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Physics Department: Earth Defense: Diverting Impact-Threatening Iron Asteroids Using Terrestrial Laser Arrays
February 25, 2021
Presented by: Gregory Matlof
Asteroids are small celestial objects left over from the origin of the solar system. They come in three basic varieties: volatile-rich,rocky and metallic. Occasionally, an asteroid may approach the Earth or impact our planet causing major ecological damage.A number of techniques have been proposed to divert Earth-threatening asteroids. Diverting a metallic asteroid is difficult. Project Starshot, a concept development component of billionaire Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiative, explores the possibility of propelling gram-mass wafer-thin spacecraft to relativistic velocities using a 50-100 GW array of 1.06-micron lasers located at the summit of a high mountain. Applying a thermodynamic model utilized in NASA asteroid-diversion studies, I demonstrate that such a laser array can divert a pure iron asteroid with a radius of 100 m to prevent a possible devastating Earth impact if impact warning time is about one year. Discussion will reveal that these results are quite conservative and can be refined and improved.
 G.L. Matloff, Can Earth-Threatening Iron Asteroids be Diverted Using Terrestrial Lasers?JBIS, 74(2021) 2.