Perfectly timed -- after all, not only did Earth experience a near miss by asteroid 2012 DA14 on Friday, residents in Russia were shocked by a meteor that exploded miles above the ground, yet still managed to shatter windows and injure about a thousand people -- scientists on Friday announced a new proposal for dealing such extraterrestrial threats.
U.C. Santa Barbara physicist Philip Lubin and California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo researcher Gary Hughes have come up with an idea they call Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and Exploration, or DE-STAR. According to the pair, DE-STAR could vaporize an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 -- which is about 150 feet across -- in about an hour. It could take care of one 10 times as large in approximately a year.
The DE-STAR system is called a "directed energy orbital defense system." Orbiting Earth, a DE-STAR system would harness solar power amd channel it into a phased array of lasers, which would then be used to vaporize smaller asteroids or comets or change the course of those too large to destroy.
According to the scientists, DE-STAR could be build using current technology. A system the size of the International Space Station (ISS) could push comets and asteroids from a collision course with Earth, Lubin and Hughes said.
The bigger DE-STAR, the better, they said. If someone could create a DE-STAR system 100 times larger than the ISS (which by comparison has a mass of 990,000 pounds), that system could bombard a target with 1.4 megatons of energy daily, destroying an asteroid 546 yards across in one year.
Theoretically, a system like this could be used to propel spaceships for interplanetary travel, as well, pushing a properly shielded craft of up to 10-tons in mass near light speed. It could also be used to determine asteroid or comet composition.
Lubin said the following in a statement:
We have to come to grips with discussing these issues in a logical and rational way. 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.
Notably, a version could be made as small as a desktop, as a test.
One thing was not mentioned by the scientists, though. Obviously a DE-STAR system could be pointed at outer space, to protect against asteroids. It could also be pointed toward Earth, and renamed DE-EARTH, could it not? It would be hard to imagine any other nation -- aside from the one that created the system -- being happy with the idea.