In the event an asteroid the size of a small village were to hurtle toward earth, the only way to avert a major disaster would be blow up the intruder, experts say.
Scientists are investigating the possibility of deploying a specially designed spacecraft to nuke approaching cosmic objects, in the hope of deflecting the threat.
While the challenge form a near-earth object could be met by slamming into it with a so-called impactor, according to experts, a nuclear explosion may be the best bet when time is running out.
Scientists from NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration have, in a new paper, revealed a plan for the Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response (HAMMER).
According to BuzzFeed News the 8.8-ton HAMMER spacecraft could be used to steer itself directly into a small asteroid, or blow the space rock up with a nuclear device.
The team plans to test the proposal with the 1,600-foot-wide asteroid Bennu, which is currently the destination for NASA's Osiris-Rex sample return mission.
While Bennu does not pose any risk of collision any time soon, there is a 1 in 2,700 chance it will slam into our planet sometime next century.
Each HAMMER spacecraft would weigh 8.8 tons and hit with a planned impact speed of 22,000 miles per hour. But one probe would still not be able to deflect even a modestly sized asteroid like Bennu.
NASA suggests deployment of several HAMMER probes in the path of an asteroid. In the course of multiple impacts, the asteroid would slow down slightly, and its orbital trajectory would bend toward the sun.
According to the scientists this would be enough to steer Bennu away from impacting the earth.
If we do not know about an impact years in advance, it might not be possible to alter the asteroid's course early enough, which is why HAMMER also has a nuclear mode.