At the University of Alabama at Huntsville, a team of scientists and engineers is looking into the possibility of identifying and deflecting Earth-endangering asteroids with lasers. Blake Anderton, an engineer at Raytheon Corp., wrote his thesis on the topic. From a UAH news release:
Anderton said his thesis discusses “a way to look at asteroids at maximum range, which means early detection.” According to his calculations, an asteroid could be characterized up to 1 AU away (1.5 x 10 to the 11 meters). Arecibo and other radar observatories can only detect objects up to 0.1 AU away, so in theory a laser would represent a vast improvement over radar.
The laser the group is working on may one day evolve into a system with asteroid-nudging capabilities. UAH’s Richard Fork, who has compiled forty years of experience with lasers, says the work goes back to research he and others performed in the 1980s at AT&T Bell Laboratories. Remote sensing is a short-term goal, but Fork says “My vision is that this system is the progenitor of the laser that could characterize and deflect asteroids.” And that would be a helpful addition to our toolkit indeed.