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Solar-Powered Lasers Could Destroy Asteroids In The Near Future

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Russia’s recent meteor episode, coupled with the same-day fly-by of Asteroid 2012 DA14, probably put fear in quite a few people’s heads and hearts, and not just the loonies thinking aliens were involved. But rest those fears, for science has been on the job for over a year now, figuring out a way to deathpunch asteroids out of existence. And now they have.

A UC Santa Barbara press release, which came out before Russia’s meteorite shower, details a solar-powered system of asteroid destruction, all based on either technologies that already exist, or those that will be available in the very near future. The project, conceived by UC Santa Barbara physicist and professor Philip M. Lubin, along with Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo professor and researcher Gary B. Hughes, is called Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids on xploRation, or DE-STAR. I hope I don’t have to point out that this sounds exactly like “Death Star” said by someone whose tongue had been telepathically ripped out by Lord Vader.

"That thing's operational!"

“That thing’s operational!”

DE-STAR is actually a series of proposed numbered systems that escalate in size, “ranging from a desktop device to one measuring ten kilometers, or six miles, in diameter,” with those larger, currently unattainable models teasing interstellar travel and asteroid mining. But a smaller, more realistic model, the DE-STAR 2, is about the size of the International Space Station, with an array of solar-powered lasers that could push asteroids and comets out of their orbits, especially when their orbits are headed right for our living rooms.

Recent advancements in efficiently converting electric power to light make the laser options possible where it would not have been 20 years ago. Lubin explains:

Our proposal assumes a combination of baseline technology –– where we are today –– and where we almost certainly will be in the future, without asking for any miracles. We’ve really tried to temper this with a realistic view of what we can do, and we approached it from that point of view. It does require very careful attention to a number of details, and it does require a will to do so, but it does not require a miracle.

Maybe instead of starring in it, Ben Affleck can direct an asteroid disaster movie utilizing this technology, and have it actually be worth a damn for something other than the awesomeness that is Steve Buscemi.

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