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Earth Shark Technology

Laser Treatment For Earth-Bound Asteroids 120

Posted by timothy
from the what-if-they-just-want-to-be-friends? dept.
arisvega writes "A recent publication (for the math-versed) proposing the deployment of a Solar-powered, space-borne fleet of LASER cannons that would deflect Earth-bound asteroids caught the attention of international news agencies. Do you think this ambition can in reasonable time turn into a fair-priced, life-saving (or indeed Biosphere-saving!) project, that will be to the benefit of all mankind? How threatened would you feel from the possibility of this proposed array being hijacked by extremely depraved individuals, ones capable or guilty of great crimes? And, are you not glad that now someone has published a paper on it, so Megacorp cannot 'patent' this Earth-saving idea?"
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Laser Treatment For Earth-Bound Asteroids

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  • First Post (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    sharks with friggen laser beams in space muahahahaha

    • And, are you not glad that now someone has published a paper on it, so Megacorp cannot 'patent' this Earth-saving idea?"

      Right, because publishing something on it means that no one will hold this ransom until they get a payout.

      Senator Smith: "Fellow senators, I'm afraid I can't allow this to be built unless the construction takes place in my district."

      Senator Bob: "Smith, your district has nothing but cattle and oil fields. You can't make it there."

      Smith: "Well then we need to appropriate funds to build some factories in my district to make the array."

      Bob: "NASA says the asteroid will be hitting the earth in two

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        Senator Smith: "Fellow senators, I'm afraid I can't allow this to be built unless the construction takes place in my district."
        Senator Bob: "Smith, your district has nothing but cattle and oil fields. You can't make it there."

        [Journalist, shouting from the public gallery] "The Chinese launched their first module yesterday. Iran launches theirs tomorrow."

        Why do you presume that only one country will be involved in launching this, if it's worth the candle (of which I am not yet convinced).

  • I think Bruce Willis might be enough...
    • Re:meh (Score:4, Informative)

      by Skarecrow77 (1714214) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @02:33PM (#40422303)

      how did the comments get this far without somebody quoting Billy Bob Thorton: "That'd be like shooting a bb gun at a freight train doc"

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So let me get this straight, you all want Bruce Willis riding on shark with a laser on its head it orbit looking for asteroids so that Bruce Willis can shoot it with a BB gun?

        That sounds insanely accurate for government work.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @12:34PM (#40421547)

    Lasers with sufficient energy density to cause gaseous phase change of asteroid surface materials might not be strong enough to do anything impressive on the Earth's surface... lots of atmosphere to get through here.

    The idea of a fleet of lower powered satellites is also less likely to be hijacked than a single "super cannon" - though, if you control the whole fleet, I suppose you could "turn up the heat on the Kremlin" if you ever wanted to....

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 23, 2012 @12:37PM (#40421575)

      Maybe not against the surface. I bet you could kill any communications or spy satellite within line of sight though.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A country on the planet already has one Commercially, they're known as mining lasers and the 'bit' is 10 feet wide. There is enough power to punch through rock at great distances, like under 400,000 KM.

      There was a story a while ago this year about battleships with lasers powerful enough to burn through 20 feet of steel in 1 second. These are nuclear (under)powered battleships with enough juice to do this. You up this to a military grade power source, rocks are no obstacle.

      This device already exists and

      • I know this might be a tad predictable, but...

        Citation needed.

      • There is enough power to punch through rock at great distances, like under 400,000 KM.

        How far under 400,000km? One meter? 10km? I've got to assume you didn't mean "over", because, you know, that's the distance to the frickin' Moon.

      • by aztec1430 (242755)

        Mining Laser? But I don't want to retrofit my Cobra Mk3 again... I've got it just the way I like it... the Thargoids are no threat to me...

    • by gtall (79522)

      You'd only make Putin feel more at home.

    • The idea of a fleet of lower powered satellites is also less likely to be hijacked than a single "super cannon" - though, if you control the whole fleet, I suppose you could "turn up the heat on the Kremlin" if you ever wanted to....

      Atmospheric refraction would mean getting all the lasers lined up on a point an inch or so across might be difficult, but not a meter across. And I think the fleet versus single cannon is a moot point, since every satellite controller is a single entity; Fleets of satellites ar

    • We're going to need to put some serious megatonnage of weapons up there sooner or later. When it reaches the stage where large metallic ships are zipping around the system at hundreds or thousands of kilometers a second, the earth needs to be able to put them down rapidly if they become a threat, even by accident.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)
        The logic is OK, but I think you've got the direction wrong. The people living and working in space will need a way of putting any big Earth ships back onto the ground rapidly, any time they feel like putting a ship up.

        Don't forget who'll have the whip hand here.

    • Especially over a big city where the smog would pretty much defeat a laser...

    • deflect a harmless asteroid into a collision course with earth.
    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Untraceable crop fires, bush fires, wild fires, would be sufficient and it can keep them up. What happens when the bulk of a countries wheat goes up in flames as a result of well scattered spot fires, the cause of which can not be found. Basically no government can be trusted with weapons in space especially not the missile firing drones government of the US targeting sounds like, looks like and even when actually evidence of the results proves that it wasn't, terrorists (which the US then lies about becau

    • kinda answers my first thought upon reading (not tfa i'm not that math-versed) ... knowing that south american rebels were able to use satellites for personal communication. Could the farc OR cia turn them to earth to home in on a smartphone via gps ?
      too much atmosphere, thanks, i feel a little safer already (i guess i read a little too much sci-fi in my early years)
  • Lets make sure we follow patent laws.

    "And, are you not glad that now someone has published a paper on it, so Megacorp cannot 'patent' this Earth-saving idea?"

    But don't forget, when lives are stake we have to make sure the laser is FCC approved as well.
  • by Thiez (1281866) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @12:37PM (#40421579)

    > How threatened would you feel from the possibility of this proposed array being hijacked by extremely depraved individuals, ones capable or guilty of great crimes?
    Not very. And if the array can be abused, wouldn't anyone who has control of the array be capable of great crimes by definition? Come on, if you're going to spread FUD at least put some effort in it. Mention China or Communism or Muslims. I feel scared already.

    > And, are you not glad that now someone has published a paper on it, so Megacorp cannot 'patent' this Earth-saving idea?"
    There isn't any money to be made here. Getting those lasers in orbit is very expensive, and once they're up there you can't go the 'pay up or else!'-route because the world will simply give you the finger and impound your stuff. Why any company would want to patent this idea is beyond me.

    • by goombah99 (560566)

      > And, are you not glad that now someone has published a paper on it, so Megacorp cannot 'patent' this Earth-saving idea?"
      There isn't any money to be made here. Getting those lasers in orbit is very expensive, and once they're up there you can't go the 'pay up or else!'-route because the world will simply give you the finger and impound your stuff. Why any company would want to patent this idea is beyond me.

      Ha! I just patented the one-click meteor deflectN8R. Profit!

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @12:38PM (#40421581)

    Our current ability of detecting asteroids and predicting their course is not nearly enough to interfere with them, there's a lot of development in both detections and simulation that has to be done before we can even think of trying to deflect an asteroid.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @12:49PM (#40421675)

      That doesn't matter. If we just keep firing in every direction, we're bound to hit something, sooner or later.

      Maybe this will lead to our first contact with Aliens? Think of it as a kinda sorta proactive SETI. We will eventually hit aliens, and they will show up and holler:

      "Hey! Y'all been shootin' 'round lasers every which way? That shit ain't funny!"

      • by pellik (193063)
        Perhaps they would just see it as an attempt at communication, and in good faith they would fire a laser right back at us.
    • Diverting the asteroid means, that 1) we can track it accurately
      2) the lasers have enough accuracy to hit the asteroid on the same spot, and not cancel each other out
      3) the asteroid isn't spinning (but this might allow it to slow down a bit)

      • Diverting the asteroid means, that 1) we can track it accurately 2) the lasers have enough accuracy to hit the asteroid on the same spot, and not cancel each other out 3) the asteroid isn't spinning (but this might allow it to slow down a bit)

        Well, if we're shooting at it, it means we can see it. If we see it we can track it.

        Accuracy? A laser is a straight line of photons that travel at the speed of light. If we can track it, we can hit it. It's just a matter of calculating trajectories and factoring in gravitiational effects. At the distance it would be at, i'm not sure how lasers could possibly cancel each other out.

        A spinning asteroid wouldn't matter much... just calculate its center of mass then fire appropriately to effect the greates

    • by fedor (598123)
      Calculating the orbits of asteroids is indeed not accurate enough to calculate the chance of impact, but it is possible to rule out an impact. The majority of the thousands of asteroids found today are not harmless. Most of them won't cross earth's orbit in near (= hundreds of years) future, will leave the solar system or are small enough to burn in earth's atmosphere. There are, however, potentially hazardouds asteroids for which collision can't be ruled out. Odds are that they won't collide, but there may
    • A laser system that can deflect even a very small asteroid is also going to be one heck of an accurate lidar system at lower power. It makes sense to explore laser systems. In fact it makes sense to build a low power lidar system as soon as possible, so that risks can be identified while there is time enough to find a Bruce Willis to neutralize them.

      If high power lasers are developed, they could be added into the system later. We might even know at that point how many and what type of high powered laser w

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What I predict is a project that will go wayyyyyyy over budget, have the number of components made in proportion the amount governments contribute, and it won't work well; even the though the "tests" will show it WAD.

    As far as MegaCorp patenting the system, well, what will happen is that all of the key technology making the system possible will be patented making the unpatentability of the system a moot point.

    Doesn't matter, all the spoils will go to whoever is the most politically connected.

    This next we

  • If companies can't patent it, it's hard for them to make a business case for it, so they won't develop it. Since 'space' is transitioning to the corporate domain, it's in the same boat as research on DCA to treat cancer - no company will invest because they can't control the results.

    Either way, people are going to die.

    • Car companies can't patent car designs, it's hard for them to make a business case for changing them every year, that takes time and effort... Just like the fashion industry, where they have no copyright or design patents for their clothing designs, so it's hard for them to make a business case for selling different clothes. That's why we've worn grey smocks for hundreds of years, and why every car looks the same as their "1930s" predecessors.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What can fire up, can also fire down. In a time of war, these platforms would be redirected at the Earth.

    That much is obvious.

    • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @01:18PM (#40421839)

      you can point them in any direction you like, that doesn't necessarily make them instantly dangerous.

      GRASER emitters (gamma ray beam weapons) would be good in space because they have no atmosphere to punch through. You could kill a satellite with one of those pretty much at line-of-sight range. Point one downward, and it wouldn't bother a plane cruising at 37,000 feet - because it has miles of lovely gamma-absorbing atmosphere to punch through first! Laser beams would scatter too much to be any problem by the time they hit the surface (the lunar ranging experiment uses a green laser to bounce off the mirror left on the moon by Apollo. By the time the 10mm-emitted beam hits the lunar surface it's 17km wide - almost entirely caused by atmospheric scatter in the first 14 miles of its journey).

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @01:12PM (#40421813)

    if you don't give me 100bil I will destroy Washington D.C., and then additional major cities each hour, using a giant "laser"

  • far side (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @01:14PM (#40421821) Homepage

    Put the lasers on the far side of the moon. That way, they could never target Earth. You'd only be able to hit the asteroid for fourteen days out of every twenty-eight, but hey, it's safer, right?

    (Actually, put two installations on its equator, both near but not within visible range of Earth, and you'd be able to hit it 90+% of the time.)

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @01:42PM (#40421955)
    We already have the technology we need, it's just that idiots have to be removed from the decision-making process. (This obviously applies to other areas of human endeavor).
  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @01:47PM (#40421983)
    in all of history, the number of extinction level asteroid impacts are very few and far between. The number of times mankind has come close to using technology in such a way that it leads to an equivalent event are almost too numerous to count, even though we've not been in possession of such technology for more than 100 years. Long story short, I think asteroids are the least of our worries.
    • in all of history, the number of extinction level asteroid impacts are very few and far between.

      Events far below extinction level are a major threat. Think of how fragile society is. A severe disruption of the power or transportation networks could impact delivery of food to cities. Millions could die from that alone.

    • in all of history, the number of extinction level asteroid impacts are very few and far between. ... Long story short, I think asteroids are the least of our worries.

      That's what the dinosaurs said.

  • by Megahard (1053072) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @02:14PM (#40422153)
    Removes unsightly craters! Restores youthful appearance! Look billions of years younger!
    • by rubycodez (864176)

      That's mostly an appealing line for female and many gay male asteroids, but for the straight guy asteriods, how do we get Asteroidal Penis Enlargement Now?

    • by swillden (191260)

      Removes unsightly craters! Restores youthful appearance! Look billions of years younger!

      Asteroids hate to be anthropomorphized.

  • "And, are you not glad that now someone has published a paper on it, so Megacorp cannot 'patent' this Earth-saving idea?"

    If a patent stopped or delayed an Earth saving project then Darwin would agree we deserve extinction.

    • We've deserved extinction since we started polluted our gene pool by saving the mutants who would naturally die and letting them breed.

      Besides, we're too frail to really get out there and enjoy space properly... I can only hope the machine races we're all trying to engender will remember the folly of their forefathers.

  • Under this years new "first to file" patent reform, prior publication, scientific or otherwise is not enough to void a patent, since the standard is explicitly NO LONGER "first to invent", no such claim need be made.

    One hopes the courts act sensibly and close this loophole, but given the history of the matter (owners of IP-abusing patents settle or fold if they suspect a case will be ruled against hem, rather than risk a sensible precedent that would weaken their other IP holdings -- or deep-pockets third p

    • ...

      First to file is still invalidated by prior art. Publishing the invention makes it unpatentable (in theory, things with plenty of prior art still get approved.)

      First to file system, pretending the patent office actually did good prior art searches:
      If two people independently invent the same thing, and both keep it secret for a while, whichever one files for a patent first gets the patent.
      If two people independently invent the same thing, and one publishes it publicly, neither one gets the patent.

      First to
  • LASER cannons?
    What's that, some kind of clever acronym?

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @06:32PM (#40423907) Homepage

    It's a slightly different analysis of an idea that's been proposed before. The genera idea is to divert annoying asteroids slightly by firing lasers at them from reasonably close range to boil off some surface. This is a long, slow process, taking years. It has to be done from a great enough distance that the stuff being boiled off doesn't mess up the optics, but not so far off that enough energy can't be delivered to a narrow spot to boil rock. The paper is just an analysis of the size and number of spacecraft required, assuming a solar power system driving a solid state laser. (Why not just focus the sun? The mirror has to be too close to the asteroid to get a tight enough beam, and then it gets hit by the rock being boiled off.)

    As a weapon system, it's not very useful. It's too expensive and vulnerable for an anti-satellite weapon. The beam might be able to deliver enough energy through the atmosphere to set fires, but the spacecraft would have to be put in low earth orbit to do it.

  • We get the space privateers out there like Elon Musk and friends to mine some asteroids, and ask them nicely to send some useless iron ones back to the moon. Fuck mining them, send some to the moon, like, yesterday.

    The moon will soon have a small ring of asteroids ready to be dislodged from their Lunar orbit like a loaded twirling sling. We can use that mass to tug an asteroid, or smash it and it's fragments until they're no longer dangerous. TADA, we're a lot more prepared for unforseen shit. We might not be able to stop a planetoid that could be careening our way, but we'd at least be somewhat armed... You think we'd have already seen all the things nearly the size of a planet zipping around the what 50, 100, 1000 years ago? Nope. [wikipedia.org]

    Eris, is the most massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the ninth most massive body known to orbit the Sun directly. It is estimated to be approximately 2300–2400 km in diameter, and 27% more massive than Pluto, or about 0.27% of the Earth's mass. Eris was discovered in January 2005 by a Palomar Observatory-based team led by Mike Brown, and its identity was verified later that year. In 2005, we discovered for the first time something five times the size of pluto was orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.

    We're nearly fucking blind man! If priority #1 isn't solving the "all your eggs are in one basket" problem by colonising other planets or moons around other planets, then we're all doomed. The lasers and lunar asteroid slingshot MIGHT buy us a little time... Think about that next time NASA budgets are cut while we spend trillions in wars against brown people over oil. What the fuck will having the oil do when you're roasted alive by a gama-ray burst, or planet killing asteroid?

    • So obviously wrong (Score:5, Informative)

      by wisebabo (638845) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:59AM (#40429295) Journal

      "In 2005, we discovered for the first time something five times the size of pluto orbiting between Mars and Jupiter"

      That statement is so obviously wrong that it made me want to dismiss the entire post because, well honestly, if somebody's gonna make such a stupid statement it's like when a person makes a lot of grammatical and spelling errors. You know they COULD be an informed, intelligent person but your inner bias says no.

      Look, if astronomers discovered something in 2005 that was five times the "size" (Mass? Volume? Diameter?) of Pluto between Mars and Jupiter the entire astronomical community should be ashamed of itself for not spotting it CENTURIES earlier (it should be naked to the visible eye unless painted flat black, with a new coat of paint every week). Shit, the gravitational perturbations alone should have made it discoverable long ago, that's how Neptune and (I think) Pluto were found, much much farther away.

      Now that I've got that off my chest, there are some problems with your idea. Why put these chunks of rock (iron?) in lunar orbit? Because of the three-body problem which even Newton (and everyone since) couldn't solve, these orbits may not be stable and may indeed be chaotic (hence the "interplanetary highway"). So after a (very long) period of time, when humanity (if it's still around) may not have a space program, these big (and they've got to be big in order to do serious damage to an asteroid that's already in cislunar space) may come crashing down onto earth. Why not put them in a stable trojan point either earth-moon L4 or L5 or sun-earth L4 or L5? Or, considering all the effort you're putting into doing this, why not just track all the earth orbit crossing asteroids a century or two out and (gently) tweak their orbits. Orbital mechanics IS a science and as long as you're not trying to project very far into the future, we could easily predict what's gonna hit us with much less effort than putting kilotons of rocks in motion.

      Now get off my lawn.

  • If you have the technolgy to cause an asteroid to avoid earth, couldnt you use that same technology to make an asteroid to hit earth? You would just need to find an asteroid that was on a near miss course and give it a nudge. Maybe this technology should be banned for the same reason they wanted to ban the recent paper on flu research.
  • A laser expands to the size of a football field over the distance from Earth to the Moon. There is no way a laser (or any other beam-type weapon) could deliver an effective areal power density at the distances required (for large objects) to make any difference.

    The only practical way to transfer energy at that scale is putting rocks of our own into orbit around the moon and mount thrusters on them. They wouldn't even need to be very big (i.e., safe for us) so long as you had enough of them.
  • Uh.....I think we've already been down this road before, haven't we? I'm having a flashback here. I think it was a scene in that 1998 movie "Armageddon" with Bruce Willis. They trashed the solar-laser solution and went with the nukes.
  • Put it at the Lagrange point at the far side of the moon or on the far side of the moon, use other satellites to communicate with it, and include a self-destruct and have some missles ready in case some psycho government manages to hack it.

  • Once again, Star Trek has predicted the future in amazing detail.

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