Sunday was a really long day around Chateau Steelypips, and I couldn’t see staying awake to watch the premiere of Phil Plait’s Bad Universe on the Discovery Channel, so I’m way late in writing about it. I DVRed it, though, and watched it last night.
The theme of the premiere/ pilot was killer rocks from out of space, and focused on Phil getting his MythBusters on to test various ideas about asteroid or comet impacts and how to stop them. They blew up a scale model, shot projectiles into various types of rock to simulate nuclear bombs or kinetic impacts, all in the name of testing what would happen if we tried to destroy or deflect an incoming killer rock.
On the whole, it was a good Discovery Channel type program– Phil was very enthusiastic, as he tends to be, and the explosions were all explodey, which is what you expect from this sort of thing. There were a couple of minor holes I would’ve liked to see filled in, though, and one big open question.
They started off by looking at what nuclear explosions would do to various types of rocky asteroid, simulating the nuke by firing a projectile into the rocks at high speed. For this test, they just looked at whether they could break the rock up or not. Later on, they looked at the effect of using a “kinetic impactor” to try to deflect an incoming rock, which they simulated by firing a projectile into a big rock, and looking at whether the impact moved it significantly.
The problem I had with this was that they never really connected the dots between these two. That is, the simulated nukes all rocked their targets back by at least as much as the simulated kinetic impact did, but nothing was said about the change of momentum. Would the nukes be less effective at shifting the orbit of a space rock than a non-exploding projectile? Would the pieces broken off by the kinetic impact complicate the problem? he two tests were treated as completely separate things, but they could easily be tied together, and that would’ve been good to see.
The other nitpick I had was with the test trying to use a laser to melt stuff off a simulated comet. The laser being used with “the most powerful hand-held laser available,” but there wasn’t much said about that choice. Why a hand-held model, given that there are non-portable lasers that put out quite a bit of power? Was the power level chosen based on the scale, or did they just want a hand-held model to facilitate the shot of Phil grinning maniacally while tracking the “comet”along an air table? And did it produce any change in the motion at all?
(I am, of course, a laser nerd, so this question was more important to me than it would be to most of the expected audience.)
The big open question is: what does Phil (or somebody at Discovery) have against Sydney, Australia? Why was Sydney chosen as the target for the simulated impact? Did somebody involved with the production have a bad experience in Australia? Paul Hogan stole their girlfriend? Or did they just have an animator who happened to have a really nifty model of Sydney for some reason, so they used that?
Anyway, like I said, it was good fun. If you didn’t catch the premiere, I’m sure they’ll be re-running it at some point, so check your listings and set your DVR accordingly.
(The post title is not a negative comment on the show– I’m just powerless to resist obvious jokes.)