Don't Look Up: Physicists Say Killer Comet in Netflix Film Could Be Destroyed

In Netflix's wildly popular film Don't Look Up, the world is destroyed by a comet that strikes Earth and triggers an extinction-level event after botched attempt to destroy it for financial gain fails. However, two physicists believe that should such a "planet killing" comet actually threaten Earth, destroying it and saving the world is theoretically possible. In their paper "Don't Forget to Look Up", Philip Lubin and Alexander Cohen of the University of California at Santa Barbara (via CBS News) determine that a 6-mile-wide comet or asteroid—an object similar to what wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago)—could be destroyed and dispersed with the use of nuclear explosives, but time would be of the essence at nearly every step of the process.

According to their paper, even if the object was discovered a mere six months prior to anticipated impact, the object could be destroyed, but actions would have to be taken on earth within a month of discovery to launch heavy lift rockets to deliver multiple nuclear penetrators a month ahead of the impact that would themselves have to get into the crust of the object before detonating. It sounds like the plot of Armageddon dialed up to 11 and while mobilizing a response that fast, it is technically possible, though it may not exactly be a realistic effort. Still, for the sake of all of humanity? At least it'd be an option.

"We have shown that for the extreme case of a 6-month warning of the impact of a 10-km diameter asteroid or comet), humanity could in theory defend itself with an array of nuclear penetrators launched 5 months prior to impact and an intercept one month prior to impact," Lubin and Cohen write in the paper.

"Though the numbers may seem daunting, it is not outside the realm of possibility even at this point in human technological development," they write. "This gives us hope that a robust planetary defense system is possible for even short notice existential threats such as we have outlined today. Ideally, we would never be in this situation, but better ready than dead."

Lubin told CBS News that he's not particularly worried about a Don't Look Up scenario in terms of comets—the paper is the result of an academic curiosity—but he did note that currently, should it happen, we just aren't ready.

"If you ask me, am I worried about it? Of course not," Lubin said. "I've got better things to worry about. But I was just curious, from a physicist point of view, is it even possible, given the amount of energy you need. The answer is yes, it is possible. Is it something we can do today? No, because we haven't planned ahead."

Fortunately, according to astronomer Dr. Amy Mainzer, the likelihood of an Earth-destroying comet event is very unlikely.

"The good news is a really major event like what's portrayed in the movie, we know that, that can't happen very regularly...because we're here," Mainzer, who is an astronomer and worked as an advisor on the Adam McKay movie, told Yahoo Canada. "If that sort of thing happened on a regular basis in our time span, compared to the span that humans have been on the planet, well we wouldn't be here...The last such major event was the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. So, we know that this is a very infrequent event, that said, smaller events can happen more frequently. So that's why we go out and we look for the objects and try to figure out where they are."

Don't Look Up is now streaming on Netflix.