Bruce Willis Can’t Save The World … From Asteroids, At Least

By Mo Mozuch on August 8, 2012 5:41 PM EDT

photo:reuters
photo:reuters

There's no Yipee Ki Yay solution for blasting asteroids out of the sky with enormous nuclear weapons, according to a student paper published out of the University of Leicester. "Could Bruce Willis Save the World?" was published in the university's recent edition of the Journal of Special Physics Topics.  According to the paper, the largest nuclear weapon ever built, the 50-megaton "Big Ivan" built by the Soviet Union, would fall well short of the power needed to safely clear an asteroid out of the Earth's path.

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The paper does not look at specific asteroids that have been identified by scientists; instead, it estimates the physics of the asteroid in the Willis blockbuster "Armageddon." For example, the film stated the asteroid was "bigger than Texas," which led the students to estimate the diameter at 1,000 km. By comparison, the asteroid that created the Chicxulub crater 65 million years ago and caused global extinction events, including the dinosaurs, measured just 15km wide.

Even "Big Ivan," operating at its full 100-megaton capacity, wouldn't be enough to deter a real asteroid 66 times smaller than Hollywood's version.  It would take the energy of nearly a billion Big Ivans to destroy the "Armageddon" asteroid, meaning nothing on Earth comes close to destroying an extinction-level sized asteroid.

Another paper published by the same students, "Could Bruce Willis Predict The End Of The World?" examined the possibilities of modern telescopes spotting an asteroid in time. It determined it was not possible for the asteroid in the movie to have been predicted in the timeline, citing that the Hubble telescope only covers .02 percent of the sky. It may also be the first scientific evidence that proves the long-standing belief among moviegoers that Michael Bay features are highly unrealistic, albeit epic in scope.

Both papers come shortly after the May 16 release of a NASA study that found approximately 4,700 potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) in our solar system. NASA defines a PHA as an asteroid larger than 330 feet in diameter that could pass within 5 million miles of Earth. According a helpful NASA page on why the world won't end in 2012, catastrophic asteroid collisions are extremely rare.

"The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs," NASA officials posted on the page. "Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs."

The authors of the Bruce Willis papers acknowledge that "our current

level of technology is simply nowhere near sufficient to protect Earth from such an asteroid by this specific means of asteroid defense, though other possible methods have been suggested that may be more feasible. " Specifically, leading technologies for asteroid defense include using probes to manipulate the gravitational pull of an asteroid to alter its path, strapping rockets to it in an attempt to steer it away or using lasers to heat the frozen core and change its mass and trajectory.

The paper also did not address whether it was possible to build a Nakatomi Towers high enough for Willis to drop the asteroid from. Or if the asteroid's brother would return two films later to steal gold from the Federal Reserve. 

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