Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Solar sailing it away

We have known for quite a while now just how capable an asteroid would be at wiping out most of human life on this Earth.  After all, it's appearing more and more likely that either a comet or an asteroid impact played at least as a factor in the demise of the dinosaurs.  They were bigger, tougher, and more numerous than we are now, so why couldn't it happen to us?
On April 13th, 2036, the asteroid Apophis will come close enough to duck beneath the orbit of our communications satellites (within about 18,000 miles of us).  That's a bit too close for comfort, so many propositions have been bounced about as to how to deal with it.
There's been talk of nuking it with a missile, of nudging it out of the way by attaching rocket engines to its surface, or sending Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to go blow it up in a Michael Bay-orchestrated monstrosity.  Last month, however, a French researcher offered a new suggestion (apologies for the news source.  I'm not crazy about it either, but its not a bad article.)

In this new tactic, a fleet of unmanned, solar-powered spacecraft would deploy around Apophis with solar sails extended.  This would have the affect of the Sun warming one side of the asteroid to a greater degree than the other, creating a sort of thrust and sending the space rock off on a slightly different course.  Slightly, but just enough to miss by a wider margin.  This plan wouldn't work on heavier asteroids, but space bodies in the class of Apophis make for good candidates.

Still, there are detractors.  There are scientists who argue that the technology to do this doesn't quite exist yet and would be rather expensive to develop.  I don't know.  The solar sail theory sounds like a better path to take than nuking the rock and sending multiple meteors down on us, not to mention the benefit of advancements in solar sail technology that would come of this.  Seems to me that any effort to develop a workable asteroid shield is a good thing.  Sparing us the fate of asteroid impact would give us more time to screw the world up completely on our own.

By the by, I caught a bit of a program on The History Channel last night about the Antichrist.  Did you know that there are fundies who are under belief that an asteroid impact will be the catalyst for the galvanization of a One World Government?  Yet more reason to deflect the space rocks, I say.  If for no other end than to shut those people up.

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