Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Deflection and fragmentation of near-Earth asteroids


The collision with Earth of near-Earth asteroids or comet nuclei poses a potential threat to mankind. Objects about 100 m in diameter could be diverted from an Earth-crossing trajectory by the impact of a rocket-launched mass, but for larger bodies nuclear explosions seem to be the only practical means of deflection. Fragmentation of the body by nuclear charges is less efficient or secure.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Shoemaker, E. M., Wolf, R. F. & Shoemaker, C. S. Geol. Soc. Am. spec. Pap. 247, 155–170 (1990).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Binzel, R. P., Xu, S., Bus, S. J. & Bowell, E. Science 257, 779–782 (1992).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Scotti, J. V., Rabinowirz, D. L. & Marsden, B. G. Nature 354, 287–289 (1991).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Veverka, J. & Harris, A. W. Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) Science Working Group Rep. JPL-86-7, (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, 1986).

  5. Weissman, P. R. in Global Catastrophes in Earth History (eds Sharpton, V. L. & Ward, P. D.) 171–180 (Geol. Soc. Am. spec. Paper, 1990).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Melosh, H. J. Impact Cratering, 1–245 (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1989).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Alvarez, L. E., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F. & Michel, H. V. Science 208, 1095–1108 (1980).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Morrison, D. The Spaceguard Survey: Report of the NASA International Near-Earth-Object Detection Workshop (January 25, 1992) (1992).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Rather J. D. G., Rahe, J. H. & Canavan, G. Summary Rep. Near-Earth-Object Interception Workshop (NASA Headquarters, 1992).

  10. Shoemaker, E. M. NASA Workshop, Collision of Asteroids and Comets with the Earth: Physical and Human Consequences, Snowmass, Colorado, July 13–16, 1981 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Housen, K. R., Schmidt, R. M., Voss, M. E. & Watson, H. E. DNA-TR-92-24 (Boeing Company, 1992).

  12. Housen, K. R., Schmidt, R. M. & Holsapple, K. A. J. geophys. Res. 88, 2485–2499 (1983).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. MIT Students. Project Icarus 1–162 (MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968).

  14. Solem, J. C. LA-UR-231 (Los Alamos National Laboratory, 1992).

  15. Solem, J. C. LA-UR-91-3765 (Los Alamos National Laboratory, 1991).

  16. Smither, C. L. & Ahrens, T. J. in Proc. int. Conf. Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors, June 24–28, 1991 (eds Harris, A. W. & Bowell, A.) (Lunar planet. Sci. Inst., Houston, 1992).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Holsapple, K. A. A. Rev. Earth planet. Sci. 22 (in the press).

  18. Cooper, H. F. Jr in Impact and Explosion Cratering (eds Roddy, D. J., Pepin, R. O. & Merrill. R. B.) 11–44 (Pergamon, New York, 1977).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Holsapple, K. A. & Schmidt, R. M. J. geophys. Res. 87, 1849–1870 (1982).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Hyde, R. A. UCID-20062 (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 1984).

  21. Johnson, S. W., Smith, J. A., Franklin, E. G., Moracki, L. K. & Teal, D. J. J. geophys. Res. 74, 4838–4850 (1969).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. Nakamura, T. & Fujiwara. Icarus 92, 132–146 (1991).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Housen, K. R. & Holsapple, K. A. Icarus 84, 220–253 (1990).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  24. Schmidt, R. M., Holsapple, K. A. & Housen, K. R. DNA-TR-86-182 (Boeing, Seattle, 1986).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ahrens, T., Harris, A. Deflection and fragmentation of near-Earth asteroids. Nature 360, 429–433 (1992).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing