In Brief

Nuclear weapons 'could be used to deflect asteroids'

Russian scientists argue 1967 space ban may have to be lifted if the Earth is at risk from a major collision

Russian scientists have devised a plan to use nuclear weapons to blow up asteroids in the event the Earth faced an Armageddon-style impact.

For the past three years, EU-sponsored researchers have been formulating ideas to avert the kind of collision which could destroy life on the planet - and Russia's top space institute believes blowing them up could be the answer.

Under plans devised by the Central Scientific Research Institute of Machine Building, nuclear warheads would be launched into deep space to meet the asteroid before it neared Earth. The goal would not be to destroy the asteroid, but to knock it off course, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The research forms part of NEOShield, which has brought together scientists and engineers from the EU, US and Russia.

Other suggestions include a "kinetic impactor mitigation method" that would involve launching unmanned spacecraft into the surface of the asteroid to deflect it.

Protocol prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons in outer space was established back in 1967, under the Outer Space Treaty. However, the scientists suggest this could be disregarded if "the asteroid threat becomes a matter of massive destruction or even the very existence of life on the planet", according to a press release.

Hundreds of meteorites – smaller versions of asteroids - hit the Earth every year, most of them no larger than a stone. However, larger asteroids can cause huge amounts of destruction - the 65ft-wide asteroid which struck Chelyabinsk, in Russia, in 2013 damaged more than 7,000 buildings and injured 1,500 people.

To cause a "global disaster",  an asteroid would have to have diameter of at least a quarter of a mile, according to Space.com. Such a collision is estimated to occur every 100,000 years. The extinction of dinosaurs is believed to have been caused by an asteroid more than six miles wide which collided with the Earth 66 million years ago, wiping out three-quarters of life on the planet.

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