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Laser system may one day zap asteroids

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By The Los Angeles Times
Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

Scientists and engineers are looking for ways to head off close calls with asteroids well before they're in a position to do us any harm.

Two California scientists have a new proposal to deploy an array of lasers that could vaporize asteroids from as far away as 93 million miles — the distance between Earth and the sun. Working in synchrony, the lasers could destroy a menacing asteroid outright or at least knock it off course. They call their device Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation, or DE-STAR for short.

“You don't blow up an asteroid like the Death Star in ‘Star Wars,' where you push a button and the planet explodes. You basically take a blowtorch to it in the form of a laser beam, and you begin to evaporate it,” said Philip Lubin, a cosmologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who's behind the proposal.

“It takes about a few months to evaporate an asteroid the size of a few hundred meters in diameter, which is an asteroid that, if it hit the Earth, would do severe damage. The one that killed the dinosaurs was about 10,000 meters in diameter, or about 6 miles.”

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