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California Professors Unveil Proposal To Attack Asteroids With Lasers

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the hitch-a-ride-to-the-off-world-colonies dept.

Earth 161

An anonymous reader writes "Yesterday's twin events with invading rocks from outer space — the close encounter with asteroid 2012 DA14, and the killer meteorite over Russia that was more than close — have brought the topic of defending mankind against killer asteroids back into the news. The Economist summarizes some of the ideas that have been bandied about, in a story that suggests Paul Simon's seventies hit "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover": Just push it aside, Clyde. Show it the nuke, Luke. Gravity tug, Doug. The new proposal is an earth orbiting, solar-powered array of laser guns called DE-STAR (Directed Energy Solar Targeting of AsteRoids) from two California-based professors, physicist Philip Lubin (UCSB) and industrial statistician Gary Hughes (Cal Polytechnic State). Lubin and Hughes say their system could be developed and deployed in a range of sizes depending on the size of the target: DE-STAR 2, about the size of the International Space Station (100 meters) could nudge comets and asteroids from their orbits, while DE-STAR 4 (100 times larger than ISS) could evaporate an asteroid 500 meters in diameter (10 times larger than 2012 DA14) in a year. Of course, this assumes that the critters could be spotted early enough for the lasers to do their work."

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161 comments

Actually there were three events (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921333)

There was also a meteor that was seen from San Francisco [go.com]

Re:Actually there were three events (2)

rcamans (252182) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921569)

One hit Cuba as well. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/second-meteor-video-cuba-two-1712957. I did first ost on it, but /. never posted it.

They can call it (3, Funny)

ionix5891 (1228718) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921337)

The Death Star

Re:They can call it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921401)

The ability to destroy an asteroid is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Re:They can call it (1, Funny)

flyneye (84093) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921917)

I'm thinking Atari had it before Star Wars did. Did they channel Ronald Reagan to come up with this idea?
There are millions of "Asteroids" champs out there just drooling to do the "space drone" piloting thingy.
I'm thinking the government knew all along and the video game was a last ditch attempt to find the ultimate savior of the world, fully trained.
They've known about the Asteroid attack for years, recent Islamic Prophesy masks the fact that it is entirely the work of Iranians, secretly not enriching uranium, but operating a giant electromagnet aimed at the Van Halen belt. Mohammed predicted hemmorhoids would befall sinners and politicians who drew him into the Sunday Funnies. All in all though, it boils down to a $cientologist Plot. L.Ron Hubbard went to his cupboard to get his ticket to go on a Tom Cruise. But when he got there, the cupboard grew hair, but G.Gordon Liddy grew none. It's all connected, you'll see! Or at least smell.
       

Re:They can call it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922633)

They have been contacted by Lucasfilm Licensing LLC regarding their IP properties. That's why it's DE--- STAR, remember Lin---s ? [wikipedia.org]

"Killer"? Meh. (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921341)

Killer meteorite over Russia. Yeah, sure. In your dreams.

Re:"Killer"? Meh. (1)

Pale Dot (2813911) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921391)

Injurious because hundreds were reportedly injured? Harmful perhaps? Terrifying like a terrorist bombing that wounds but kills noone? Not really that destructive, but lots of other nonlethal adjectives to choose from.

Re:"Killer"? Meh. (1)

cffrost (885375) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921457)

Terrifying like a terrorist bombing that wounds but kills noone?

Which Noone [wikipedia.org] was killed?

Re:"Killer"? Meh. (0)

Teresita (982888) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921713)

You know, if asteroids were really a big problem, then life on Earth wouldn't have gotten a toehold, and no one would be here to worry about it. Ain't the Anthropic Principle grand? This just sounds like a way to separate US taxpayers from their money through fear, not unlike the War on Terrah.

Re:"Killer"? Meh. (1)

number11 (129686) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921769)

You know, if asteroids were really a big problem, then life on Earth wouldn't have gotten a toehold, and no one would be here to worry about it. Ain't the Anthropic Principle grand? This just sounds like a way to separate US taxpayers from their money through fear, not unlike the War on Terrah.

But just think how useful the orbital lasers will be for earth wars, too. Who can be trusted not to just take a shot or two to "save $NATIONALITY lives"?

Re:"Killer"? Meh. (4, Interesting)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922117)

You're absolutely right, from a biological perspective. There have only been a handful of impacts that did any serious damage to the biosphere, but those mostly wiped out everything except for a few "lottery winners" low on the food chain. Humanity, well all mammals really, kind of won the last round when all the dominant animal life was killed off and "rodents" were able to inherit the Earth. However the asteroid that would destroy New York (city or state, your choice) isn't even worth mentioning on those scales, and humanity is occupying an ever larger portion of the surface. Just think of how much the damage would have cost had that Russian meteor blown out the windows in a major metropolitan area, and that one was downright tiny.

Plus, unlike the "war on terror" that has spent ~$1.5 Trillion to little effect beyond deposing some marginally related governments, a system that can deflect dangerous asteroids away from us also has considerable productive use as well: we could deflect valuable asteroids into near-Earth orbit, even capture them into stable Earth or Lunar orbits for processing. That is typically the oft-unspoken goal of most of these sorts of plans, but the big money all comes from the defense department, so that's how they get pitched. Science and economic development projects have to fight over the budgetary crumbs which couldn't feed a project like this. Even the Cold War "Star Wars" missile defense program was designed to double as an asteroid guidance system, or so I've heard.

Re:"Killer"? Meh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922235)

"noone" is correct in many flavors of english besides american english. no need to make fun of someone just because you're ignorant.

Nitpicking for beginners (unsuccessful) (1)

jandar (304267) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922745)

To quote No_one [wikipedia.org] :

no one, no-one or noone, an English indefinite pronoun

Re:"Killer"? Meh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921505)

But meteors are more likely to kill you [discovermagazine.com] than terrorism! If that doesn't make you panic, then you might be too rational to enjoy this fear/hype-fest. For those that it does make panic, imagine 9/11, but with meteors! But instead of being groped at airports and bombing everything in sight, we need to build giant space lasers. We also need to torture people and monitor your phone calls, but we'll explain that later.

Btw, anyone who has ever scored higher than 20 million on Asteroids needs to contact NASA immediately (an equivalent score on Blasteroids will also be considered).

It's not the rocks you've got to worry about (3, Insightful)

M. Baranczak (726671) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922017)

Let's keep things in perspective. There are no verified records of anyone being killed by a falling meteor, ever. There are some sketchy stories that can't be confirmed - but even if we believe all of them, the number is still pretty damn small.

Now consider all the wars, genocides, and random violence that humans have inflicted on each other.

Re:It's not the rocks you've got to worry about (1)

jandar (304267) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922779)

Now consider all the wars, genocides, and random violence that humans have inflicted on each other.

These real threats have the unfortunate feature of being changeable and measurable. Going against asteroids has no immediate measurable effect and is therefore a perfect venture for any politician.

Knee... (1)

dohzer (867770) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921361)

,,, meet jerk.

Re:Knee... (1)

DaMattster (977781) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921395)

,,, meet jerk.

Gotta love the sheeple out there! Baaaaaa!

Re:Knee... (3, Insightful)

Rockoon (1252108) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921543)

As long as the project is funded by Californians, I say go for it. They don't seem to mind dismal-looking cost/benefit analyses

But would they be ... (3, Funny)

Stormthirst (66538) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921365)

... fricking lasers? Would there be sharks?

Better. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922213)

Friggin' sharks with friggin' lasers attached to their heads...
 
...IN SPACE!

Re:But would they be ... (2)

Nkwe (604125) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922371)

... fricking lasers? Would there be sharks?

Yes. Yes there would be: Sharks in Spaaaaaaaaace!

Re:But would they be ... (1)

mrbester (200927) | about a year and a half ago | (#42923015)

Sharks are endangered. Even if they are to be used in a way that benefits the entire ecosystem of the planet there will be enough clamour from the hippies to prevent it. That's why Dr Evil has ill-tempered mutant sea bass.

I say (1)

DaMattster (977781) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921385)

Let them come! I will welcome our new overlord mineral invaders!

Why lasers instead of mirrors? (5, Interesting)

eth1 (94901) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921389)

Wouldn't it be much more efficient (and cheaper) to just use mirror arrays to focus the sunlight directly, rather than use expensive and inefficient solar panels to process the sunlight into a laser first?

Then, instead of sitting uselessly in space 99.999% of the time (or maybe 100%, even), they could focus sunlight onto ground-based power stations (or space-based, if we actually get mining operations going up there), and help pay for themselves.

It would also be a bit harder to weaponize. A DE(ath)-STAR in orbit? What could possibly go wrong?

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (3, Interesting)

Dan East (318230) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921423)

What would be best is a multi-role station. The power generated when "idle" could normally be beamed down to earth via microwave, etc (if that is even possible - I assume the station could not be geostationary because of the extra propulsion required to launch so much mass to that higher orbit).

Another use would be similar to the iss, where there are also modules for astronauts to do science in, as well as them being there to help maintain and assemble the station.

The power generated could also be beamed to long-distance probes that use an electrical ion type drive. Any extra energy they receive from the station simply allows them to accelerate faster. That may be more feasible than beaming the power down to earth.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

number11 (129686) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921791)

What would be best is a multi-role station. The power generated when "idle" could normally be beamed down to earth via microwave, etc

For some reason, I get this image of the kid next door, the one who used to fry ants with his magnifying glass.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921983)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0246460/

Anti-asteroid technologies' potential to unite humanity towards a common goal is usually undermined by the depressing reality that almost any technique used to prevent an asteroid strike could be weaponized, or at-least, potentially be used to create a strike deliberately.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asteroid_impact_avoidance#Deflection_technology_concerns

It remains to be seen if the baby will get killed in the cradle because of it's distrust for it's neighbors.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922131)

Slight problem.
The Laser array needs to be moved close in to the asteroid you want to evaporate.
It absolutely cannot beam power to earth, as it'll be too far away.
It needs months, or even years to evaporate or deflect the asteroid.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922469)

if that is even possible - I assume the station could not be geostationary

A geostationary orbit would only be necessary if there was a single receiver on Earth. But MW receivers are far cheaper than satellites, so we could have many, all around the globe.

because of the extra propulsion required to launch so much mass to that higher orbit

Propulsion using standard rockets is expensive, but remember: this thing will have lots of electrical power available. So you could use that power to run an ion thruster. [wikipedia.org] It will take a while to reach the higher orbit, but the cost will be far lower than a rocket.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922519)

Geostationary is actually relatively cheap once you've made it to low orbit, it's just that while it's truly wonderful for the things it's good at (like "parking"communication satellites or power stations) for many applications it's not really that great - you get a half-second round-trip communication delay, you'll only ever be above one point on the equator, and it *is* more expensive to reach.

What I'd actually expect is that a power station would be built in high LEO where it's still convenient o get to but there's nothing much "above" it, and equipped with ion drives so that it can then lift *itself* into geostationary orbit once it starts generating power.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921431)

Solar panels are used to store energy, which can be released on a moment's notice.

The effectivenes of reflective surfaces is limited to how much light shines on them.

Think about it.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (2)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921453)

On the other hand, it's a scaling issue - reflective surfaces are literally just sheets of mylar. How much surface area could we launch compared to the cost of solar panels/capacitors/laser emitters?

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921467)

Solar panels are used to store energy, which can be released on a moment's notice.

Why bother even posting when quite clearly you have not the slightest clue about technology?

Solar panels store nothing.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (2)

Worthless_Comments (987427) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921679)

Batteries store energy. Solar panels are not batteries.

Think about it.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

arth1 (260657) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921975)

And batteries can't release all the energy that quickly. If they could, a normal AA battery would be a bomb.

Now if it was stored in huge capacitors, the discharge could be much faster, but there are other problems with this, including leakage and temperature.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922063)

Lots of things store energy, many of them cheaper than batteries. Batteries are just one of the few technologies efficient enough to where the energy loss of storing hydrocarbon energy can be cost justified. Opportunistic energy storage frequently get's neglected because of this subtle distinction.

-Gravity based potential energy storage is fairly efficient. With pump efficiencies near 95%, pushing water uphill is an easy solution that is within the skills of anyone capable of plumbing.
-Thermal energy storage is frequently free. It is a matter of thermal load-balancing. It's moderately disgusting how many megawatts of coal and gas turbine power are wasted on Air Conditioning and Heaters every year. There are many substances with a high specific heat that can store solar thermal for heating water and PCMs that can act as a thermal low pass filter.
-Organic Rankine cycle does not require the high carnot efficiencies of heat engines like ICEs or Gas turbines. By drawing a vacuum in the working fluid you can lower the temperature required for a Liquid->Gas phase change, just like a boiling water reactor uses it to raise the temperature.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (3, Informative)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922215)

For the DESTAR and similar applications, there is a better method of storage than those mentioned in previous post: storage as kinetic energy in a high speed flywheel.

Flywheel energy density is much higher than batteries, especially in space where friction losses can be minimized and there is no need for a failure containment vessel, so long as the thing is kept oriented in a safe direction (do not build space station modules that cross the plane of flywheel rotation). Energy can be withdrawn very efficiently, at a much higher rate than batteries support, and with much more control than is possible with capacitor storage. Final construction can be done in orbit, making this probably the easiest system to deploy on a large scale.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (2)

lxs (131946) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921557)

You could always use the sunlight itself to pump your laser [wikipedia.org] skipping the electricity part altogether.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922255)

A more direct use of sunlight would be titanium white paintballs, to make one side of the asteroid highly reflective. Then just wait.

We have the technology now to identify worthwhile targets and to hit them with the paintballs. The only thing we might be lacking in is caring enough about future generations to invest in something now that won't pay off for a hundred or more years.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921725)

For some good reasons

1) Batteries for energy buildup from sunlight
      a) which would allow for stronger beams at least for a short while
      b) could be on the side away from the sun

2) Mirror arrays would have to be constantly adjusted meaning
      a) it's not exactly more simple, requiring much more complex calculations and a system of mirrors that can be adjusted to aim everywhere
      b) introduces aiming lag time (depending on how fast you can reposition them to aim)
      c) greater fuel usage

3) Durability, harder to protect mirrors from micrometeors

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921737)

That however would be a copyright infringement on the novels "Troy Rising" Also the prior idea may serve as prior art to prevent patents ... so saving the earth wouldn't be profitable. /s (kind of)

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

TrekkieGod (627867) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921891)

It would also be a bit harder to weaponize.

Believe it or not, I like the fact that we can weaponize it. Not because I like the idea of using it as a weapon, but because if it can be weaponized, it's more likely that it'll get funded and built. And it's something we need to have, if we want to survive. Chances are that eventually that asteroid will come. It could be 100,000 years from now, but it could also be 10 years from now.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922321)

Would somebody who knows a bit about laser technology speak to this question:

Would a laser capable of slowly burning off material on a distant asteroid be suitable as a weapon against an enemy on the Earth's surface? I am guessing that beam attenuation in the atmosphere would severely limit the energy delivered to a target on the ground (but the overhead light show might be distracting).

On reflection (pun intended) it seems this question has two parts. The second part:

If an orbital laser weapon is developed, would a simple mirror of stretched mylar be sufficient to protect military assets in its shade? Could a smoke screen or fogger be used to protect areas?

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921913)

First we need better ways to detect the incoming asteroids. As far as I know the once over Russia was a complete surprise.

Re:Why lasers instead of mirrors? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922387)

You're quite right, the raw power available via reflection is much greater for a given cost, the real problems are likely:
    Focus - a laser has an incredibly tight beam that spreads very slowly while a large parabolic reflector with variable focus that can hit something many millions of miles away with even a tiny fraction of the reflected power is probably beyond our engineering ability.
    Aim - a reflector can only target something in roughly the same direction as the sun drastically limiting the defensive potential, and meaning we're mostly limited to targeting near-earth objects when they're nearly on the opposite side of the sun rather than when they're closer and more of the beam will actually hit it

As for focusing sunlight to ground-based stations - probably not a good idea. If you want to extend the "daylight" hours of a large area you're probably okay, but try to focus it into a tight beam for a power receiver and you'll be doing as much damage as a similar powered laser. Orbital power stations typically are imagined to use tight beam microwave transmissions because the atmosphere is transparent to microwaves - Deliver a similar beam of focused raw sunlight and you'll likely create really drastic atmospheric effects, possibly even a nice showy plasma beam if the energy density is high enough.

By the same argument, not really so hard to weaponize. In fact since a reflector would probably only be able to hit an asteroid with a tiny fraction of the light it reflects, but could easily hit the Earth with all of it, a reflector of a given effective power would have far more weapon potential.

Where reflectors really make sense is with focused power stations - big reflectors to collect sunlight and focus it onto something that can convert it to microwaves for transmission, whether that be photovoltaics + lasers, light-pumped masers, or whatever. No sense using a square kilometer of solar panels if you've got a square meter that can handle a million times ambient power densities.

Spotting may be the problem.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921403)

I think the hard part is spotting them faster than laser shots.

There are not that many options for seeing something faster than speed of light...

Re:Spotting may be the problem.. (3, Interesting)

Z00L00K (682162) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921525)

The problem with asteroids are the ones that aren't spotted. The well-known large ones are easy to spot but suddenly a new one shows up and causes trouble.

The earlier you can see them the better - and early enough you may be able to at least do something about it by nudging the trajectory just a fraction to make it miss or hit something harmless. If possible - let it crash into the moon instead. Spectacular - but the risk to humanity is lower.

On the other hand - there are places here on Earth where an impact would solve some problems.

Re:Spotting may be the problem.. (2)

ChromaticDragon (1034458) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921643)

This is where things get interesting.

The ability to direct kinetic weapons accurately from above is very likely to be of huge military importance in the future. I imagine that it's far easier to nudge an asteroid slightly so that 40 years hence it won't hit Earth than it would be to redirect it to target any particular spot on entry. Indeed, I imagine for any particular asteroid, there would only be so many places it could be forced to hit.

However, I cannot help but imagine that in multiple governments may start by working together with various satellite systems to push asteroids around. But decades into the future this may be a weird sort of arms race to see who can push the asteroid the most to get it to smack the enemy.

Did these people.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921413)

... not see $badly_acted_asteroid_movie ??? In nearly every one, the puny, futile attempts to destroy incoming asteroids always ends up with random smaller asteroids wreaking their still-very-deadly-but-not-earth-ending havoc upon the unlucky. I'm sure some group of white academicians hopes that all the asteroid splinters falls on Countries With Brown People(tm). Gaah.

Mirrors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921415)

How about boring mirrors in LEO? They need not weight much, but an array of mirrors could reflect a non-trivial amount of energy onto an asteroid per pound of spacelaunch. Not a satellite designer, but I'm guessing that 100m2 of mirror will weight less than a kilo, and that some creativity will let you get a lot of mirror per kilo of nav and positioning equipment on the bus.

Re:Mirrors (1)

TFAFalcon (1839122) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921465)

How well can you focus mirrors over such a Long distance? And could you use a reasonable % of their surface during the time they are exposed to the sun?

Re:Mirrors (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921565)

And how would you prevent these magical mirrors from moving away from the sunlight pressure?

Re: Mirrors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922395)

Well, since you asked, I'd use fraction wheels to aim them both for targetting and to point them towards and away from the sun to build energy when in orbit. See, when speed needs to increase and the sun is behind you, go perpendicular to the rays. This could also be used to throw a bit more light out there for searching for the smaller asteroids.

What could go wrong? (5, Insightful)

cohomology (111648) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921425)

Sorry for being a pessimist, but I'm old enough to remember Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_Defense_Initiative [wikipedia.org]

Consider a trillion dollar weapon of mass destruction in space.

It will never get through Congress.
There will be construction delays lasting a century.
Your enemies will be able to destroy it, cheaply.
Bright high school students will play with it.

Re:What could go wrong? (2)

ArmchairAstronomer (724678) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921547)

What asteroids/meteors? Those were American/Chinese/N Korean missiles.

http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/15/16977509-meteor-sparks-rumors-conspiracy-theories-in-russia?lite [nbcnews.com]

And we haven't even heard from our 'Tin Foil Hat' brigade yet.

This proposal would clearly be:
- Against God's will
- A government conspiracy to subjugate us
- A plan by the Freemasons/Communists/Bankers/Democrats/Republicans to subjugate us
- Contrary to a natural cycle of extinctions

And most importantly "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S FAULT"

This is just a friendly reminder that we will eventually go extinct, and it will be our own damn fault.
 

Re:What could go wrong? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921567)

Yeah, can we actually wait for someone to say something before we go putting words in their mouths and then denouncing them for the words we put in their mouths? Or is that not how this works? Extinct WTF

Re:What could go wrong? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921589)

Just thank your lucky stars that this didn't happen 3000 years ago, or we'd have to endure another book in the bible.

Actually, it's pretty similar to some of the existing books. Hmmm.

Re:What could go wrong? (2)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921989)

This one [biblegateway.com] comes to mind. The difference is, Lot saw that one coming, this time we were completely off guard.

And, you know, you only have to "endure" the bible if you actually read it. There's a lot of wisdom in that book.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to reap, and a time to sow;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

If that sounds familiar to folk music fans, Pete Seeger Plagairized almost all of it [wikipedia.org] in 1959; The Byrds popularized it in 1965. There are reams of similar wit and wisdom in that book.

Re:What could go wrong? (2)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922011)

And, you know, you only have to "endure" the bible if you actually read it. There's a lot of wisdom in that book.

I agree that there is a lot of wisdom there. I disagree that you can avoid it. A big to-do was made of which Bible Obama was sworn in on, just as a simple example. Not that most self-described Christians actually read it, or behave like they've read it.

Re:What could go wrong? (1)

TrekkieGod (627867) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921955)

The best part about your article: "when something falls--it's man-made."

Gravity is a US secret-weapon.

Re:What could go wrong? (1)

Bomazi (1875554) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922437)

The problem with SDI was not the science, but the political idiocy of spending a fortune undermining deterrence instead of working toward mutual disarmament, and the economic impossibility of dealing with countermeasures.

Since you can't negotiate with an asteroid, and that they tend not to deploy decoys, this should work a lot better than SDI.

Asteroids With Lasers (3, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921459)

Why attack asteroids with lasers? Aren't asteroids without lasers dangerous enough?

Re:Asteroids With Lasers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921595)

Why attack asteroids with lasers? Aren't asteroids without lasers dangerous enough?

It's not about the lasers.

It's the aliens who put the lasers on the asteroids that are the real danger. They MIGHT have oil!

Drone strikes are NOT going to happen. And the US won't bomb them and say there's no "hostilities".

Re:Asteroids With Lasers (1)

youn (1516637) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922069)

Asteroids with lasers are ok - it's sharks with lasers you have to worry about :p

People Are Interesting (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921489)

Look at people cowering and fearful over such an insignificant event.

Now their coming up with absurd ideas to "defend" against future boogeymen.

Sky get bright! Sky go boom! Ug! Ug! Thor wave bone at sky!

Re:People Are Interesting (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921585)

I call these interesting people Space Nutters. They have a doomsday religion and believe in it fervently. The odd thing is that they think space is deadly, constantly threatening us, but they also think the solution is to leave this planet to go LIVE in space.

Re:People Are Interesting (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921793)

Well, you do realize that the proposals to "go live in space" is not about finding a safer place to live, right? The main reason to find other places to live is because it means that no single event can wipe out the whole species (more colloquially known as not having all eggs in one basket). If thinking that makes me a space nutter, well, I guess I'm okay with that.

Re:People Are Interesting (2)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922035)

They have a doomsday religion and believe in it fervently.

Only if you consider history, geology, paleontology, and math to be religion. Face it, those who are born always die. We will become extinct some day, probably either by our own hand or by our lack of action.

You, on the other hand, worship at the altar of ignorance. Or maybe under its bridge.

Re:People Are Interesting (5, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921619)

You are right. We've never [wikipedia.org] been hit [barringercrater.com] by anything larger [wikipedia.org] . We should definitely wait until something gets really, really close [wikipedia.org] before we take any action.

Re:People Are Interesting (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921659)

Have you reinforced your home's roof to resist meteorite impacts? No? Then why do you expect the entire human race to?

Re:People Are Interesting (2)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921923)

I don't build my own roads. I don't have my own Department of Defense. I don't have my own power plant. There are lots of things that I depend on the government for. I'd suggest that tracking and intercepting dangerous objects in space is preferable to trying to live underground.

Re:People Are Interesting (0)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922051)

Wow, such willful ignorance. That's equivalent to reinforcing your roof to withstand a nuclear bomb, moron.

Bond or Powers? (1)

ExRex (47177) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921509)

After hacking the controls of the DE-STAR a Supervillain demands a ransom of $1 trillion or he will turn the lasers on Earth. Only an International Man of Mystery or a Double Naught Spy can save us from the photonic clutches of, who? Dr. Evil or SPECTRE?"
Coming to a theater near you.

Re:Bond or Powers? (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921701)

After hacking the controls of the DE-STAR a Supervillain demands a ransom of $1 trillion or he will turn the lasers on Earth. Only an International Man of Mystery or a Double Naught Spy can save us from the photonic clutches of, who? Dr. Evil or SPECTRE?" Coming to a theater near you.

So you have to build laser systems on Earth first, capable of destroying the orbiting station. And of course, many nations must control these stations so that no country could take control of the space weapon and use it against all others. I'm excited to be part of this program! Also, these systems would be useful for attacking other countries' satellites in case of a war (or as the opening move in one).

Re:Bond or Powers? (1)

strength_of_10_men (967050) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921865)

I've seen this movie. I think in the end, they just end up with a house full of popcorn.

Death Star project under new name. (1)

hessian (467078) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921513)

I think it's great: the Earth clearly needs a death star to defend against incoming asteroids, comets and meteorites.

It will also come in handy if we ever have a rebellion against our UN space program...

Side benefit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921607)

It's only one unfortunate aiming mistake away from an interesting military application. The military industrial complex, now with extra sneakiness.

other uses (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921637)

Just think what Obama could with one of those, point it at Afghanistan, point it at Mali, point it at Georgia ( either one )

RFID cloud near Mars (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921689)

Create an articificial cloud somewhere near Mars, of
RFID-chips. Think of the possibilities.

First "pew! pew! pew!" post (1)

stevegee58 (1179505) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921775)

Also, oblig: "will they use sharks too?"

we just proved we don't need anything (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about a year and a half ago | (#42921847)

despite all the Russian politicians drawing attention to themselves, we've just proven that even an unusually sized asteroid isn't a problem worth spending one dime solving. we can keep watch on objects over 35 meters, but anything smaller isn't worth the effort

Re:we just proved we don't need anything (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922087)

So tell me. What do we do when something that IS over 35 meters is coming straight towards Manhattan or London or Tokyo? Make fun of the politicians 'drawing attention to themselves' as they lament the imminent death of millions?

Re:we just proved we don't need anything (0)

rubycodez (864176) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922209)

those are spotted far away with years of advance notice. altering orbit a trivial problem.

Orbit? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42921899)

Why the heck would they put something like this in Earth orbit? That would mean at least some time with no sunlight, and would mean it could only fire the lasers at certain points in the orbit - and would spend a lot of time moving the lasers around to counteract the orbit. Something like this should sit at Lagrange points. If they even talked about putting it in orbit of Earth, they don't have the knowledge to develop something like this. Anyway, they should be placed at Earth-Sun L3, L4, and L5. You'd need to be able to refuel them every once in awhile as these points are only meta-stable and you would definitely need thrusters (just like Earth satellites do).

Build it on the far side of the Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922031)

Obviously, such a laser can't be put into orbit around Earth, as the potential for it to be used as a weapon obviously means it won't fly, and having such a weapon on the ground would both be subject to dissipation in the atmosphere, and could also be considered an advancement in the nuclear-weapons arms race (since it could shoot down missiles and satellites too).

So, build this defense on the far side of the moon, which is tidal-locked and can never point directly at Earth; you don't even have to lose much coverage by doing this, because you can put the lasers just beyond the 'horizon' on the moon, where Earth goes beyond visibility (though this 'horizon' varies somewhat, because even though the moon is tidal-locked it still 'wobbles' a bit, causing the placement of the horizon to change over a certain area).

You can even exclude a certain amount of orbital coverage from the lasers too (e.g. exclude vision of most satellite orbits), making this a very adjustable system, which could provide very decent protection against asteroids, and with only a relatively small area lacking coverage at any particular time (and even then, only temporarily lacking coverage).

Great reason to go back to the moon :)

Let it hit (2)

Kjella (173770) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922165)

If we could observe small objects to aim these things, we could also send people to bomb shelters/evacuate them that'd take a lot of the punch out of it and just brace for impact. For the really large objects then firing this laser at a dino-killer won't do anything anyway. From a WP article: "In 1998, NASA formally embraced the goal of finding and cataloging, by 2008, 90% of all near-Earth objects (NEOs) with diameters of 1 km or larger that could represent a collision risk to Earth. The 1 km diameter metric was chosen after considerable study indicated that an impact of an object smaller than 1 km could cause significant local or regional damage but is unlikely to cause a worldwide catastrophe."

So even at 100 times the ISS with a year of advance warning, it can only prevent a smaller regional disaster (1/2 diameter = 1/8th the volume and 1/8th the energy of a 1km asteroid). It is quite probably cheaper, simpler and more guaranteed to work to slowly evacuate that region over that year or to prepare necessary shelters and supplies to just wait it out. This is just stone, not nukes so there's no radiation damage, once the dust clears you're free to exit the shelters again and while crops and animals might be lost there's no long term poisoning of the water and food chain. In short, compared to all the other dangerous places choose to live with earthquakes and volcanos and whatnot with far more immediate danger this seems like a total waste of money and effort. Now dino-killers would be nice to have a defense against, but this is not it.

Innocent bystanders (1)

macraig (621737) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922205)

Why do they wanna attack defenseless innocent asteroids that are just minding their own business?

Sure. Asteroids, right. (1)

screwdriver (691980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922283)

There is no way this wouldn't be used to take out terrestrial ground targets.

Massive and expencive fail if built (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922293)

Unfortunetly current solar panels are so low efficiecy that these d-starts will be laughted by asteroids. Considering we cant even see most of them comeing, recently the one that dropped in russia, consider that hitting in middle of large city...

And small asteroids that these d-start woul be efficient against are not dangerous, since to mostly burn up in atmosphere.. Its the big ones that will wipe us out. big ones like size of small mountains. Shoot that with laser and it gigles and keeps on comeing.

There was recently calculations that even few nukes would not do squat about big asteroid comeing. So how wold low efficiency laser array work any better. And before you say becouse we see them comeing, etc... Consider this. We currently shoot moon with laser, very very good optical laser. in this distance the damn beam widens to 1 km wide in moons end, leading to very very low energy density, Theres that little reflective aparatus in moon that reflects this back, and scinetist use this to measure distance between earth and moon.

Knowing this, we have no chance in hell useing lasers against asteroids and evaporate them before they hit.

A futile endeavor (3, Interesting)

electrostaticcarrot (1198615) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922313)

The real threat is not from the occasional asteroid, but from swarms of small cometary rocks. Such swarms do not provide any single, easy target to spot and attempt to take out in advance.

They have struck before on a larger scale - with regularity - as documented e.g. by Clube and Napier. Much of their research focused on the long-past break-up of a very large comet and the periodic intersection of Earth's orbit with its remains - which has led to cometary showers, with their impact on societies in more ways than one, also leading among other things to religious developments - ideas of gods and their actions and judgments.

Historically, peoples have looked to their leaders to protect them from catastrophe - and when their leaders fail to do so, i.e. something happens that they simply cannot control, such as a rain of fireballs and meteorites exploding in the atmosphere, then a people will blame its leaders and get rid of them - often violently. This seems to be a basic feature of human psychology, one repeatedly seen in action throughout history.

Knowing this, the leaders have the need to reassure their people that they have things under control - historically, there have e.g. been systems of ritual and sacrifice. Nowadays, reassurances come in a different form: That the sky is watched, that major events only happen "once in a lifetime" (or, earlier, that such things simply couldn't happen - which was long the consensus), coupled with simplistic ideas of weapons and other solutions to take out the threat - solutions that will never be adequate if/when the time comes for real. People are only too happy to play along with such reassurances, to develop them and then to take them and run with them, since the alternative is not too pleasant - recognizing that there is no way to avert such disasters when they arrive.

A very recent book by a historian, "Comets and the Horns of Moses", discusses this whole subject, and much more connected to it. It goes into the history of cometary interaction with our planet - which has long seemed to follow cycles - and both how it has affected life on Earth and how humanity has responded to it - the social, cultural, and political dynamics involved, both in-between and during times of cometary disasters. Looking at the history and the present, it further goes into what seems likely to be coming up. I'd recommend it for the interested.

http://www.amazon.com/Comets-Horns-Moses-Laura-Knight-Jadczyk/dp/1897244835/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360956345&sr=8-1&keywords=comets+and+the+horns+of+moses [amazon.com]

In the present time, one of several clues is the reported sightings collected by the American Meteor Society, which have increased roughly exponentially since 2005 - with 463 events on record for 2005, the increase accelerating year by year with 1628 for 2011 and then 2219 for 2012. Thus far this year - i.e. in one and a half month - there's been 322.

Wait, just build it in China. n/m (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922347)

> California Professors Unveil Proposal To Attack Asteroids With Lasers

Well, best get started now. They're pushing 10 years to get environmental approval to deepen certain shipping ports by 6 feet to accommodate the new supertanker size of the expanding Panama Canal. I can't even begin to imagine the paperwork for a laser 10x the size of the ISS.

We have global warming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922605)

Surely we need a panic name for this. How about 'Galactic Bombardment'.

The inherent danger of this... (1)

mnemotronic (586021) | about a year and a half ago | (#42922933)

A space-based platform with enough power to vaporize asteroids? Is there any chance, whether intentionally or accidentally, that it could be pointed at something less asteroidal, like people?

A more realistic and practical system would be to hit the asteroid head-on with a projectile of extremely high density, like a politician. Can you say Congress cluster-bomblet?

I think I've heard about this somewhere before: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42922987)

It was Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. They didn't use lasers (instead opting for giant cannons), but the effect could easily be the same.

Removing threat is easy, spotting it, not so much (1)

terjeber (856226) | about a year and a half ago | (#42923045)

All the ideas that are brandied about are interesting, but ultimately a waste of time. The problem is much more fundamental that that. We currently do not have the capability of spotting them reliably and effectively, and no government agency is (in reality) working on fixing this rather fundamental problem - this includes NASA, we can not spot these killers by sitting on earth and looking up, we need to get a telescope up in solar orbit to find them efficiently. This means, as the world currently stands, the first warning we will get when an asteroid is on collision course with the earth, is going to be the massive flash generated when it enters the atmosphere, and shortly after, the monumental shaking of the earths crust as it touches down. Deflecting or destroying it at that point becomes rather moot.

Thankfully a private foundation lead by former astronauts and others [b612foundation.org]

has taken it upon it self to fix the issue, and is working with NASA, Space-X and others to launch a detector by 2018 that will actually find most of these buggers, so we can deflect them (easiest option) in time.

please close your floppy drive (2)

nanospook (521118) | about a year and a half ago | (#42923163)

A problem has been detected and windows needs to shutdown to protect your satellite. Error 0x00002.

A More Elegant Solution (1)

Rocketboy0 (2843233) | about a year and a half ago | (#42923619)

Why not just whack anything really big with the ISS - just ram it. At least that $140 Billion will have been useful. Just have to coordinate with the Russians to get the residents off first...
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