Washington: As an asteroid roughly half as large as a football field-and with energy equal to a large hydrogen bomb-readies for a fly-by of Earth on Friday, two California scientists have proposed a system that could eliminate a threat of this size in an hour.
The same system could destroy asteroids 10 times larger than the one known as 2012 DA14 in about a year, with evaporation starting at a distance as far away as the Sun.
UC Santa Barbara physicist and professor Philip M. Lubin, and Gary B. Hughes, a researcher and professor from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, conceived DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation, as a realistic means of mitigating potential threats posed to the Earth by asteroids and comets.
"We have to come to grips with discussing these issues in a logical and rational way," Lubin, who began work on DE-STAR a year ago said.
"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," he said.
Described as a "directed energy orbital defense system," DE-STAR is designed to harness some of the power of the Sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy, or evaporate, asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth.
It is equally capable of changing an asteroid`s orbit-deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun-and may also prove to be a valuable tool for assessing an asteroid`s composition, enabling lucrative, rare-element mining. And it`s entirely based on current essential technology.
"This system is not some far-out idea from Star Trek," Hughes said.
"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," he said.
The same system has a number of other uses, including aiding in planetary exploration.
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, Lubin said, obliterating an asteroid 500 meters across in one year.