Sunday, February 28, 2010

Some, who have not been fans of this blog for years, may find it strange that I would post what follows below. It is not strange in the world of Molly's Blog. I am an amateur astronomer, and I very much support the space programs of various countries. I watch the progression of the constellations and the planets across the skies, and I am thrilled to see them. What follows is one of the reasons. Whatever one's ideological beliefs they would indeed be destroyed by a planetary catastrophe. Such catastrophes have happened in the the past, and they will happen in the future unless we are able to prevent them. This is an inevitable truth. The following, from the Planetary Society, gives their idea of "planetary defense".
Mirror Bees: Planetary Defense
A New Way to Deflect a Dangerous Asteroid
What do we do if an asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth? At this point, the answer is not clear, so The Planetary Society is partnering with researchers to discover ways to protect Earth when we one-day find a dangerous space rock.

We're working with a team at the University of Glasgow in Scotland to study a new technique which uses concentrated light to gently move an asteroid -- a project we call "Mirror Bees."
The researchers at the University of Glasgow, under the leadership of Massimiliano Vasile, became interested in this approach when they set out to compare nine approaches to planetary defense. To their surprise, one of their results was that Mirror Bees would work more quickly and effectively than all but nuclear warheads. (But unlike the use of nuclear explosions, there would be no risk of breaking a huge asteroid into any number of equally deadly smaller asteroids, nor would the procedure face as many political and bureaucratic hurdles.)
So just what are Mirror Bees?
This new technique involves many small spacecraft -- each carrying a mirror -- swarming around a dangerous asteroid. The spacecraft could precisely tilt their mirrors to focus sunlight onto a tiny spot on the asteroid, vaporizing the rock and metal, and creating a jet plume of super-heated gases and debris. Alternatively, the satellites could contain powerful lasers pumped by sunlight, and the lasers could be used to vaporize the rock. The asteroid would become the fuel for its own rocket -- and slowly, the asteroid would move into a new trajectory.

With your help today, The Planetary Society can step in to make a huge difference in this crucial area of space science.

We need advanced and creative thinking to deflect Earth-threatening asteroids and comets. The "Mirror Bees" system is one promising way.
Help make it happen!
Major questions still remain about this technique. For example, will the plume of superheated gasses ejected from an asteroid dissipate, or will it block sunlight to the mirrors?
Would the debris settle on the satellite mirrors?
Can the asteroid's rotation be dealt with effectively?
Will the gas plumes be enough to deflect the asteroid?

The Planetary Society is stepping in to fund a series of laboratory experiments to answer these and other questions. Vasile's group is working with Ian Watson and the laser lab of the University of Glasgow's Mechanical Engineering Department to devise some ingenious small-scale experiments. We'll be funding equipment, supplies, and a graduate student dedicated to working on the experiments.

Only through these types of studies, as well as additional theoretical research, can the details of this technique be worked out and understood. If it pans out, it will be a rapid, effective, and safe option to use against the asteroid that inevitably will come Earth's way.

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