Paul Rincon wrote:What can we do if astronomers detect something with our name on it?
One of the best known strategies for dealing with an incoming asteroid - applied by Bruce Willis in the film Armageddon - is to detonate a nuclear weapon near the surface of the object or below it.
The hope is that, in addition to blasting a large chunk out of the object, the explosion would nudge the asteroid off a collision course with Earth. However, if we were unlucky, this could fragment the space rock, potentially sending multiple chunks heading towards our planet.
Another strategy is to slam a spacecraft into the object to knock it off course. The European Space Agency (Esa) has designed a mission called Don Quijote, which will study the effects of just such a collision in space.
With a longer lead time, a spacecraft could be sent to intercept a space rock and fire its engines to slowly push the object off its current trajectory. Firing lasers at the surface of the asteroid might also be a way to deflect the rock.
Another, more surprising idea, is to fire balls of light-coloured paint at the object to increase its reflectivity. The pressure of light particles bouncing off the reflective coating, acting over time, would divert the rock off its path.
However, there is no firm timetable either for Don Quijote or other missions to test strategies for asteroid deflection.
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