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Future Asteroids Could Be Deflected With Nothing But Space-Graffiti

Illustration for article titled Future Asteroids Could Be Deflected With Nothing But Space-Graffiti

Our planet's recent close call with one asteroid, and direct visit from another has definitely made it seem important to consider how to avoid the pesky things in the future. One solution is to direct the Sun's power into pulverizing lasers, but another option just involves covering incoming rocks with spray paint. Simple as that.

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The plan, as described by Dave Hyland, professor of physics and astronomy and faculty member in the aerospace engineering department at Texas A&M goes a little something like this: When you see a dangerous space-rock headed this way, you send a special space ship out to meet it and blast it with a coating of space-spray paint. The new coat of paint would then affect the asteroid's reflectiveness, allowing the Sun's energy to catch it just right and send it off a collision course.

If we were to pull this off, there'd be a few obstacles to over come. First, you couldn't use standard Earth-paint. It couldn't be oil or water-based; it'd probably have to be a dry powder, attracted to the rock with static electricity. Second, you'd have to get to the asteroid early, so that a barrage of photons would have enough time to push it away. Still, it could be a cheap solution, and NASA has approached Hyland about testing it. It probably won't be ready for Apophis' close call in 2029/2036, but it could be a viable strategy eventually. Now someone reach out to Banksy, and see what he thinks. [PhysOrg]

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Image by Mopic/Shutterstock

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DISCUSSION

Why focus on just one approach instead of marking a potential "killer" asteroid with titanium dioxide or carbon on a near pass, shoot it with lasers to push it off course, put a nuke in an orbit around the thing or on the surface, and detonate the nuke at the asteroid's apogee if the lasers and paint fail to have enough of an effect to veer it off course so we have some redundancy.

Regardless though, am I the only one thinking we may be messing with unseen forces beyond our control or comprehension if we start messing with the orbits of these things? What if knocking one asteroid out of a potential collision course only results in pushing an even bigger, deadlier asteroid into a collision course?