Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Paintballs Save The Planet

An MIT graduate has devised a wacky plan to save the world from destruction by an inbound asteroid.
Sung Wook Paek of the Cambridge Massachsetts academy's Dept of Aeronautics and Astronautics won the 'Move An Asteroid' 2012 Competition sponsored by the UN Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC).
His plan skips the asteroid-killing nukes a la Armageddon and Deep Impact, and relies instead on a far more quirky method: paint.
He proposes maneuvering a spacecraft close to an incoming earth destroyer, then firing two monstrous volleys of paint pellets - the first to cover one half of the asteroid in a light-coloured paint powder, and the second to do the same to the other side after it rotates into view. With the asteroid thus brightened (or, more properly, having its albedo increased) the sun's solar radiation would more forcefully push upon it, knocking it off-course.
If you've stood in the sun wearing dark clothing, you'll know dark surfaces absorb the sun's rays, while they bounce off light surfaces. And from your deep grasp of Newton's Third Law of Motion, you'll also know that when something bounces off something, the first something gives the second something a push. The asteroid would be slowly but steadily nudged away, saving our beloved planet. The paint pellets themselves would also have a kinetic effect on the asteroid's course when hitting it, adding to the trajectory-altering effect. Bonus!
Paek calculated what would be required to deflect the asteroid Apophis, scheduled to close-call in 2029 and again in 2036. This
Who needs Bruce Willis
to save the world,
when we've got
Paula The Paintball
asteroid has 450m diameter and a 27 gigaton mass. Should Apophis hit us, the results wouldn't be pretty! According to Paek, a mere five tons of paint would be needed to coat Apophis with a five-micrometre layer of paint powder. It would then take up to 20 years for the force of solar radiation to push Apophis sufficiently off-course, saving mankind.
A quick look at the calendar shows we still have time to use this technique before the 2036 visit. As for the 2029 one? Worry not: that pass will merely be close enough to deflect Apophis sufficiently to give it a better shot at us in 2036 - although the odds of it actually doing so are quite poor.
As for the odds of Planet Earth using Paek's paint? Also quite poor!!

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