An asteroid the size of the Empire State Building and which could be on a collision course with Earth could be blown apart by nuclear missiles in a bid to prevent a global doomsday, scientists have said.
The huge asteroid, known as Bennu, has a massive diameter of more than 500 metres - but experts believe that even intense nuclear bombing would not be enough to save the planet.
Scientists say that there is a one in 2,700 chance that Bennu could hit Earth in 2135, and while those odds seem to be in our favour, they are minuscule in astronomical terms.
For reference, scientists believe the odds of complex life arising on a planet is one in 10 Duodecillion – as a number that is one in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 – yet here we are.
NASA is working on HAMMER - its Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response vehicle craft which is designed to blow up asteroids using nuclear weapons, or steer it clear but as Bennu is so big, the latter technique would not be possible as the machine would not be able to nudge the asteroid.
This leaves the only option as nuking the asteroid, which means that even if it is destroyed, radioactive debris could rain down on Earth.
Kirsten Howley, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who is part of the planetary defence team, said: “The consequences would be dire.
“This study aims to help us shorten the response timeline when we do see a clear and present danger so we can have more options to deflect it.
“The ultimate goal is to be ready to protect life on Earth.”
The asteroid weighs around 79 billion kilograms, some 1,664 times as heavy as the Titanic.
She added: “The push you need to give it is very small if you deflect the asteroid 50 years out.
“The probability of a Bennu impact may be 1 in 2,700 today, but that will almost certainly change – for better or worse – as we gather more data about its orbit.
“Delay is the greatest enemy of any asteroid deflection mission.”