Scientists Develop a "Death Star" Laser Weapon to Vaporize Killer Asteroids

Friday, 04 March 2016 - 2:32PM
Technology
Astrophysics
Friday, 04 March 2016 - 2:32PM
Scientists Develop a "Death Star" Laser Weapon to Vaporize Killer Asteroids
The Death Star we all know has a tendency to destroy planets, but now scientists are attempting to create a Death Star weapon that will potentially save our planet. Researchers from UC Santa Barbara have developed the "DE-STAR," a superlaser with the ability to partially vaporize asteroids that are approaching Earth.

The general idea of using lasers to deflect killer asteroids has been proposed in the scientific community for years, but until now, there was no concrete evidence that such a weapon was feasible. Now, the team behind the proposed DE-STAR (Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation) project claims that laboratory tests have shown their weapon could actually work.

The researchers imagine the weapon as an unmanned spacecraft stationed close to a Near-Earth Object that poses a threat to Earth, armed with several high-powered lasers. The laser beams would heat the surface of the asteroid to the point that it would be partially vaporized, and would continually eject the vaporized material as gas. The energy from the ejection would cause the asteroid to change course, protecting Earth from a potential collision.

According to the most recent study, current laser technology has the power to vaporize any known material, which means that the DE-STAR could theoretically become a reality.
 
Opening quote
"Generally speaking, the technology is available today," co-author Qicheng Zhang told Astrowatch. "The main challenge with building a full DE-STAR is the necessary scale to be effective."
Closing quote

The only possible qualifier involves the amount of notice; while the Death Star was able to destroy Alderaan in a matter of seconds, the DE-STAR would need a little more time than that to vaporize an asteroid, depending on its size and distance from Earth, as well as the potency of the laser. The more practical version of the weapon, called DE-STARLITE, is smaller and less expensive but would also need approximately 15 years to vaporize a 1000-foot-wide asteroid at a distance equal to the Earth's diameter. 

Opening quote
"The bigger the NEO [Near-Earth Object], the longer the time needed. The bigger the laser, the shorter the time needed. With a very small 20 kW DE-STARLITE, a 300-meter-wide (1,000 feet) asteroid can be deflected in 15 years. Smaller asteroids can be deflected in under a year, after the spacecraft's arrival at the asteroid," Zhang said.
Closing quote

The DE-STARLITE would be ineffective at combatting any sudden threats, so the full DE-STAR is envisioned as the last line of defense against threats with little or no warning. Zhang and his colleagues estimate that a DE-STAR with a 330-feet-wide laser array could deflect 330-feet-wide asteroids at a distance of two million miles, but that may be prohibitively expensive. Overall, the scientifically viable concepts show that directed energy is an effective defense against near-Earth objects, and may be the future of our efforts to combat killer asteroids.
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