• Rich Barlow

Senior Writer

Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

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There are 13 comments on How to Catch an Asteroid

1. Robert Loftis

Just a question on the first option of using an explosion near an asteroid to deflect its course: how does this work in the vacuum of space where there is nothing to transmit a shock wave? Am I missing something? Thanks.

1. Andrew West

Hi Robert,

There might be a small shock wave from the material in the explosion and that might cause some change to the asteroid’s trajectory but you are correct that it won’t propagate very far in space due to the near vacuum. So if you were close enough, you could get push – but it’s my understanding is that in an explosion you also release high-energy particles (and light) that heat up the surface of the asteroid. The heated up rock (some of which is vaporized) can act like a rocket and propel the asteroid off course.

1. Chayfo

The vacuum really doesn’t have a lot to do with it. It’s the same if you detonated a nuclear bomb at 30,000 ft. It has to do with the explosion going in all directions with no matter to create a shockwave. In space there is still a large Gamma Ray Burst which will cause the asteroid surface to become ablated. The bomb facing side of the asteroid would have surface material vaporizing at 10km/sec or greater creating an impulse shockwave that would move the asteroid off course. This has to be done way in advance of the potential impact for it to make a difference.

2. Earle

I recommend keeping an eye on the asteroid at the left of the screen once you get towards the end of the article. What occurs caught me quite by surprise.

1. Paul

Oh that’s cool– when you scroll down fast!

3. Aaron

This was a great entertaining article. Loved the videos too! Great job to the editors

4. Diane

Excellent, concise article! Love the videos. My book club just read “Space Chronicles” by Neil deGrasse Tyson and he supports ‘nudging’ larger asteroids off course as well. The event in Russia moved this to our collective awareness.

5. Dakota

One of the best things we could perhaps do is to make a serious investment in expanding our civilization. We seem to have lost the collective will and drive to explore space that we had during the space race and it is both a shame and a serious threat to our existence. We have a beautiful place to live here on Earth but it has a serious downside: it is at the bottom of a gravity well, and that is a dangerous position to be in.

We know it has happened and that it will happen again. We are simply playing the odds. But if we aren’t ready it won’t just take out you and I. It will take out Mozart, Newton, Plato and Einstein and all that will remain will be decaying ruins and some worn out space debris.

I suggest watching some of the videos of Neil degass Tyson about how little we invest in NASA and science.

6. Julie

Very creative presentation! I enjoyed the story and the video component.

7. Mr. E Man

Nudge the asteroid off track, and how many years, hundreds of years, thousands of years are you going to research for the nudge, to make certain you haven’t altered the asteroid into a direct impact with Earth?

8. Tim

The main questions are what is the accuracy of the prediction and what is maximum achievable deflection? Could we end up turning a near miss into an impact? I’d also suggest picking a deflection that smashes the asteroid into another body like the moon. Less risk of it coming back again.

We really need to have something ready before we spot a problem object. The problem is that politicians will expect the thing to be solved from start to finish in the months we have between first sighting and impact. Doh.

9. Jim

A consortium of nations should plan, fund and build an autonomous installation on the moon that would use multiple asteroid detection technologies and multiple defenses including a device that would intercept and attach to the asteroid and then fire powerful thrusters to alter the trajectory of the threatening asteroid.

10. Nicoline Norup

Asteroids were once viewed as the vermin of the sky, disrupting astronomical observations by leaving streaks on long-exposure photographic plates used to take pictures of the stars. How times have changed. These remnants of the early solar system are now seen as key targets for space science and, just possibly, for future space commerce.