With the small near-Earth asteroid flyby happening on February 15 as well as the meteorite that broke apart over Russia, space objects crashing into Earth is a hot topic. Luckily scientists have created a hypothetical asteroid defense system using lasers.
The University of California at Santa Barbara physicist Philip M. Lubin and Gary B. Hughes, a professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, have a devised an asteroid defense system that would vaporize the space objects before they could crash into Earth. The defense system has yet to be created but the idea of using lasers, or highly concentrated energy beams, is an interesting, and rather cool, way to deal with a potential space problem.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 will flyby perilously close to Earth, as previously reported by IBTimes, even closer than television and weather satellites orbit Earth. While the 150 foot wide, 130,000 metric ton asteroid will pass just 17,200 miles away from the Earth’s surface, NASA has projected that there is no possibility that the asteroid could crash into Earth. NASA’s projected trajectory has been accurate so far but there is a possibility that such an asteroid could hit Earth.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 is one for the record books but not due to its size or weight. According to NASA, there are thousands of near-Earth asteroids similar to the one that will flyby Earth on Friday. There are 500,000 near-Earth asteroids that are roughly the same size as asteroid 2012 DA14, notes NASA. Even more startling, just one percent of those space objects have been discovered, which means there are hundreds of thousands near-Earth asteroids that could be 150 feet or larger.
So, what would happen if one of those small near-Earth asteroids were projected to be on a collision course with Earth? Well Lubin and Hughes have a possible answer in Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids an exploration, or DE-STAR which could destroy any comet or asteroid deemed a threat to Earth. According to Lubin, “We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats. Duck and cover is not an option. We can actually do something about it and it's credible to do something. So let's begin along this path. Let's start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start.”
DE-STAR would use the sun and would convert that energy into laser beams that could target potential asteroids or comets. If complete destruction is not a possibility, DE-STAR could act as a way to deflect the asteroid from Earth, changing its orbit to remove any threat. It could also be harnessed as a scientific tool. DE-STAR is not a science fiction dream of Lubin and Hughes who devised the defense system using actual science and readily available tools. Hughes notes, “All the components of this system pretty much exist today. Maybe not quite at the scale that we'd need –– scaling up would be the challenge –– but the basic elements are all there and ready to go. We just need to put them into a larger system to be effective, and once the system is there, it can do so many things.”
The possibilities of DE-STAR are endless and could not only act as a defensive shield for Earth but could aid in planetary exploration and even space flight. DE-STAR could use solar energy almost like a rechargeable battery, providing an additional energy source to shuttles and spaceships traveling to distant planets. The possibilities of solar energy laser beams could become a reality and according to Hughes, in regards to asteroids and comets hitting Earth, “Many have hit in the past and many will hit in the future. We should feel compelled to do something about the risk. Realistic solutions need to be considered, and this is definitely one of those.”
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