Bruce Willis and a nuclear bomb would not be able to protect the world from annihilation by a giant asteroid, according to a study which questions the scientific integrity of Michael Bay’s 1998 blockbuster Armageddon.
In the film Willis, an oil drilling expert, is able to save the planet from imminent obliteration by flying around the moon, landing on the surface of the asteroid which threatens Earth and detonating a hydrogen bomb at its centre.
The heroic act, made possible by Willis’s drilling expertise, splits the asteroid into two even halves which drift apart and fly relatively harmlessly past either side of the planet, saving humanity from extinction.
But now the effectiveness of the solution has been called into question by a group of physics students who claim mankind does not possess a bomb big enough to do the job.
A mathematical analysis of the situation found that for Willis’s approach to be effective, he would need to be in possession of an H-bomb a billion times stronger than the Soviet Union’s “Big Ivan”, the biggest ever detonated on Earth.
Using estimates of the asteroid’s size, density, speed and distance from Earth based on information in the film, the postgraduate students from Leicester University found that to split the asteroid in two with both pieces clearing Earth would require 800 trillion terajoules of energy.
In contrast the total energy output of “Big Ivan”, which was tested by the Soviet Union in 1961, was only 418,000 terajoules.
With such insufficient power, the only way for the Armageddon mission to work in reality would be to detonate the bomb at the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a region of the solar system beyond Neptune’s orbit where Pluto is located.
The Kuiper Belt is filled with icy bodies and Pluto-like dwarf planets but has very few high-iron content asteroids like the one featured in Armageddon, making it highly unlikely that one would originate from so far away, they added.
Ben Hall, one of the authors of Could Bruce Willis Save the World?, published in the Special Physics Topics journal, said: “I really enjoyed the film Armageddon and up until recently never really considered the plausibility in the science behind the movie. But after watching it back I found myself being more sceptical about the film in many areas.
“Directors attempt to make films scientifically accurate, but find that a lot of trouble is run into in what can and cannot be done, thus leading to falsification in the science to make movies more interesting or visually appealing to the audience.”
In a follow-up study the four students also calculated that the Hubble Space Telescope, the most powerful telescope available in the 1990s, would only realistically have been able to detect the asteroid at a distance of eight billion miles – almost the exact point at which it would need to be split.
Even in the unlikely event the asteroid was picked up in an image from the telescope, which has less than 0.02 per cent of the sky in its field of view, this would leave no time for Bruce Willis to reach it, the students said.