Thursday, November 10, 2005

A new way of changing asteroid orbits

Two NASA astronauts have figured out a way to create a real-life version of a "Star Wars" "tractor beam" to keep an asteroid from crashing into Earth.

By hovering nearby for perhaps a year, the astronauts say, the spacecraft's own gravity could minutely slow the asteroid's progress or speed it up, a process that 10 or 20 years later would cause the rogue rock to miss Earth by a comfortable margin

Once on station, the spacecraft would hover above the asteroid, using its engines to stay in place. Gravity "is a two-way street," noted Love, also speaking from Houston. Even as the spacecraft counters the asteroid's gravity, he said, its own gravity will pull the asteroid out of orbit.

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