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Giant Paintball Gun Could Save the World From Death-by-Asteroid

A big asteroid will eventually hit the Earth. What can we do to push it out of the way?

Splat. Photo: somenametoforget

Going out on a limb, one would suspect that the average person on the planet would rather not get crushed to death by a massive space rock falling from the sky. Or obliterated by an impact-triggered shockwave. Or, for that matter, drowned by a five-story tsunami that wipes out anything along the shore. It would probably be altogether better if humanity could muster a way to keep all asteroid-related deaths to a minimum.

This is no dystopian existential threat, either. Watch astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson explain, in probably the least menacing way possible, how we could all be screwed over by an asteroid named Apophis. Since Tyson’s presentation, the calculated threat from Apophis has ticked downwards. But it’s a big sky, and there are other asteroids out there.

In a bid to save us all, the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council recently ran a “Move an Asteroid” competition, a contest seeking ideas of how to bump any killer asteroids with their sights set on Earth safely out of the way.

The winner of that contest, says MITnews, was an unconventional idea proposed by Sung Wook Paek: he wants to pepper the asteroid with paint balls fired from close range, dusting the asteroid in reflective material that should theoretically alter its trajectory. Paek’s proposal, says MIT, “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.”

By brightening the asteroid with his space paintball gun, Paek plans to increase its albedo (how reflective it is), increasing the pressure exerted by the Sun’s light and, hopefully, slowing it down and altering its course.

More from Smithsonian.com:
Asteroid Hunters

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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