Scientists propose solar powered meteor killer

DE-STAR

Russia's meteor event and an ominously close fly by from Asteroid 2012 DA14 in one day have captured most people's attention. Combine that with new reports of a fireball over California spotted the same evening, and you've pretty much got a consensus we should start thinking more seriously about how to stop "the big one" that could be headed our way. Fortunately, two California scientists are on the case with a solar power based proposal.

Their concept is called Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and Exploration. DE-STAR for short. It's an orbiting system that channels solar power into a phased array of laser beams that blasts the offending space rocks or at a minimum pushes them in another direction.

UC Santa Barbara physicist Philip Lubin and Gary Hughes, a researcher at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo have been working on the idea for almost a year and are basing their solar energy "harvesting" idea on technology that already exists and technology they know will exist in the near future. Their analysis also involved complex modelling of scalability.

According to a press release from UC Santa Barbara:

In developing the proposal, Lubin and Hughes calculated the requirements and possibilities for DE-STAR systems of several sizes, ranging from a desktop device to one measuring 10 kilometers, or six miles, in diameter. Larger systems were also considered. The larger the system, the greater its capabilities.

For instance, DE-STAR 2 –– at 100 meters in diameter, about the size of the International Space Station –– "could start nudging comets or asteroids out of their orbits," Hughes said. But DE-STAR 4 –– at 10 kilometers in diameter, about 100 times the size of the ISS –– could deliver 1.4 megatons of energy per day to its target, said Lubin, obliterating an asteroid 500 meters across in one year.

The scientists also believe in addition to being an asteroid killer, larger devices could have a variety of other uses - including analysing an asteroid’s composition to propelling spacecraft at near light speed on interstellar trips before things like warp drive become a reality.

Though recent asteroid activity has startled us, it's believed that Earth probably gets hit by more fireballs than we think - dropping undetected into the oceans. These scientists believe they have hit on achievable solution to more dangerous ones the believe lie in our future, and aren't shy about calling for the need for us to wake up and start talking about it. 

In the UC Santa Barbara release about DE-STAR, Lubin summed it up:

"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."

After the devastation seen in Russia, many people might be thinking it actually IS time to break the bank.

UC Santa Barbara, via CNET, EarthSky.org