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How Paintballs Could Force an Asteroid Off Course

By - Source: MIT | B 39 comments
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Asteroids that are on a collision course with earth may not need a nuclear explosion to be forced on an different path.

A novel idea suggests that solar radiationpressure could be far more effective.

The idea is to increase an asteroid's reflection ability of sunlight and take advantage the force of bouncing photons to push an object off its course. To do so, Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, proposes to fire two rounds of paint-filled pellets from a spacecraft to cover objects such as asteroids in "blindingly white" color.

The initial force from the pellets could bump an asteroid off course, Paek said, but the sun’s photons would deflect the asteroid even more. However, this should not be considered an emergency procedure. In his paper, Paek calculated that the 27-gigaton, 1,480-ft diameter rock Apophis, which will be near earth in 2029 and in 2036, would need 5 tons of paint to be covered entirely with a five-micrometer-layer of paint.

The effect of solar radiation would not be seen immediately, but it would take about 20 years of solar radiation pressure to take the asteroid off its path. And there may be another problem. The "violent" takeoff of a rocket may not be suitable to deliver paintballs to an asteroid. Instead, Paek suggests making paintballs in space at space stations, from where spacecraft could pick up paintballs as needed.

 

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Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    noob2222 , October 30, 2012 8:33 AM
    lol, only 20 years for it to alter its course
Other Comments
  • 20 Hide
    noob2222 , October 30, 2012 8:33 AM
    lol, only 20 years for it to alter its course
  • Display all 39 comments.
  • 2 Hide
    cats_Paw , October 30, 2012 9:59 AM
    I got an idea, everyone post one idea to rock the asteroid of its course, lets see who comes out with a better idea. Here is mine:
    Launch into space some rockets that will not explode, but attach to the rock from one of the sides and then turn on to modify its Trajectory enought to avoid earth. As far as i know, in space the only forces to atract a comme is gravitation, so if for an asteroid to hit earth it must have a certain path, modifing it by just a bit (far enought thou) should send it far away enougth. Well we still have a 2012 comming, right? :D .
  • 4 Hide
    greghome , October 30, 2012 10:16 AM
    noob2222lol, only 20 years for it to alter its course


    It's only gonna hit us in less than 20 years.
    oh well, get stocked up on weapons and get in your hibernation pods.
    We're gonna play RAGE :D 
  • 3 Hide
    wanderer11 , October 30, 2012 10:26 AM
    Cats_PawI got an idea, everyone post one idea to rock the asteroid of its course, lets see who comes out with a better idea. Here is mine:Launch into space some rockets that will not explode, but attach to the rock from one of the sides and then turn on to modify its Trajectory enought to avoid earth. As far as i know, in space the only forces to atract a comme is gravitation, so if for an asteroid to hit earth it must have a certain path, modifing it by just a bit (far enought thou) should send it far away enougth. Well we still have a 2012 comming, right? .

    You are forgetting about inertia. A rock the size of Earth has a lot of inertia and will take more than one of our tiny rockets to make a change in its path.
  • 5 Hide
    ojas , October 30, 2012 10:26 AM
    Quote:
    would need 5 tons of paint to be covered entirely with a five-micrometer-layer of paint

    Isn't there something messed up here?
  • 7 Hide
    greghome , October 30, 2012 10:32 AM
    Just a nickname"Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics"Like if only graduate student in MIT can think at stupid things like that. Yea let's go paint some asteroids, cuz you know atomic bombs are so expensive. What about 5+ tons of paint. What kind of news is this?


    the problem with nukes is, the explosion might just split the rock into a thousand tiny pieces which makes it even harder to deflect afterwards.
    not to mention, the rocks will be radioactive when they come hurling at you.
    There are also international treaties banning the use of nukes in space, though That can easily be put aside in the name of saving the earth, you are still talking about stopping a Gigatonne rock with a Megaton payload..... :p 
  • -9 Hide
    nebun , October 30, 2012 10:36 AM
    wow....such stupidity...prove it and I will believe it
  • 6 Hide
    fuzzion , October 30, 2012 10:47 AM
    Shooting 5 tonnes of Paint at an oblong object , in space, moving incredibly fast with some sort of device capable of doing so. Ok , so one has been holding the bong for far too long!
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , October 30, 2012 11:02 AM
    Some of the comments here remind me of how most of the experts (REAL experts that is) said that if an aircraft were to break the sound barrier it would vibrate itself apart based on their data when approaching MACH 1. It took a brave few to prove them all wrong.

    While this idea may seem implausible (though more impractical if the NEO is closer than 20 years out) to me, I have to admit that most of the science involved is way over my head.
  • 8 Hide
    Parrdacc , October 30, 2012 11:08 AM
    Cats_PawI got an idea, everyone post one idea to rock the asteroid of its course, lets see who comes out with a better idea. Here is mine:Launch into space some rockets that will not explode, but attach to the rock from one of the sides and then turn on to modify its Trajectory enought to avoid earth. As far as i know, in space the only forces to atract a comme is gravitation, so if for an asteroid to hit earth it must have a certain path, modifing it by just a bit (far enought thou) should send it far away enougth. Well we still have a 2012 comming, right? .


    "This is all very simple. Just change the gravitational constant of the universe." - Q
  • 8 Hide
    tripledouce , October 30, 2012 11:12 AM
    noob2222lol, only 20 years for it to alter its course


    20 years is a blink of the eye as far as the universe is concered. and not bad considering the photons that will alter the course of the asteroid are sub-atomic particles.
  • 2 Hide
    mrmaia , October 30, 2012 11:26 AM
    Why this? Just call Harry Stamper and his guys and BOOM! bye-bye asteroid.

    (this is an Armageddon reference)
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 30, 2012 12:35 PM
    the nuke idea will work as long as you detonate it close to the asteroid and not ON the asteroid.

    even if its costs 1000 nukes that blow up next to it, to nudge it along the way.

    i believe apothes can be nudges with an bombardment of nukes that go off next to it.

    the only way that CANT work is if the nukes cant give any blast/push on the object if it is too far away.

    also what about making rocket like objects that attack themselves to the asteroid and drill inside to secure itself, then it just accelerates into a direction away from earth, eventualy it will have to budge.

    or we can use a ship to hover in close proximity to grab it with the ships gravity.

    many ways... now just to test which one is more succesfull in the shortest time span.
  • 2 Hide
    jacobdrj , October 30, 2012 12:35 PM
    Parrdacc"This is all very simple. Just change the gravitational constant of the universe." - Q

    Hey, that worked. All Geordi needed to do was create a Warp Bubble large enough to encompass the asteroid, which effectively changed the gravitational constant...
  • 0 Hide
    spookyman , October 30, 2012 1:06 PM
    As dumb as the idea is, it might actually work.

    Consider two nerds working in a garage and decided to build a computer. Now how crazy was that idea?

    Crazy ideas work.
  • 7 Hide
    Anonymous , October 30, 2012 1:12 PM
    Guys wait! We have the answer, quick make trash!!!
    Now lets collect a big ball of it and launch it into the asteroid.
    Now we'll only have 1000 years before earth has to do it again but at least it buys us time, course we'll be dead by then so who cares?

    -Futurama ahhhh yeahhh
  • 2 Hide
    freggo , October 30, 2012 2:06 PM
    Just a nickname... in MIT can think at stupid things like that. Yea let's go paint some asteroids, cuz you know atomic bombs are so expensive. What about 5+ tons of paint. What kind of news is this?


    Because MIT students know the laws of physics.
    If you just blow up that sucker the resulting chunks of debris will continue on their path. So instead of getting hit by one massive rock we get peppered by hundreds of smaller ones that each are still larger than we'd care for.
  • 2 Hide
    jabliese , October 30, 2012 2:39 PM
    It would probably be easier to anchor a solar sail to the asteroid. Much less weight involved, for the same concept.
  • 0 Hide
    TeraMedia , October 30, 2012 2:47 PM
    Now I know why the role-over date for a lot of computer date datatypes happens in 2029.
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