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We don’t need to use nukes… apparently, a swarm of pebbles could safely deflect an asteroid just as well

In science fiction, deflecting an asteroid that’s hell bent on destroying Earth requires a nuke or a flurry of nukes or some giant ship to crash into it or attaching rockets to fly it away, but you don’t need any of that. Apparently, a flurry of small pebbles could just as easily deflect an asteroid.

Alison Gibbings and Massimiliano Vasile, aerospace engineers at the University of Strathclyde, UK, have another solution. A 500-kilogram swarm of fingernail-sized spacecraft would, they calculate, deflect a fast-moving, 250-metre asteroid by nearly 35,000 kilometres - easily enough to avoid a collision, provided the swarm hits eight years, or about three orbits, before the expected Earth impact. A swarm could be launched from Earth in a single rocket. After release, pebbles could harness the thrust provided by reflected sunlight to steer themselves into a tight cloud directed at the asteroid.

Best of all, each pebble would be too small to crack the asteroid into still-dangerous pieces, the pair reported on 17 April at the Astrobiology Science Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.


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