(Photo : Space Generation Advisory Council/United Nations)
Paintballing may only be a recreational activity here on Earth, but did you know paintballs could end up saving mankind one day from the debris in space? At least that's what one MIT graduate student is proposing. The student, Sung Wook Paek, proposed using volleys of paintballs to deflect an asteroid's course in the event one is headed directly for Earth.
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The proposal helped Sung Wook Paek win this year's 2012 Move an Asteroid Technical Paper Competition hosted by the United Nations' Space Generation Advisory Council. The competition was meant to encourage creative solutions to space-related problems that could adversely affect every nation here on Earth.
Paek says that a couple volleys of paintballs launched from a spacecraft close to the asteroid could end up coating the front and back of an asteroid, doubling the asteroid's reflectivity.
Why is this important?
For starters, the initial force of the volleys would nudge an asteroid slightly off its course in the vacuum of space. But the key factor here is the reflectivity. By making the asteroid more pale and white, the sun's photons will reflect more, and over time, the bouncing off of photons could generate enough of a push to move the asteroid out of Earth's path.
The idea is certainly not as Hollywood-friendly as planting a nuclear bomb inside an asteroid, but Paek backs his claims up with a little bit of science.
In his paper, Paek used the 27-gigaton asteroid Apophis as his example. Apophis is expected to come close to Earth in 2029 and in 2036, making it a good example. He states that around five tons of pain would be enough to cover the asteroid, which has a diameter of 1,480 feet. By firing once to cover the front of the asteroid, and then once again after the asteroid passes to cover the backside, Paek states that this would coat the asteroid in about five-micrometers of paint.
The effects of the reflective paint would take around 20 years to accumulate, and Paek states that these paintballs could be made and stored in the International Space Station, for easy access.
Paek also proposed that aerosol capsules could be fired that would impart air drag upon the asteroid in space.