom

I'm curious...

What's the difference in total kinetic energy delivery between a solid mountain hitting us at orbital speeds, and a mountain full of pebbles hitting us at orbital speeds? The pebbles might not survive to ground level, but they're still going to be dumping all that energy into the atmosphere; there isn't any less of it because the mountain's been blown up.

Seeing it sooner and moving it out of the way seems a more logical course of action.

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Re: I'm curious...

Very good point.

I have not seen a model of that and the picture in the last panel which shows the pieces flying in random direction is wildly optimistic at best.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm curious...

"there isn't any less of it because the mountain's been blown up".

No, but is now a collection of smaller pieces spread over a wider area so there is a greater chance more will be vaporised in the atmosphere as opposed to just one huge rock reducing in mass. Even a 50% reduction of something that big will end most life on earth. Hundreds of smaller pieces will still end life, just nowhere near as *much.

*Probably.

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Re: I'm curious...

https://science.howstuffworks.com/asteroid-nuclear-bomb.htm

This site doesn't seem too optimistic about the approach of blowing a solid rock into gravel. I assume the difference would be similar to that of being hit at close range by a bullet or a shotgun blast.

The favoured suggestion is to deflect the asteroid using several above surface (stand off) nuclear weapons. On or subsurface blasts just split the rock, and I assume that changes the problem from applying lateral force to a single object to applying lateral force to lots of smaller objects.

First task is to marry your nuclear weapon to a launch vehicle which can get you out into space far enough to meet the rock in time to divert it. AFAIK the current weaponry is designed to go high (but not that high) then fall back. So probably one of the very large cargo rockets.

Edit: Project Orion was a rocket motor driven by repeated nuclear explosions, and had an awesome lift capacity. Perhaps a series of explosions following the same principle would provide enough power to move an asteroid.

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Re: I'm curious...

What's the difference in total kinetic energy delivery between a solid mountain hitting us at orbital speeds, and a mountain full of pebbles hitting us at orbital speeds?

The difference between Barringer Crater and the Chelyabinsk meteor, give or take a few megatons.

The pebbles might not survive to ground level, but they're still going to be dumping all that energy into the atmosphere; there isn't any less of it because the mountain's been blown up.

Yes, but air bursts have the advantage of being kilometers to tens of kilometers overhead. Above a certain amount of energy (see: May 19th, 66,000,000 BC) that's irrelevant, but for more common asteroid threats it makes a significant difference. Pebbles are exactly the sort of space debris that burns up at 50-80km altitude, a distance that is preferable to 0km. ;)

Seeing it sooner and moving it out of the way seems a more logical course of action.

Agreed. A nuclear-delivered course correction is one way to achieve that. If you can deliver enough energy to fragment several hundred meters of rock, then you can deliver enough energy to ablate some millimeters of surface and start that course correction. Given a year or two, it'll add up.

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Re: I'm curious...

"What's the difference in total kinetic energy delivery between a solid mountain hitting us at orbital speeds, and a mountain full of pebbles hitting us at orbital speeds? The pebbles might not survive to ground level, but they're still going to be dumping all that energy into the atmosphere; there isn't any less of it because the mountain's been blown up."

Correct, but the two scenarios are a bit different. A single large impactor will dump almost all of its energy into the surface of the Earth (most likely one of the wet bits). Aside from throwing lots of stuff into the air and causing nuclear-style winter, it's also likely to kick off significant earthquakes and volcanoes for some time to come, as well as all the obvious local effects from the impact itself. A swarm of smaller bodies that burn up before reaching the ground will obviously instead dump all that energy directly into the atmosphere. While that's still likely to be relatively unpleasant (ie. we'll probably still all die), you miss out on a lot of the fun tsunamis, tectonic activity, rain of molten crust, and so on.

When it comes down to it, there's a lot of speculation involved in all of this - simulations can only do so much without testing, and full-scale tests of extinction level impactors aren't easy - so it's hard to say if we'd actually be better off in one scenario or the other. Avoiding getting hit in the first place would definitely be preferable.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm curious...

If it all burned up in the atmosphere - would the heating not be smaller because of all the thermal radiation from the burn-up escaping into space ?

don't mock ....

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Re: I'm curious...

...The pebbles might not survive to ground level, but they're still going to be dumping all that energy into the atmosphere; there isn't any less of it because the mountain's been blown up....

Without doing the sums, I'm guessing that the atmosphere will heat up by an infinitesimal and insignificant amount...

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Boffin

Re: I'm curious...

"I assume the difference would be similar to that of being hit at close range by a bullet or a shotgun blast."

Not quite. It would be more akin to the difference between someone shooting you at close range with either a high powered rifle or a shotgun, whilst a thin-ish shield material stands between you.

The high powered rifle blast will go through without any problems, and do significant damage to you. Basically your dead.

The shotgun blast may still go through in places, but at least a lot of the shots will be absorbed or deflected away from you, and those pieces that do hit you, will be slowed down significantly. Whether they have been slowed down enough for you to walk away from the incident is another question entirely. You're probably still dead, but you have a better chance of survival then with the rifle.

But Kids dont try this experiment at home...

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Re: I'm curious...

I've not done the maths, but I'll guess that heat from an asteroid converted to gravel converted to very hot air would radiate from the atmosphere into space at about the rate that heat radiates into space every night between sunset and sunrise. Tonight hereabouts - with light cloud - the forecast goes from 9 Celsius top temperature to 6 Celsius coolest.

Logically though it will convect upwards, leaving vacuum underneath... no, that isn't quite right. But still, bad day. A Wikipedia article describes the theorised dinosaur-killer rock event as "broiling the Earth's surface" (this means grilling, which I, not being kitchen-minded, did not know), although it was the "impact winter" due to sulphur and other stuff in the atmosphere that meant that animals that survived being cooked starved to death anyway.

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An asteroid approaching Salisbury you say?

Comrades! We have a solution - we will stand by with our latest laser weapon to vapourise the problem before your beautiful cathedral spire is damaged. Spasibo!

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Mushroom

what about Tunguska?

someone up there doesn't like Russia

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Alien

Re: what about Tunguska?

Note the problems the Russians have had in getting spacecraft to Mars. Coincidence? I think not.

It's apparently a long-standing problem:

http://iheardacouplethings.blogspot.com/2012/02/russians-cant-get-to-mars-so-theyll.html

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"Boom"

Someone tell Elena Khavina that thar's no sound in space.

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