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Thursday, October 23, 2008

You’ll Feel the Earth Move

posted by on October 23 at 11:00 AM


The problem: The Earth is going to die.

The Sun is slowly getting warmer as it burns the hydrogen in its core. In about 5 billion years, the Sun will begin evolving into a bloated red giant. Its outer gas shell will swell up, engulfing the Earth by the time it reaches its peak size and brightness 7 billion years from now.

But long before that,, raising average terrestrial temperatures to around 50 C (120 F). That will warm the oceans so much that they evaporate without boiling, like a pan of water left on a sunny kitchen counter.

The solution
: Move the Earth, with a humongous, solar-powered kite.

That danger could be avoided by using a giant solar sail, says Colin McInnes, a mechanical engineer at the University of Strathclyde.

Solar sails are thin, mirror-like films that are propelled by the weak pressure of the sunlight that falls on them. McInnes’s idea is to put a free-floating solar sail at a point near the Earth where the pressure of solar radiation essentially balances the Earth’s gravitational pull.

His analysis shows that the reflection of sunlight from the sail will pull the Earth outwards along with the sail in physical terms, increasing the Earth’s orbital energy and accelerating the centre of mass of the system outwards, away from the Sun.

A sailor’s life for us.

RSS icon Comments


Why don't we start worrying about when the universe contracts and collapses back on itself. That'll happen in, what, several hundred billion years? Get cracking, scientists, the future of the universe is at stake!

Posted by keshmeshi | October 23, 2008 11:11 AM

After the red giant collapses into a white dwarf, what do we do THEN? Huh huh?

Posted by Sachi Wilson | October 23, 2008 11:15 AM

In 5 billion years there is a good chance we will not exist. We have been on this planet in this form for such a short amount of time. 5 billion years is more than enough time for evolution to move on and reinvent itself many times over with other versions of life. We will just be a footnote. Moving the planet a little further from a dying sun is just postponing the inevitable. But then thinking about this concept is just us placing ourselves with the help of our imagination in this future scenario. We are just creating a little fear in out heads for no reason at all because we will not be there.
So enjoy your time in the here and now.
Go watch some porn, pray to a god or not, create something cool anything that makes life interesting now. Forget about 5 billion years hence.

Posted by -B- | October 23, 2008 11:17 AM

Will we not have mastered space travel in 5 billion years? At least well enough to move out to some other planet in the solar system? A hotter sun would make mars a nice place to hang out, no?

Posted by Matthew | October 23, 2008 11:29 AM

Seven billion years, huh? Can we perhaps put this one off a bit? The way I see it either A) Global warming or nuclear war or SOMETHING will kill us all off long before this is a problem or B) If we manage to survive for, say, a billion years, we'll have so much unimaginable science at our disposal that this problem will be pretty trivial. And still six billion years to solve it!

Posted by Ben | October 23, 2008 11:29 AM

Oh shit! At the rate the human race is destroying itself and it's planet's resources, we won't have a thing to worry about. Besides that, the dinosaurs lasted one hundred and sixty million years until an asteroid destroyed them. People have been around only a few million. Something will come along anytime that will finish us off long before the sun burns out.

Posted by Vince | October 23, 2008 11:37 AM

That's how they solved global warming in an episode of Futurama.

Posted by BrinkleyBoy | October 23, 2008 11:38 AM

ok, maybe I'm missing something here and maybe I'm over thinking this ridiculous idea too much.

What, exactly, do you attach a planet sized solar sail to? Forget the fact that it would have to be a bolt so strong that you could pull a planet with it, not to mention the million mile long cable. Where do you attach it? Bolt it to a mountain and you'd either wind the cable around the planet as it spins or stop the planets rotation. Put it at the North or South poles and you'll screw up the axis. Seriously WTF?!?

Yes, I'm over thinking it.

Posted by Colin | October 23, 2008 11:41 AM

In other sun-related news: This year has been very good for the Sun's complexion. There have been no sunspots for the longest period in decades.

Posted by inkweary | October 23, 2008 11:42 AM

I also wonder how the change in the length of our year would effect things.

Posted by Colin | October 23, 2008 11:54 AM

When I was little they showed this happening on 3-2-1 Contact. It scared me shitless b/c I thought it was going to happen, like, the next day. Curse you, science!

Posted by Balt-O-Matt | October 23, 2008 11:57 AM

This is Seattle. If we don't set up the blue-ribbon advisory exploratory committee NOW, we'll never make that deadline 5 billion years hence.

Posted by COMTE | October 23, 2008 12:00 PM

I'm reading a book about all the ways the earth will (could) be destroyed. It's called Death from the Skies, by Phil Plait. It's fun, if you like being scared.

Posted by Angel | October 23, 2008 12:02 PM

If we are still around in 5 billion years, I'm looking forward to the human race having the ability to move planet-sized objects with only the power of their genitalia.

My cock can move planets!

Posted by Ryan | October 23, 2008 12:31 PM

So this will really become an issue in what, three billion years? Whereas maybe two hundred years from now, we can start moving to Mars.

What's the problem again?

Posted by Greg | October 23, 2008 12:42 PM

Besides, all we need to move the Earth is a really long lever, right? Haven't you read your classics?

Posted by Greg | October 23, 2008 12:43 PM

The Vogons will have demolished your planet long before then.

Posted by Slartibartfast | October 23, 2008 12:48 PM

If you're interested in solar sails, you should check out this brand new book -

Posted by Jeff Rutherford | October 23, 2008 12:54 PM

@14 I once dated a guy whose cock could move planets. He moved my moon real good.(well?)

Posted by Vince | October 23, 2008 1:41 PM

@16... and a place to stand.

Posted by inkweary | October 23, 2008 3:02 PM

Well shit, forget that plan then.

Posted by Greg | October 23, 2008 3:07 PM

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