A group of researchers from the University of California is proposing to save the Earth from a potential asteroid apocalypse using a new method of planetary defense, PI (“pulverize it”). Scientists plan to shatter large, potentially life-threatening asteroids into hundreds of tiny pieces by launching an array of penetrating rods in the asteroid’s path.

The PI plan calls for deploying dozens of spear-like “piercing rods” in the path of an approaching asteroid, “spraying” the space object into hundreds of pieces. The rods, 1.8 to 3 meters long, will contain nuclear explosives in order to smash an approaching asteroid to pieces long before it reaches Earth’s atmosphere.

As a result of an asteroid bomb attack, debris falling to Earth can cause damage to buildings and people. But, compared to the impact of an asteroid that, for example, exploded over Chelyabinsk in February 2013 with the force of about 30 bombs dropped on Hiroshima, the damage from falling debris is negligible. If the asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, and not far from the city, millions of people could die as a result of the shock wave.

“The difference between one large asteroid and hundreds of small ones is about the same as between a 500-kilogram piano that falls on your head and 500 kilograms of foam balls falling from the same height,” wrote physicists from the University of California Philip Lubin and Alexander Cohen in article for Scientific American.

NASA tracks the movement of more than 8 thousand near-Earth asteroids with a diameter of 140 m. But, as the Chelyabinsk incident showed, smaller objects can also cause huge damage to the planet.

Scientists call the new PI method a more flexible plan for protecting the planet than NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), which aims to change the course of a near-Earth asteroid using rockets. “PI is just one part of the challenge of protecting the Earth, which is why we are so focused on the sky,” the scientists note.