With the recent passage of DA14 – an asteroid half as large as a football field and packing the power of a hydrogen bomb – and the rather explosive display that occurred above Russian skies, it’s little wonder then why NASA and other space agencies are publicizing various existing and proposed solutions to our “asteroid problem”.
Granted, there really isn’t much of a threat of an asteroid colliding with the Earth in the foreseeable future. And we also know that the meteor that graced the skies over the Urals was unrelated to the DA14 behemoth. But given that an impact could mean an Extinction Level Event, similar to the Cretaceous-Paleogene event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, a little planning doesn’t hurt.
The first in a series of three existing or proposed designs is the NEOSSat – Short for Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite – that was built in Canada and was deployed last week on an Indian rocket with six others. In addition to watching space debris in orbit and tracking their movements, it will also be keeping a sharp eye out for asteroids that may swing by Earth in the future.
Then there is the ESA’s proposed Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission (or AIDA), a group of planetary defense satellites that will are designed to collide with an asteroid, then push it off course. And after two years of planning, research teams from the US and Europe have selected the mission’s target – a so called ‘binary asteroid’ named Didymos – that AIDA will intercept when it passes the Earth by a mere 11 million km in 2022.
The third and final proposed solution is something that sounds ripped from the pages of a science fiction novel. Known as the DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation, this satellite is essentially a orbiting laser that would be capable of destroying approaching asteroids 10 times larger than the DA14 and at a distance as far away as the Sun.
Proposed by two California scientists – UC Santa Barbara physicist and professor Philip M. Lubin, and Gary B. Hughes, a researcher and professor from California Polytechnic State University – the satellite is designed to harness the power of the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy asteroids that pose a potential threat to Earth. At the same time, it will be capable of changing an asteroid’s orbit – deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun.
Feel safer? Well, considering that the odds of Earth getting anytime soon are pretty low, and are likely to fall even farther once we get these rock killers destroyed. Once more, it seems that sane planning and sensible solutions are winning out over doomsday predictions. Good for us!