The Many Ways to Deflect an Asteroid


It’s summer, which means it’s prime time for blockbusters about the natural (and unnatural) disasters that cause humanity to band together in a united cause. One such disaster that’s been around the multiplex a time or two is earthbound asteroids—but these collisions aren’t entirely the stuff of fiction.

The American Museum of Natural History has a new video with appropriately dramatic music addressing possible solutions for one of these hypothetical catastrophic impacts. While damaging asteroid collisions are rare, scientists have identified thousands that are close enough to Earth to be potentially hazardous.

Denton Ebel, Curator in the Division of Physical Sciences, says a few ideas for deflection include putting something extremely massive near an asteroid to gravitationally tug it into a different orbit, painting it with something reflective to allow sunlight to push it away, blowing it up with the hope of getting a much more manageable meteor shower, and diverting it to the ocean (though that could be problematic depending on the wake that results).

In short, each idea has its own set of pros and cons, but all have a certain grandiosity and, honestly, cinematic potential. As does Ebel’s final sentiment: “We have to think as global citizens in responding to these kind of threats.” He should play himself in the movie.

Check out the video above to see animations of the ideas, and if you’re eager for some face to face time with a space rock, the AMNH has a 15.5 ton meteorite (a fallen rock from a broken up asteroid) called the Willamette Meteorite in its Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Hall of the Universe.