back to article Star Trek tractor beam to save Earth from asteroid Armageddon

A new international consortium has been set up to figure out what Earthlings could do if an asteroid came hurtling towards the planet on a path of imminent destruction. The project will look at three methods of averting disaster: the Hollywood-sanctioned solutions of sending up a crack team of deep drillers with a nuclear bomb …

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Mushroom

That's what they mean by "deflecting"

Pushing it in pretty much any direction can make it miss - the first time, anyway.

The key is to decide which direction to push so that we can (a) actually do it in the time required and (b) ensure it's not going to hit the Earth in the foreseeable future either.

- It would be fairly annoying to nudge an asteroid so it misses on the way in towards the Sun, but smacks straight into us on the way back out...

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FAIL

Everyone knows you just paint one side of it white. No nukes required.

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Slippery solution

Clearly Paul Merton's suggestion of coating the planet in margarine is the only way forwards.

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Project Orion

Will they consider the Project Orion many small nukes and a large, steel pusher plate option? It'd be great to watch in action!

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Silver badge

Interesting thought...

...but given our amount of knowledge on manipulation of fundamental forces like gravity (which is zero), something like a Mass Effect, a Gravity Field Generator (from the Andromeda universe, does the same thing), or maybe a Bergenholm Inertia Neutralizer (been reading some OLD Sci-Fi) seems a long way off right now.

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Stop

A dangerous science...

I share the Sagan view that such technology should not be developed. The ability to deflect a asteroid that presents a danger is also the ability to shift a harmless asteroid into a weapon. While far less wieldy than good ol'-fashioned nuclear annihilation, it's also not needed. A much better investment would be in asteroid detection systems. Time to react is the most critical determination in almost all planetary defence strategies.

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Facepalm

...and what good would early detection do you?

Time to dig a hole, bury your head in the sand?

This is much like saying that if you detect cancer 6 months earlier, you'll live an additional 6 months after detection. This would be integer math, and the article is about changing the equation.

Your luddite views could be applied in ever so many other places. Computers can be used to calculate ballistics! They're a weapon! Ban them! Rocks can be used as weapons! Ban them! People can say mean things about each other! Ban talking!

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FAIL

Re: A dangerous science...

And making a sharper carving knife also makes a better dagger...

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This idea of whanging a spaceship at it...

... has someone been re-reading the Clarke classic 'Hammer of God' again?

If so, that's great. Develop big dirty great engines for spaceships. Easy.

The biggest problem, according to the book, will be stopping nutters from sabotaging the entire thing in the first place...

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Happy

Missing the GeoStationary Point

Ah...that title has no meaning...don't let it worry you...

but what we need to do is attach engines to the EARTH. That way we are in control :) ha ha...off to escape from my straight jacket now :)

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Re: what we need to do is attach engines to the EARTH

Hmm, sounds like a Feersum Endjinn to me.

(Personally I'd prefer a GSV!)

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Well!

[broadcast Eclear, sent 1328002260]

Flattery will get you everywhere. Nukes up the tailpipe hurt a bit though, so do try to watch what you're flinging them boomsticks at, eh Earthlings?

oo

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Coat

Can't we just change the gravitational constant of the universe?

I thank Q

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Yag

Don Quijote mission?

It sounds like a hopeless plan :s

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M7S
Silver badge

IF they do make some kind of asteroid repulsor ray

(and assuming that any space empire to whom we inadvertently deflect such things doesn't retaliate for our "hostile action") could they please use it during quite periods to tidy up the space junk we've left littering the desirable orbits?

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Coat

Tractor beams pah!

Why not simply build an antimatter cannon, this would obliterate the NEO in a lovely big explosion full of booms and whooshes with an accompanying fireball and finally a white fwoooooooom with a ring of light that will shoot out across the solar system.

CERN could supply an almost endless amount of antimatter material and I'm sure the merkins have some sort of laser cannon that could be modded by er lets say Mr T and the rest of the A team.

If that fails all we need to do is shift the earth out of the way by getting all the cars in the world to accelerate the same way at the same time thus pushing the earth slightly away from the sun. Sorting out global warming! and saving everyone!

Of course while this is going on the team in charge of all of this needs 1 old but experienced engineer with a hot genius daughter, a young muscular physicist to fall in love with said daughter, lose in a misunderstanding and then ultimately win back . A weasely officer who gets killed but only after redeeming himself oh and the token black guy.

Ah and right at the end the politician who didn't want them to go puts a gun in his mouth /gets fired/ gets squashed by the only piece of NEO to make it through (depending on the rating and comedy value needed)

Or we could do something else.

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This seems relevant....

In light of this story this TED vid is well worth watching:

http://www.ted.com/talks/phil_plait_how_to_defend_earth_from_asteroids.html

Some of you will be disappointed as they speaker isn't foaming at the mouth and telling us we're all doomed all the way through.

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I, for one, welcome our asteroid dwelling overlords.

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Vic
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Isn't it obvious?

Any NEO on approach is *clearly* stealing the valuable IP of Hollywood triumphs such as "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon".

It is piracy such as this that endangers the whole planet. So the only proper recourse is to send the MPAA lawyers to sue the inbound hazard into oblivion...

Vic.

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If an NEO does look to be on a collision course the first thing that will happen is that Paramount and Dreamworks will instruct their lawyers to sue. Then there won't be a problem as the FBI will seize the lump of space rock because it breaches the copyright of Deep Impact.

See SOPA and PIPA could save the world.

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Mushroom

Needs more asteroids.

What we need to do is capture one of the many NEO's that whizz past us on a regular basis and park it in orbit around the planet.

We fit it with chemical thrusters, and when a NEO comes along that does pose a threat, we fire our parked asteroid ( Or after it's parked in orbit, a better name for it would be Moon Unit.) at it. The collision will either knock it off course or annihilate it.

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Gold badge
Happy

@Crisp

"The collision will either knock it off course or annihilate it."

Sort of like the sport of belly barging.

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Black Helicopters

Not a clean elimination.

One of the problems you can have is where you break a single superkiller asteroid into multiple killer asteroids.

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Yup

"multiple killer asteroids"

Only option then is the Hyperspace button

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Happy

@Crisp

So, your idea is to zap the NEO with a Moon Unit Zapper? I see what you did there.

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FAIL

...only been seen in action on Star Trek.

opening scene of Star Wars, A New Hope

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Put a huge solar parachute or sail on the damn thing. Put it on a hella huge tether placed there with long cables and let the solar wind blow it off course. Then if you have the capability to steer it just put it out of danger at least and hey even send it to the moon to crash there or some place else that would be "safe". At least something like that should prove to be easier to achieve, cheaper and more effective than nukes or a gravity tractor.

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Silver badge

another alternative

might be to land and secure a giant electromagnet to it. It would have to be damned big, though, since the electromagnetic force is tiny compared to the force due to gravity and mass. A hybrid solution combining the idea of magnetic propulsion and the solar sail concept might be to attach superconducting tethers (which should be nicely chilled in the vacuum of space) to the rock and have them extend out as straight as possible (easy if the rock has any rotational moment, but prone to snapping if it's rotating too fast). Perhaps the combination of interactions between the system and the solar wind, the system and the earth's magnetic field and the magnetic flux generated by spinning the conducting wires in the other fields might be enough to impart it with enough momentum to direct it off course? I don't know enough about magnetism, let alone about spinning superconducting wires to know whether it actually works like this.

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Silver badge

Re : "Put a huge solar parachute or sail on the damn thing."

I think the problem is that the rock is most to be both an irregular shape and likely to be tumbling so to attach any form of propulsion to it and then stabilize and steer it is going to be mighty hard

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Silver badge

"since the electromagnetic force is tiny compared to the force due to gravity and mass"

Quite the reverse.

A charged comb will lift a feather ( against the force of gravity) but the uncharged comb doesn't

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Anonymous Coward

Electromagnetic force and gravity

The electromagnetic force is ~1e37 times greater than the force due to gravity

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Silver badge

perhaps I misspoke ...

I meant that to specifically refer to magnetic repulsion, as in "build a big enough electromagnet that will interact with the Earth's magnetic field and knock the thing off course". Not the fundamental force of attraction/repulsion between charged bodies. OK, I know at least that Maxwell's equations unify "electricity" and magnetism (and light), but what I was thinking of was whether an electromagnet (using a purely magnetic motive force) could deflect the thing enough when you take the relative size of the Earth and the attendant gravitational attraction between it and the asteroid. I meant that the electromagnet would probably have to be huge in order to overcome Earth's specific gravitational attraction, and not a statement about the relative size of forces in the abstract.

It would be quite interesting to see whether such a magnet-based solution would work, or whether building and powering a large enough one would even be possible.

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Alien

As someone has mentioned, the first step has to be to improve the detection system which currently seems to be unable to spot rocks until they're hurtling past us (maybe they just listen for the 'whoosh' noise).

As a bonus benefit, we might also catch the alien ba*ds that have been dumping their waste CO2 in our atmosphere.

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Anonymous Coward

recycling old solutions

FFS has nobody heard of 'duck and cover'

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Bronze badge

need a big railgun, with a cluster bomb warhead that carpit bombs the NEO, 100km from impact, the projectile breaks up

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WTF?

Flywheel

Why not just attach a giant flywheel to it, with a small electric motor to bring it up to speed. Then, you get the thing spinning fast enough, and it flies apart from the centrifugal force. Problem solved!

Or, if it doesn't fly apart, it'll be spinning so fast when it hits the atmosphere, it simply bounces off (probably kicking most of the atmosphere out the other direction, though). Again, problem solved!

Dave

P.S. As for nukes, would anyone trust the nuke on a Russian rocket to land where it was intended?!? ;-) I mean, the last time they shot for Mars, they hit Earth.

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First rule to hitting a target

First you got to spot it.

Would suggest the money be better spent on designing a decent early warning system, using available technology, to give an advanced notice of more than 48 hours that the 10kt kinect object is going to hit.

reason for the focus, a 10kt hit may not directly wipe out the planet (only a city if they are underneath it), but a 10kt hit in the wrong geo-politic zone could trigger a NBC weapon response on the perceived attack of a neighbouring state (e.g. pakistan, india, iran, israel), especially during periods of hightened tension

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If detected early on then attaching a solar sail to it would be the cheapest more effective option. If time is a factor then the rail-gun approach. The most cost effective way would be to watch the skies and take action the absolute soonest possible. Just the smallest nudge early on can avert catastrophe years later.

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Bronze badge

a railgun in orbit like hubble would pay for it self, you could shoot mini probes at stars and chickens to people on mars, if there is a neo to shoot at then you might have the time for 2000 shots

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Vic
Silver badge

> a railgun in orbit like hubble would pay for it self

I shouldn't think so.

Look at the momentum imparted to any projectile fired from a railgun. Now use Newton's 3rd law to see what effect that has on the gun...

Vic.

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Silver badge

orbiting railguns

GIven the location of Hubble, etc there's nothing technically wrong with the idea. Velocity can be buit up again using solar power a long wire and some suitable pushing against that handy magnetic field which just happens to envelop the planet.

This technique is already in use on a small scale. Noone's tried it on anything as big as Hubble (there are some moves afoot to try and use it to keep ISS aloft)

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Bronze badge

changing a neo path is just all theory, and sending a 1 chance probe to save mankind would just be stupid

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Bronze badge

+you would probaly need 50 thrusters for a neo the size of everest or manhatten, so a railgun is the best shield

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It seems a lot of people favour the idea of simply blowing NEOs to bits with a nuke. This weeks near miss was something over 6 miles in diameter, assuming that it was solid rock it would take a pretty serious warhead to blow that to bits. If your plan is to divert it rather than blowing it to bits you still have problems.

You might think that if you hit it with a nuke in the right place you would divert it onto a safe course. Maybe you would, just so long as you didn't miss your spot and divert it onto a more dangerous course. But unless you know what the composition of the object is you don't know what's going to happen. You could blow loads of chunks off it and could end up with a whole load of radioactive rocks raining down on earth. The thing could split into two or more bigger chunks on unpredictable courses. There are all sorts of things that could go wrong with such gung ho approach.

However since this is unlikely to be a problem I don't see why anybody is serious considering diverting huge amounts of money at it when there's no money around anyway. Have these guys done a proper risk assesment on the possibility of NEO impact?

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Bronze badge

using a railgun would allow different kinds of capsule projectiles, if it was it was orbital it wouldnt need a whole power station to launch projectiles alot faster then a ground launch, most neo's that could destroy man would need a few bunker buster type explosion

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Silver badge

"near miss was something over 6 miles in diameter, "

er ? 11 metres is closer

BBC

"The asteroid, estimated to be about 11m (36ft) in diameter, was first detected on Wednesday."

CBS

"A small asteroid the size of a city bus zoomed between Earth and the moon's orbit Friday (Jan. 25)"

I agree about the nuck though

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Bronze badge

railgun projectile the same as a normal rocket nose, just abit long, carrying sails or bombs or chickens, that slow down abit before openning

http://www.sciencephoto.com/image/334674/530wm/S2200112-Artwork_of_an_Ariane_5_rocket_deploying_a_payload-SPL.jpg

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Silver badge

Eh?

"The thing could split into two or more bigger chunks on unpredictable courses. There are all sorts of things that could go wrong with such gung ho approach."

I've never heard of chunks broken off of something being bigger than the original thing.

That said, even a broken-up asteroid would be better than one big one. Increases the surface area, meaning friction gets more play on it, burning more of them up as they hit the atmosphere. Plus it scatters the impacts, making them more widespread but less severe: probably more survivable. It's kinda like getting pelted with 1kg of pebbles rather than banged on the noggin with a 1-kg rock.

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Bronze badge

still need a railgun, a space walk to reload and a cargo bay on ISS, and fire test projectile to try and reach light speed with projectile forcefields and many other things to play with, given it would probaly have its own mini reactor and have extra power to spare

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