NASA is planning to destroy asteroids that pose a threat to Earth.
The agency launched its NEOWISE space telescope in December 2010 to investigate asteroids. But, it’s increasingly taking aim at more particular types of space rocks. It’s a pretty simple idea to catch asteroids, since they only move around a lot in relation to Earth. So, NASA plans to fire a plasma-blasting laser at them.
The technique goes a little like the laser gun in The Matrix. Think of it as your shotgun, but instead of shooting a single bullet into your target, you aim it into an asteroid, and then blast away at it. It gives the asteroid the equivalent of a rifle shot in terms of damage.
The act of trying to fire a laser directly at an asteroid will make this asteroid move, and the NASA research team suggests that it’s a good way to go about obliterating an asteroid in this way. Laser-slamming an asteroid to some extent is becoming increasingly commonplace. There’s an immense number of asteroids in orbit between the Earth and sun, and they’re just flying through space, so collisions with asteroids are part of nature’s way of life.
NASA’s mission is aimed at weighing and estimating a potential threat. If a large, threatening asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, then it might be worth the massive cost of saving Earth from the damage it could cause. It also has the added bonus of potentially helping NASA reach its much more ambitious target: sending humans to Mars.
The launcher isn’t scheduled to go to space until 2022. However, NASA is at work developing a way of removing a long-lasting comet or asteroid from its orbits around the sun so it can be safely destroyed. This is extremely difficult, and a number of attempts have failed.
The idea involves sending specially-designed heaters to burn the materials in a comet before destroying it. NASA has worked on a relatively small asteroid between 2014 and 2017. It’s the sort of asteroid that you don’t really think will pose a threat, but isn’t something you can simply blow up.
Read more about the project from Space.com.