A scientist warned that blowing up an asteroid in a last-ditch effort to save Earth could have serious consequences. Aside from causing multiple impact events, this strategy could also cause thousands of radioactive asteroids to rain down on Earth.

When it comes to planetary defense, NASA’s main plan is to launch a spacecraft and intentionally collide it with an approaching asteroid in the hopes of deflecting it. However, this method will only work as long as the asteroid is detected years before its projected impact.

For last-minute defenses, NASA intends to launch a nuclear weapon to destroy the asteroid. However, as pointed out by various scientists, there’s a good chance that this plan will fail.

According to cosmochemist Natalie Starkey, even if NASA is successful in reducing the massive asteroid into tiny fragments through a nuclear blast, these small space rocks could still harm Earth. She noted that the explosion from the nuclear weapon could make the asteroid fragments highly radioactive.

“It may sound like a great solution but there’s a potentially big problem,” she said, according to Express. “The resultant shrapnel from such an explosion, however small, would be highly radioactive, so it’s probably not something we would want raining down on the planet.”

“This would almost certainly be the case if we blew up the object at short notice if it was heading towards us,” she added.

The nuclear fallout from the radioactive fragments would certainly have adverse effects on the planet as well as its inhabitants. But aside from this, Starkey also warned that depending on the composition of the asteroid, the massive space rock could break up into several chunks instead of tiny fragments following a nuclear explosion.

If this happens, Earth could end up getting pelted by numerous asteroids, causing multiple impact events on different parts of the planet. Although these asteroids won’t be as big as originally expected, they could still cause a significant amount of damage on the ground.  

“Depending on the composition of the space object, it might fragment into tiny dust-sized pieces that could rain down on Earth, or it might break into just a few large pieces, which, if heading for Earth impact, could make matters worse,” Starkey said.

Asteroid Impacts A new report indicates that a total of 26 nuclear-level asteroid impacts have hit Earth since 2000. Photo: Donald Davis