domingo, 28 de octubre de 2012

How to save humanity from a giant asteroid? Shoot paintballs at it, of course - The Independent

However, according to Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student in MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics it could be the answer.

If Paek's calculations are correct then the staple of office bonding outings may be the way to change the course of an asteroid before it collides with the earth.

The MIT graduate has proposed his theory as a submission to the 2012 'Move an Asteroid Technical Paper Competition', sponsored by the UN's Space Generation Advisory Council.

The purpose of the contest, as the title suggests, is to find the best plausible solution to deflecting asteroids, or other near-earth objects.

So how does it work?

Paek's paintball strategy is based on a solution submitted by the winner of the competition last year, who suggested deflecting an asteroid with a cloud of solid pellets.

Paek's strategy is also based on using pellets, but filling them with paint in order to cover the asteroid in a fine, five-micrometer-layer of paint.

The MIT website explains: "Adding paint to the pellets to take advantage of solar radiation pressure — the force exerted on objects by the sun's photons. Researchers have observed that pressure from sunlight can alter the orbits of geosynchronous satellites, while others have proposed equipping spacecraft with sails to catch solar radiation, much like a sailboat catches wind."

The solution is certainly not quick - Paek estimates that it could take up to 20 years for the effect of solar radiation pressure to pull the asteroid off its trajectory.

Paek based his proposal on the 27-gigaton rock 'Apophis', which it is thought could come close to Earth in 2029, and then again in 2036. The huge asteroid, which has a diameter of 1,480 feet, would require five tons of paint to cover it Paek says.

The timing of the firing of pellets, which may have to be manufactured in space (on the International Space Station for instance) because of the danger of them fracturing during takeoff from Earth, would be based upon the asteroid's period of rotation. 

Paek also suggests that the pellets could contain aerosols, instead of paint, which when shot at the asteroid would: "impart air drag on the incoming asteroid to slow it down."

Lindley Johnson, program manager for NASA's Near Earth Objects Observation Program told the MIT website that Paek's proposal is "an innovative variation".

Adding: "It is very important that we develop and test a few deflection techniques sufficiently so that we know we have a viable 'toolbox' of deflection capabilities to implement when we inevitably discover an asteroid on an impact trajectory."

Although a frequent plot in science fiction the threat from a large near-earth object is considered to be serious.

An asteroid, DA14, which is the size of a city block will, for instance, pass by the Earth's atmosphere in February of next year, with some reports claiming it will be the closest fly by in history.

It is thought the rock will come within 14,000 miles of the Earth.

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