back to article USAF raygun boffins clocking planet-buster asteroid threats

US airforce raygun boffins have awarded a further $7m in funding to a project which detects and tracks asteroids which could hit Earth and kill us all. Defense Industry Daily reports that the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (PanSTARRS) project, run by the US Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy …


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  1. TeeCee Gold badge

    Ulterior motive.

    I'll bet that those $7m are seen as a loss-leader.

    As in: "What do we do when we find one? Very perceptive of you sir and we're glad you asked. It just so happens that by sheer coincidence we have in our other pocket a proposal for a multi-billion dollar project to build a humungous, space-based, asteroid fragging beam weapon. Sign on the dotted line please."

  2. Alex

    Detection = Safety?

    >>>But clocking all the nearer and more visible stuff would certainly eliminate a big portion of the risk

    It does? One thing curiously missing from this article is exactly what anyone would plan to actually do about one of these huge asteroids having detected it, other than orchestrate a coverup to keep the public ignorant - Unless the USA happens to have a bunch of misfit expert oil drillers and a couple of backpack nukes on hand to get blasted up to the asteroid in a spacecraft that the USA will no longer have after next year, it'd be interesting to know whether Minuteman / Trident et al weapons would actually have any possibility of stopping one of these things having found it.

  3. Adam Foxton


    I can see it now

    "And then we'll install said laser into a large grey spherical space station"

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Why worry...

    because we've got a Bruce Willis AND a Chuck Norris.

    We're SAFE!

  5. Richard
    Paris Hilton

    Hate to ask

    What exactly is the point of knowing if a civilisation collapsing or even mass extinction meteor is heading our way, if we have absolutely no way of diverting it.

    The only situation where this project will earn its pay, will be one where currency, government funding comities etc. are going to quickly become irrelevant.

    Best to just go back to watching idiots stick fireworks in themselves on YouTube.

  6. GrahamT

    (compulsory alpha) 99%?

    "...will be able to push the detection limit for a complete (99%) sample"

    It's the 1% they don't detect that worries me. But then, I am a glass 99% empty sort of guy..

  7. Elmer Phud

    re: Ulterior Motive

    "a multi-billion dollar project to build a humungous, space-based, asteroid fragging beam weapon" controlled by a large ball and a few big buttons in the middle of a slightly angled desk, with a hooded display above.

  8. weirdcult
    Thumb Down

    about time

    so many near misses recently (near?......miss?)

  9. James Micallef Silver badge

    What's the point??

    On the cosmic level, a few kilometres in size, is incredibly tiny. And these are just rock / ice etc, they do not emit any form of radiation and reflect light very poorly. Thinking we can detect 99% of these, or that we can detect rocks as small as 300m at all with an advance warning of more than hours or maybe a couple of days is ridiculous

    These things come in at cosmic speeds, thousands of Km/sec, even a relatively tiny one can wipe us out or cause back-to-the-stone-age damage, and whether we know about it or not there's nothing we can do about it anyway, so actually I would prefer not to know about it at all.

    Someone's been watching too many hollywood movies!!!

  10. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    No U!

    >> And these are just rock / ice etc, they do not emit any form of radiation and reflect light very poorly.

    Uh... no. And we have syntactic devices to scan a large number of long-exposure photographs, you know.

    >> Thinking we can detect 99% of these, or that we can detect rocks as small as 300m at all with an advance warning of more than hours or maybe a couple of days is ridiculous

    Uh... no. These things pass a number of times nearby, generally, so will most probably be spotted a hundred years in advance.

    >> These things come in at cosmic speeds, thousands of Km/sec,

    Uh...... no. That would be interstellar super asteroids.

    Three strikes and you are out?

  11. Peyton

    Well I might want to know...

    It could be, just possibly, that when they find a threat, they might be able to provide more than 30 seconds notice... Once an object + trajectory is found, its threat, years down the road, can be extrapolated with a relatively decent accuracy. So if I live in Townsville (to keep things light, let's make it the one from the cartoon, not the actual one in Australia ;) and am told "In 5 years object X will likely hit Townsville" I might - just *might* - decide to put the old homestead up for sale and move on to greener pastures. (Luckily, I doubt there are laws on the books requiring one to disclose whether ones home is in peril of impact from space debris :)

  12. James Micallef Silver badge


    And on the topic of "near misses", to paraphrase the much-missed George Carlin, if the asteroid didn't hit us, it was a near-hit. A near-miss means it nearly missed, i.e. it hit!!

  13. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    The real reason

    Is so the US air force can keep a look out for any go'uld attack fleet coming into the solar system and menacing earth until 4 plucky earth adventurers foul up the plan in some improbable way.


    <,been stuck at home sick and spent the day watching a TV show

  14. Mike

    asteroids are pansys

  15. Kiwiiano

    Oh sheeesh

    Humanity is sitting on the railroad track worrying desperately about being hit by a meteorite when the climate scientists are bending over listening to the rails saying "I'm pretty sure we have a problem here".

    James M: it's a near miss as opposed to a far miss.

  16. RichardSmith

    With enough lead time we could deflect them.

    With enough years advanced warning we could deflect them while they

    are close to an Earth 'keyhole' orbit. A bunch of bomb engineers did a

    study to find if nukes would be good a deflecting them and concluded

    that atom bombs would NOT work. We would have to go up and use

    a gravity tractor or mass driver or something.

    But those are just engineering details.

    Warm regards, Rick.

  17. Anonymous Coward


    Strange that the NASA project to track orbital debris was de-funded as unnecessary. Now we see an Air Force Project doing the same thing at much greater cost. Is the USAF still trying to take over NASA?

  18. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Ummm title, title, title...

    People keep asking whats the point of this if we cant do anything about it. Well thats simple - ONCE we have confirmed proof that somethings coming for us and guaranteed will HIT, THEN something will be done about it - probably involving every major nation on earth (or more likely the ones directly under the impact zone). At that point we will develop a way too take care of it. Thats the way governments on this planet work. Surely you've noticed that in your local community - a pot hole develops and rather then fixing it immediately, its not fixed until its large enough to swallow cars whole. Thats the way governments always work, why should it be any different this time around? I mean its only the fate of humanity at risk, but thats hardly a vote winner is it? ;)

  19. John Tserkezis

    Why worry?

    We're all just going to die anyway.

    Notice? What notice? They're not going to tell us to prevent mass panic, rioting and looting.

    And when they finally do, it's too late because they'll say that tractor beam they were working on doesn't actually do anything after all, and now it's too late and we're all going to die anyway.

    But even that's no cause for concern, because we would have already been hit by a bus.

  20. Dillon Pyron
    Black Helicopters


    Yes, Boris, it is the SGC. As we all know, Apophis continues to be a threat. Or at least until a couple of years ago (the asteroid, that is. The Goa''uld is long and thoroughly dead). Not that I'm worrying about anything in 2029 until after sunset in Chichen Itza on December 21, 2012.

    If you want to see the DED, go up to Hala'akala and look ESE and down hill from the summit. It's the two little white towers. The big silver one is the one that looked at the bottom of the Columbia on STS-1. Unless you believe the other stories.

  21. Tom Paine

    What could be done

    As a matter of fact there are many ideas more practical than vague ideas about adapting ICBMs to carry nuclear warheads to, like, "blow shit up". They all require many years advance warning, but as long as the orbits are well characterised we can be fairly sure we'll have it. (The exception is a long-period comet, falling in from the Oort cloud in a hyperbolic orbit; we might do well to get a few months warning for one of those, and their earth-relative velocity is much, much higher than NEOs slowly dawdling around the sun in earth-like orbits. In those circumstances there really would be very little we could do about it.)

    Check out the Planetary Society blog reports from the recent Planetary Defense Conference. Includes info about a competition to design a mission to shift the orbit of a NEO called Apophis: and

    ....and earlier posts from a conference on NEOs and law (like, who tells the President? Does the President tell the people? the rest of the world?), and

    (All published in the last month...)

  22. raving angry loony


    It's obviously a cover for a sooper-sekrit project.

    No, of course I don't know what the project is. If I knew, it wouldn't be sooper-sekrit, would it?

  23. Dani Eder

    Comets vs Rocks

    Actually there is a big difference between a Near Earth Asteroid, and a comet. The first is make of rock, and the second is made of volatile ices. Comets try hard to evaporate near the Sun, which is why they have those freaking huge tails that make them pretty to look at.

    Nuke an asteroid, and you get a bunch of rocks of the same total mass heading your way. Nuke a comet, and you have a bunch of fragments which exposes more of it to the sun, and thus evaporates faster. Based on mass loss rates from comets studied in the past, you would have to break it into chunks of the order tens of cm in size. Detonate a nuke near a comet, but to the side could create a side thrust from the steam you create. Whether it breaks up in the process is not so important as the fact it is kicked to the side and so misses the Earth.

    The point is that something made of ice behaves different than something made of rock, and we might use that fact to save ourselves.

  24. machinehead

    Logical Fallicies

    Funny how most of the comments miss the point of the article. Nothing in the title or article said anything about shooting down asteroids or comets.

    It was an article about detecting said objects.

    Now, please shoot me down for pointing out that it is a fallacy to point out events that didn't occur.

  25. Seán

    That's a relief

    Seeing as in the 1950's they set off a nuke 300 miles up it shouldn't be that hard to reprogram an ICBM to just go straight up and blow the shit out of an asteroid when it was 500 miles up or more. Turning it into a giant cloud of crap burning in the atmosphere would be better than a huge chunk of rock blasting through a tectonic plate.

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