When it comes to protecting the Earth from potentially devastating asteroids, scientists have discussed using everything from nuclear weapons to spacecraft armed with solar-powered lasers. However, an MIT scientist has proposed that should an asteroid approach the Earth less-harmful weapons should be implemented – paintballs.

asteroids, spacecraft, paintballs, NASA, Near Earth Objects, meteor, MIT, Sung Wook Paek, NASA’s Near Earth Objects Observation Program, armageddon

Now the idea at first seems ludicrous. To paraphrase Jason Issacs in Armageddon, surely “if you consider your target — her composition, her dimensions, her sheer velocity — you could fire every nuke you’ve got at her and she’d just smile at you and keep on coming?” Well, apparently not.

Graduate student Sung Wook Paek believes that pellets full of paint powder could be launched in two rounds from a nearby spacecraft. It is hoped that they would more than double an asteroid’s reflectivity, or albedo, and that the initial force from the pellets would bump it off course; and over time, the sun’s rays would deflect it even more.

For his theory, Sung Wook Paek has used the asteroid Apophis – due to come close to Earth in 2029, and then again in 2036 – as a theoretical test case. Paek said that to deflect the asteroid, five tons of paint would have to be used. This would be enough to cover the asteroid, which has a diameter of 1,480 feet. A spacecraft would unleash a first round of shots which would cover the front, while a second would hit the back once the asteroid has rotated. As the pellets hit the asteroid, they would burst apart, splattering the surface with a fine, five-micrometer layer of paint.

Of course, it wouldn’t have an immediate effect – Paek believes that it would take up to 20 years for the cumulative effect of solar radiation pressure to successfully divert the asteroid from its Earthbound trajectory. (Perhaps we better not shelve the Bruce Willis/Armageddon place just yet…)

Speaking about Paek’s theory, Lindley Johnson, program manager for NASA’s Near Earth Objects Observation Program, said that it was ”an innovative variation” on a method already used by others to exploit solar radiation pressure.

“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,” Johnson added.

+ MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Via TG Daily

Images: FlyingSinger and Pacurar Cristian