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March 16, 2012

Supercomputers model nuclear bomb deflection of Asteroid

MSNBC - Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy facility in New Mexico, used a supercomputer to model nukes' anti-asteroid effectiveness. They attacked a 1,650-foot-long (500-meter) space rock with a 1-megaton nuclear weapon — about 50 times more powerful than the U.S. blast inflicted on Nagasaki, Japan, to help end World War II.

HPCWire - the simulation shows that a nuclear blast of that power would indeed “fully mitigate” the threat to Earth.

Modeling the reaction required a lot of computing horsepower, so the researchers turned to Cielo, a Cray-built supercomputer, rated at 1.1 Linpack petaflops. The machine consists of 8,944 dual-socket nodes and 286 TB of memory, and is powered by 8-core AMD 6136 Opteron CPUs. According to Weaver, the simulation was able to use 32,000 processors (although in this case he probably means cores given that Cielo only has 17,888 CPUs. Weaver noted the simulation he ran on the Cray super was unable to run on any previous machine he had access to at the lab.






If humanity had more notice of an impending impact, there are several other asteroid defense strategies we might be able to employ.

e could send a robotic probe out to rendezvous and ride along with the potentially dangerous asteroid. The spacecraft's modest gravity would exert a tug on the space rock as the two cruise through space together. Over months or years, this "gravity tractor" method would pull the asteroid into a different, more benign orbit.

We have the know-how to pull off such a mission. Multiple probes have met up with rocks in deep space, including NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which is currently orbiting the huge asteroid Vesta. And in 2005, Japan's Hayabusa probe plucked some pieces off the asteroid Itokawa, sending them back to Earth for analysis.



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