Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them before They Find Us

By Donald K. Yeomans | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Deflecting an Earth-Threatening
Near-Earth Object

Since hazards from asteroids and comets must apply to
inhabited planets all over the Galaxy, if there are such,
intelligent beings everywhere will have to unify their
home worlds politically, leave their planets, and move
small nearby worlds around. Their eventual choice, as
ours, is spaceflight or extinction.
—Carl Sagan, The Pale Blue Dot

Let's assume that the unimaginable has occurred and a sizable nearEarth asteroid has been discovered on an Earth-threatening trajectory. If there is sufficient time before the predicted impact, there are numerous deflection options that can be considered.

Science nerds love to dream up new asteroid deflection techniques. These include mounting a rocket engine on the surface of an asteroid to push it off its Earth-impact course or affixing a so-called mass driver device to the asteroid's surface to electrostatically throw rocky material off the asteroid in one direction that would provide a small thrust in the opposite direction. Mitigation methods that rely upon surfacemounted devices offer enormous engineering challenges, such as anchoring the device to the asteroid's rough, near-zero gravity surface and then these devices must provide only short bursts of thrusting in one direction as the asteroid rotates to the right position in space. A solar concentrating mirror or a nearby laser device has been suggested

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