Although experts confirmed there was no link between the meteor that streaked across Russia and the foreboding flyby of Asteroid 2012 DA14 last Friday, the collective gasp that rippled across the planet suggested those coincidental shaves were a little too close for comfort.
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So then, are we just sitting ducks waiting for "the big one" to strike a bull's-eye? And if so, is anyone looking into - oh, I don't know - a plan of action to stop a rock the size of a supermarket from T-boning the Earth?
Fortunately, the answer is yes. Two California scientists have been hatching a plan for almost a year. UC Santa Barbara physicist Philip Lubin and Gary Hughes, a researcher at California Polytechnic State University, have been toiling away at a concept they call Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and Exploration, or DE-STAR for short.
As an orbiting system that harnesses and channels solar power into a massive phased array of laser beams, DE-STAR's energy blasts could either evaporate and destroy asteroids or at least knock them off course.
"We have to come to grips with discussing these issues in a logical and rational way," Lubin said in a university news release. "We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats. Duck and cover is not an option."
Both Lubin and Hughs calculated a range of requirements and capabilities for different sizes of the DE-STAR system - from a smaller desktop device to one measuring six miles in diameter.
According to the UC Santa Barbara press release:
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.
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Best of all is that scientists already have the tools to start building DE-STAR.
"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."