Lubin and his colleagues have conceived of a system they call DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and exploration. The concept: harness power from the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can deflect or evaporate asteroids hazardous to Earth.

“This system is not some far-out idea from Star Trek,” Gary B. Hughes, a researcher at California Polytechnic State University, said in a statement. “All the components of this system pretty much exist today. Maybe not quite at the scale that we’d need — scaling up would be the challenge — but the basic elements are all there and ready to go.”

The scale the team has in mind is quite astounding — ranging from one system the size of a desktop device to one measuring 6 miles (10 kilometers) in diameter — and the capabilities would improve with each expansion.