The killer asteroid–the one that we might never even see coming–could end life on this planet and there would be nothing humans could do about it. It creates a kind of helplessness that’s difficult to even think about, and it’s Robert Weaver’s job to think about it all the time.
Weaver, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), doesn’t hunt for killer asteroids, but he does study the ways humans might use their vast nuclear arsenals–designed to wipe each other off the face of the planet–to save the whole of humanity from a catastrophic asteroid impact. Weaver has been running simulations on LANL’s Cielo supercomputer to determine humanity’s capacity to mitigate an impending asteroid threat using a one-megaton nuclear energy source–one roughly 50 times more powerful than the blasts inflicted upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of World War II….
Weaver’s simulations have shown something that should boost humanity’s confidence in this endeavor: for an asteroid of the oblong shape and size of Itokawa–roughly 1,640 feet across–there’s no need to drill down into the center of the asteroid to mitigate the threat. “I varied the location of the explosion from the center of the asteroid to the surface of the asteroid both along the long side and the short side,” Weaver says. “The center was by far the most effective because it just blew the whole thing apart. But effective enough was an explosion at the surface of the asteroid, both on the short side and the long side, with the short side being most effective. Once I discovered that, my study focused on surface explosions because it’s just a much simpler mission.”
Well yeah, I guess that is simpler, but then you just send boring-ass astronauts and military dudes up there to save humanity and not a ragtag gang of super-drillers, at least one of whom is romantically involved with the daughter of the other one and oh no I just remembered that song.