Back in 2004, there was some concern after astronomers stated the asteroid Apophis might crash into Earth in 2029. Further calculations proved the asteroid would miss our planet in 2029, leaving a slight possibility it would be on a collision path in 2036, when Apophis will cross Earth’s orbit again. Though astronomers cannot determine the asteroid’s exact path until closer to that point in time, some scientists are already designing asteroid-deflecting devices.

Last year Chinese scientists unveiled a plan to outfit a spacecraft with a solar sail and crash it into the asteroid, shifting the rock off its course just enough to avoid Earth. Now, two scientists from University of Strathclyde in Scotland unveiled their plan: blasting Apophis with solar-powered lasers.

Massimiliano Vasile and Chrisite Maddock designed an asteroid-deflection system consisting of multiple spacecrafts, each equipped with a solar-powered laser. The plan is that by directing the lasers at an asteroid, we can vaporize parts of its surface, and the resulting jets of gas will push the asteroid off course. Similar schemes have been proposed in the past, but always utilizing one large laser that would require a nuclear power source. Vasile and Maddock’s proposal would instead feature many smaller lasers that could be powered with solar energy.

This proposal has a couple advantages over previous designs. Multiple spacecrafts would allow a greater margin of error, providing backup in case one of the crafts, or lasers, fails to function as desired. Additionally, using solar power instead of nuclear increases safety during production and launch. Still, this system may not be viable against an asteroid on an orbit without steady access to the Sun.

Eventually, deflecting an asteroid from hitting Earth will be a major concern, but we will have several years to figure out a plan. Astronomers won’t know the asteroids exact path for 2036 until it passes Earth in 2029. There is a tiny — 0.0007 percent — chance that Apophis will pass through the “keyhole” above Earth, have its orbit modified by our planet’s gravity, and turn onto an impact course for 2036. And if that tiny possibility becomes reality, chances are we’ll have a storeroom of ideas already piled up.

Main photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech