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 object problem.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 will fly close to Earth on Feb. 15, as previously reported by IBTimes, even closer than television and weather satellites that orbit Earth. The 15-foot wide, 130,000 metric ton asteroid will pass 17,200 miles from the Earth’s surface according to NASA, which said there is no possibility 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 fly by 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 of near-Earth asteroids that could be 150-feet long or larger.
So, what could we do to prevent one of those small near-Earth asteroids from colliding with Earth?
Lubin and Hughes have a possible answer: Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids, or DE-STAR, which could theoretically 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 is designed to convert the sun's 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, altering its orbit just enough to remove any threat to the planet. It could also be harnessed as a scientific tool.
Lubin and Hughes devised the defense system to be constructed using readily available tools and materials.
“All the components of this system pretty much exist today," Hughes said. "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.”
According to its designers, DE-STAR could also aid in planetary exploration and even space flight. DE-STAR could use solar energy as a sort of 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, Hughes believes.
“Many [comets and meteors] hit [Earth] in the past, and many will hit in the future," he said. "We should feel compelled to do something about the risk. Realistic solutions need to be considered, and this is definitely one of those.”