The asteroid-mining venture recently unveiled by James Cameron, Google executives and others sounds like it comes straight out of science fiction — but science fictional asteroids have done way more than just provide raw materials.
Here are asteroids from 10 imaginary realms that did everything from provide a supervillain lair to pave the way for alien invasion.
1) The asteroid field in Empire Strikes Back: The asteroid belt near Hoth is easily what the public thinks of when it comes to asteroid fields. Our asteroid belt is nothing like it, though - the giant rocks there are typically way too far apart to pose the kind of thrilling hazard the Millennium Falcon would have to weave through. Jury's still out on giant space monster denizens, though.
2) "The Dynamics of an Asteroid": Sherlock Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty was more than just the Napoleon of Crime — he was, well, a professor. In the short story The Valley of Fear from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we find out Moriarty "is the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it." In a number of stories written by others, Moriarty's knowledge has nefarious ends — in "The Adventure of the Russian Grave," he even tries to assassinate Holmes with the Tunguska event.
3) Asteroid M: Magneto is not only awesome because he's played by Gandalf, but because he has an asteroid as his secret villain lair. Asteroid M unfortunately crashed to Earth, but its remains now serve as the mutant sanctuary Utopia near San Francisco, which just goes to show the lengths to which people will go in order to find real estate in the Bay Area.
4) The Little Prince: In this classic, the title character lives on an asteroid named B-612 and ventures from asteroid to asteroid making discoveries about the nature of humanity and the universe. An asteroid discovered in 1993 was named 46610 Bésixdouze, or B-612.
5) Armageddon: In this 1998 film, an asteroid the size of Texas hurtles toward Earth, and NASA sends up oil drillers with a nuke and an Aerosmith prom ballad to save the planet. Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof wrote up a fake sequel idea for Armageddon 2: Armageddoner where the center of the Earth is made of oil, which would keep the level of science in the franchise about right.
6) Footfall: Aliens resembling pygmy elephants bomb Earth with an asteroid in this science fiction classic by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
7) Gateway: In Gateway and subsequent novels from sci-fi author Frederik Pohl, an asteroid in our solar system is found to hold nearly a thousand spaceships left by enigmatic aliens humanity dubs the Heechee. The asteroid, named Gateway, becomes a port from which adventurers can venture on interstellar journeys resulting in riches or death.
8) Edison's Conquest of Mars: In this 1898 magazine serial endorsed by Edison, which boasts the inventor as the hero of the tale, a fleet of spaceships from Earth counter-attacking Mars engages in battle at an asteroid Martians are mining for gold. The story apparently marks a number of firsts in science fiction - in addition asteroid mining, it includes the first space battle to ever appear in print, the first truly airtight spacesuits, the first known literary use of a disintegrator ray, and the introduction of the notion that the pyramids were constructed by extraterrestrials.
9) Gundam: In this anime series, civilization has spread itself across space, including mining asteroids that often become defensive strongholds.
10) The arcade game Asteroids: Seeing as how even the board game Battleship is coming soon to theaters near you, it'd be a good bet the same might happen with this video game classic. Indeed, a movie based on Asteroids has been under development for years.
Top image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.