An asteroid big enough to cause serious damage had been reported to be headed to planet Earth by 2040. The chances are 1 in 625, so there is no reason to be very much alarmed now, but then again, what if? A student at MIT has the answer - paintballs!
Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student at the Aeronautics and Astronautics deparment of MIT, proper use of paintballs could deflect an asteroid from its course. So, paintballs could save Earth.
Sung Wook explained, the asteroid has to reflect sunlight. As such, photons would off the surface of the asteroid. The bouncing energy would result in a push that would throw the asteroid off its course.
Pellets full of paint powder should be fired from a spacecraft to the asteroid in two rounds. If the timing of the paintball launch is done right from a relatively close distance, it would work. The paint would cover the asteroid, eventually increasing its ability to reflect the sun's light.
Initially, the pellets would move an asteroid off course. In the long run, the sun's photons would complete the task by deflecting the asteroid even more.
Sung Wook presented his solution in a paper that won the 2012 Move an Asteroid Technical Paper Competition. The annual contest was sponsored by the United Nations' Space Generation Advisory Council. It aims to tap students and young professionals around the world to come up with creative solutions to space-related problems, i.e. deflecting a near-Earth object.
Last year's winner was a PhD student at the Advanced Concept Laboratory of the University of Strathclyde, Allison Gibbings. She proposed the concept of "smart cloud." Her process involved ion beaming or "providing a large cloud of small particles for the effective deflection and mitigation of asteroids." Sung Wook was inspired by her idea, and improved on it with the use of paintballs.
Sung Wook recently presented his paper at the International Astronautical Congress in Naples, Italy.
To contact the editor, e-mail: