Remember that massive meteorite that crashed down in Russia last week? Well, it arrived a couple thousand years before scientists had predicted, sparking worldwide scientific debate over the possibility of building a meteor warning/prevention system.

According to a report by Treehugger’s Derek Markham, American researchers are already working on just such a system. Researchers from California have proposed a massive solar-powered system that could vaporize meteors and asteroids (learn the difference here) with powerful lasers. Sound familiar Star Wars fans? Well, with a name like DE-STAR, it’s hard not to go there. Thankfully, this one is being designed by the good guys.

DE-STAR, meteor
Image © Philip Lubin/UC Santa Barba

Although we don’t often think about space rock until one crashes into our planet, asteroids and meteors are a constant threat to life on Earth. An asteroid roughly half as large as a football field –– and with energy equal to a large hydrogen bomb –– recently buzzed by Earth at close range. If it hadn’t of missed us, the results would have been devastating. UC Santa Barbara physicist and professor Philip M. Lubin, and Gary B. Hughes, a researcher and professor from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, are tired of feeling like sitting ducks, so they’re working on a technology that could eliminate a threat of that size within an hour.

Described as a “directed energy orbital defense system,” DE-STAR is designed to harness some of the power of the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy, or evaporate, asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth. It is equally capable of changing an asteroid’s orbit –– deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun –– and may also prove to be a valuable tool for assessing an asteroid’s composition, enabling lucrative, rare-element mining. And it’s entirely based on current essential technology.

“We have to come to grips with discussing these issues in a logical and rational way,” said Lubin, who began work on DE-STAR a year ago. “We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats. Duck and cover is not an option. We can actually do something about it and it’s credible to do something. So let’s begin along this path. Let’s start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start.”

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