The Use of Nuclear Explosives To Disrupt or Divert Asteroids

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Nuclear explosives are a mature technology with well-characterized effects. Proposed utilizations include a near asteroid burst to ablate surface material and nudge the body to a safer orbit, or a direct sub-surface burst to fragment the body. For this latter method, previous estimates suggest that for times as short as 1000 days, over 99.999% of the material is diverted, and no longer impacts the Earth, a huge mitigation factor. To better understand these possibilities, we have used a multidimensional radiation/hydrodynamics code to simulate sub-surface and above surface bursts on an inhomogeneous, 1 km diameter body with an average density of ... continued below

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Dearborn, D. S.; Patenaude, S. & Managan, R. A. February 20, 2007.

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Nuclear explosives are a mature technology with well-characterized effects. Proposed utilizations include a near asteroid burst to ablate surface material and nudge the body to a safer orbit, or a direct sub-surface burst to fragment the body. For this latter method, previous estimates suggest that for times as short as 1000 days, over 99.999% of the material is diverted, and no longer impacts the Earth, a huge mitigation factor. To better understand these possibilities, we have used a multidimensional radiation/hydrodynamics code to simulate sub-surface and above surface bursts on an inhomogeneous, 1 km diameter body with an average density of 2 g/cc. The body, or fragments (up to 750,000) are then tracked along 4 representative orbits to determine the level of mitigation achieved. While our code has been well tested in simulations on terrestrial structures, the greatest uncertainty in these results lies in the input. These results, particularly the effort to nudge a body into a different orbit, are dependant on NEO material properties, like the dissipation of unconsolidated material in a low gravity environment, as well as the details on an individual body's structure. This problem exists in simulating the effect of any mitigation technology. In addition to providing an greater understanding of the results of applying nuclear explosives to NEO-like bodies, these simulations suggest what must be learned about these bodies to improve the predictive capabilities. Finally, we will comment on some of the popular misinformation abounding about the utility of nuclear explosives.

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PDF-file: 23 pages; size: 2 Mbytes

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  • Presented at: Planetary Defense Conference, Washington, DC, DC, United States, Mar 05 - Mar 08, 2007

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  • Report No.: UCRL-PROC-228569
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 902607
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc890248

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  • February 20, 2007

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  • Sept. 22, 2016, 2:13 a.m.

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  • Oct. 4, 2016, 7:36 p.m.

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Dearborn, D. S.; Patenaude, S. & Managan, R. A. The Use of Nuclear Explosives To Disrupt or Divert Asteroids, article, February 20, 2007; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc890248/: accessed August 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.