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Friday, October 26, 2012

A Cloud of Paintballs Will Save the World

Posted by on Fri, Oct 26, 2012 at 8:38 AM

The idea is beautiful because it so simple:

In the event that a giant asteroid is headed toward Earth, you'd better hope that it's blindingly white. A brightly colored asteroid would reflect sunlight — and over time, this bouncing of photons off its surface could create enough of a force to push the asteroid off its course

See how it would work...


Comments (18) RSS

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Pope Peabrain 1
This is what our brilliant minds conjure? Paintballs? Let's paint kittens on them so we won't feel so bad when they hit us.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on October 26, 2012 at 9:05 AM · Report this
long-time reader 2
That's far less practical than just hitting it with a nuke or an H-bomb.
Posted by long-time reader on October 26, 2012 at 9:10 AM · Report this
@1, @2 - Actually, this was brought up in my undergraduate astronomy class 8 years ago. Hitting it with an H bomb might break it up, but then we'd just have a cluster of nearly-world-ending debris to deal with.

As counter-intuitive as it seems, at the speed that the Earth is moving, painting a meteor white would mean just enough extra pressure from the solar wind to move it just the 1km or so to the side that would make it pass the earth safely.
Posted by KBF on October 26, 2012 at 9:30 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 5
@3 I don't usually read unregistered but I'll say this. Where are you going to get all the paintballs? By turning China into a paintball factory? Do we each get a gun to shoot them? It's so ridiculous.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on October 26, 2012 at 9:31 AM · Report this
Karlheinz Arschbomber 6
"I'm God and I approve this apocalyptic message" painted in large friendly letters.
Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber on October 26, 2012 at 9:32 AM · Report this
Big Sven 7
Actually, it's not a terrible idea, for the right sized asteroid. The impact of the paint would be trivial, but over time photonic pressure would add up. You'd want to paint the northern or southern "pole" because if you paint at the equator, any rotation will zero out the benefit. And the plane of rotation has to be out of the solar plane, so that "pole" gets sunlight.

It's all just time and mass. If Apophis hits the keyhole in 2029, we'll have ten years to nudge a 350m rock. But that's not a "giant asteroid." If a Chicxulub nightmare (10km) came from the direction of the sun, we might only have a month or two before impact. Then we'd be well and truly fucked.
Posted by Big Sven on October 26, 2012 at 9:34 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 8
Great way to get rid of all our old lead based paint too, amiright?
Posted by Urgutha Forka on October 26, 2012 at 9:35 AM · Report this
Big Sven 9
Actually, you can paint anywhere. Thought about it some more. But the bottom line is the more time you have and the smaller the bolide, the more options you have for paint, nukes, gravity tractors, etc.
Posted by Big Sven on October 26, 2012 at 9:38 AM · Report this

Aren't asteroids asymmetrical, not spherical. Seems like the right shaped asteroid, especially if curved, could act as a "sail" with the properties of moving toward, rather than away, from Earth.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on October 26, 2012 at 9:49 AM · Report this
MacCrocodile 11
@5 - Actually, no. NASA just called me and they said they've abandoned the paintball idea. They want you to go up there with a paint roller. Please remember to sand between coats.
Posted by MacCrocodile on October 26, 2012 at 9:52 AM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 12
Too racist.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on October 26, 2012 at 10:15 AM · Report this
Michael of the Green 13
It so simple.
Posted by Michael of the Green on October 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 14
Be easier to attach a solar sail to it and deflect the route than to blow it up.

Basic physics.

Blowing stuff up sometimes has unpredictable side effects.
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 26, 2012 at 10:39 AM · Report this
Instead of "Blow stuff up" what about "Blow stuff aside"? How much pressure would be needed to nudge the asteroid off-course enough to bypass Earth?

And what is the range and speed that the paintball plan covers? How big/fast/far does an asteroid need to be in order for this plan to work? It's a novel idea, sure, but what are the practical limits of it?
Posted by Drew2u on October 26, 2012 at 10:57 AM · Report this
Famous last words:

Oh sounded like a good idea......

Posted by sgt_doom on October 26, 2012 at 10:58 AM · Report this
treacle 17
Nifty idea. I think we should test it on an asteroid that will have no chance of ever hitting us, even with a nice, fresh coat of white paint.

Pardon me, I've got to get back to digging my bunker.
Posted by treacle on October 26, 2012 at 11:25 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 18
@15 scatter explosions cause different chunks to have different speeds, different vectors, and makes tracking more problematic.

Even a well-placed shaped charge of the cutting type depends upon knowledge of the consistency of what you're cutting. Which, quite frankly, we wouldn't have.
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 26, 2012 at 11:32 AM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 19
How many days in advance would we need to do this? Lets think about this...

The asteroid would need to be hit 2-3 days before impact, minimum. The paint balls would need to be launched 2-3 days before that. The paintballs sent up days before that. And gathered a day before that. We're talking an 8 day operation, minimum.

This reminds me of when I was an undergrad and we decided it was too tough to calculate how to land on an asteroid, so our plan was to harpoon it and drag it back to earth instead. Why, yes, marijuana was involved.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on October 26, 2012 at 8:08 PM · Report this

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