Dec 17 2013

Paintballs To The Rescue

Published by at 7:30 am under Weather & Sky

When I wrote about the lawn sprinkler asteroid on November 11, I was intrigued by this sentence in the news article:

"The asteroid could possibly have been spun up if the pressure of sunlight exerted a torque on the body."

The pressure of sunlight?

Apparently small bodies in outer space -- from dust particles to 10km wide asteroids -- are affected by the relentless though tiny touch of photons.  They reflect or absorb the photons' energy and emit what they don't retain.  The emissions become a tiny propulsion force. However, dust and asteroids have irregular shapes and surfaces so they reflect, absorb and emit unevenly.  This affects their rotation and flight path.

There's a lot of fancy physics that predicts what a small irregular body will do under the pressure of sunlight.  I read about the Yarkovsky effect, the YORP effect and the Poynting-Robertson effect until I got confused.  Then I googled for a simple description and found ...

The United Nations' Space Generation Advisory Council holds an annual contest to solve the problem of deflecting a killer asteroid on a collision course with Earth.  In 2012 the winning solution of the Move an Asteroid Competition was to bombard it with white paintballs.

The reason this would work is due to the Yarkovsky effect (I think).  A dirt-colored rotating asteroid absorbs photons and heats up on its daylight side, then releases energy when that side turns to night.  In a steady state the asteroid would stay on course and hit the Earth but if it's painted white it will absorb less and emit less -- and this will alter its course.

All we need for deflecting a dangerous asteroid is a 20-year lead time, a rocket, a lot of white paintballs and very good aim.

Watch the video to see how we'd paint an asteroid.  Click here to read how it works in MIT News.

Paintballs to the rescue.


(video from MIT News on YouTube)

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Paintballs To The Rescue”

  1. Sueon 17 Dec 2013 at 3:35 pm

    I don’t know any other way to contact you except to leave a comment here.
    There are some very disturbing loud bird sounds coming from the roof of Crawford Hall a Pitt building on Bigelow.
    It sounds like a large bird in distress.
    It’s been going on intermittently since around 2pm today.

  2. Kate St. Johnon 17 Dec 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Sue, are they the same sounds as in this video?
    If so, it’s a recording that Pitt is playing to discourage the crows from roosting near Crawford Hall.

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