CHRIS BUTLER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY CHRIS BUTLER / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Asteroid deflection. Computer artwork of a proposed method of deflecting an asteroid that threatens to collide with Earth. A parabolic reflector focuses sunlight on the asteroid, heating the surface and vaporizing ice or dust. The stream of heated material produces thrust, just as a rocket does, and alters the course of the asteroid. An experimental solar mirror called Znamia was deployed in February 1993 from a Russian Progress spacecraft. It was 20 metres in diameter. A system capable of deflecting an asteroid would have to be much larger, perhaps kilometres across.
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