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Physics Department: Earth Defense: Diverting Impact-Threatening Iron Asteroids Using Terrestrial Laser Arrays

February 25, 2021 @ 12:00 pm 1:00 pm

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[1]. Discussion will reveal that these results are quite conservative and can be refined and improved.

[1] G.L. Matloff, Can Earth-Threatening Iron Asteroids be Diverted Using Terrestrial Lasers?JBIS, 74(2021) 2.

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