In Brief

'Real-life Death Star' can protect the Earth from asteroids

Laser-armed satellite could stop space rocks from crashing into planet, say scientists

160304-death-star.jpg

A team at the University of California has devised a real-life version of the Death Star from Star Wars to protect the Earth from asteroids – and say the technology to make it already exists.

It's been named the 'De-Star', partly in homage to the film's space station. It stands for Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and exploRation.

The De-Star would be an unmanned satellite used to protect the Earth from potentially catastrophic collisions with asteroids. It would detect approaching space rocks that might pose a threat and target them with a high-energy laser beam.

The laser would heat one part of the rock, causing it to emit gas and alter the asteroid's direction – hopefully moving it away from the Earth.

It is an idea that has "been around for years", the Daily Telegraph says, but the exciting development is that the team from California believe that it could actually be built now – and would work.

The technology has been tested on Earth, with beams fired at pieces of basalt, which has a similar composition to some asteroids. They found that the basalt started to lose mass when it glowed white hot through a process known as sublimation, or vaporisation, which turns a solid or liquid into a gas.

The gas causes a "plume cloud", one of the team told the Telegraph, "which generates an opposite and equal reaction, or thrust".

Using the technique, the team managed to slow and reverse the rotation of a piece of spinning basalt.

However, there is a catch – deploying the De-Star successfully would need plenty of warning. It would take 30 years for a 10kW laser to deflect an asteroid measuring 328ft wide.

As well as not having Darth Vader on board, the De-Star differs from the Death Star in scale – it would be much, much smaller. The team are working on an even smaller version that would fly alongside asteroids as a last line of defence.

Recommended

How many people need to be vaccinated against Covid to get life back to normal?
Margaret Keenan becomes the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine
In Focus

How many people need to be vaccinated against Covid to get life back to normal?

Why reopening schools may spell end of R-rate tracking
A pupil uses a lateral flow test on her return to school today
Getting to grips with . . .

Why reopening schools may spell end of R-rate tracking

Germany U-turns on Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
German Chancellor Angela Merkel alongside Health Minister Jens Spahn
The latest on . . .

Germany U-turns on Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

Dogs can sniff out Covid a week before swabs, trial reveals
A springer spaniel is trained to sniff out coronavirus
Stranger than fiction

Dogs can sniff out Covid a week before swabs, trial reveals

Popular articles

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 8 March 2021
10 Downing Street
Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 8 March 2021

Best TV crime dramas to watch in 2021
James Nesbitt stars in Bloodlands
In Depth

Best TV crime dramas to watch in 2021

Quiz of The Week: 27 February - 5 March
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during a visit to Northern Ireland in 2019
Quizzes and puzzles

Quiz of The Week: 27 February - 5 March