It has been an eventful year for space enthusiasts, with it seeming like a new asteroid is announced every week, each one coming closer and closer to our blue marble. Then, just a few days ago, a large meteorite smashed into Russia, injuring over 1000 people. Now a researcher and a physicist have teamed up to propose a solution to the problem – a laser-beam generating solar-based asteroid destroyer that could destroy a space rock half the size of a football field in 30 minutes.
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 an 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,” said Lubin, who began work on DE-STAR a year ago. “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.”
The system will work by using solar panels to turn energy from the sun into a “phased array” of individual laser beams that are channeled into a single mega-laser beam that eradicates the asteroids, a la the Death Star. If the asteroid is too large, DE-STAR would work by deflecting it away from our fragile planet. The best part? The concept is based on technology that is widely available now.
“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.”
“These are not just back-of-the-envelope numbers,” Hughes concurred. “They are actually based on detailed analysis, through solid calculations, justifying what is possible. And it’s all available under current theory and current technology.
“There are large asteroids and comets that cross the Earth’s orbit, and some very dangerous ones going to hit the Earth eventually,” he added. “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.”