In the 1998 movie "Armageddon," Bruce Willis plays an oil-drilling platform engineer who leads a team that lands on an asteroid aimed at Earth, drills a hole into its center and explodes a nuclear device that splits the asteroid, saving the planet.
Could it actually happen? Definitely not, say physics graduate students at the University of Leicester in England.
Leaving aside the question of whether we have spacecraft that could transport the drilling team to intercept the asteroid, the group of four students concluded that we simply don't have a big enough bomb to split the asteroid so that the two halves would pass by the Earth.
Ben Hall, Gregory Brown, Ashley Back and Stuart Turner devised a formula to calculate how much energy would be needed to split an asteroid of the size depicted in the film. They reported in two related papers in the University of Leicester Journal of Special Physical Topics that it would require 800 trillion terajoules of energy to split the asteroid in two with both pieces clearing the planet. Unfortunately, the largest nuclear bomb known, a Russian monster known as Big Ivan, yields only 418,000 joules. Hence, they said, the project would require a bomb a billion times as powerful to save the Earth.