Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 26 October 2012

Toast of the week - cosmic paintballing edition

If you believe that we are on borrowed time and that somewhere out there is an asteroid with our name on it, you may be relieved (or disappointed, depending on your view of humanity) to hear of an idea put forward by a graduate student at MIT.

Sung Wook Paek, who works in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (lucky thing!) has just presented the paper that won him the UN's  2012 'Move an Asteroid' Competition.

Possibly inspired by a weekend away from his desk, Paek proposes an interplanetary paintballing mission to blast the approaching asteroid with white pigment, doubling its reflectivity. This, he argues, would change its response to solar radiation sufficiently to alter its course over a period of years.

It's elegantly simple - the paint pellets are delivered in two bursts synchronised with the asteroid's rotation, ensuring complete coverage front and back (I believe the same principle operates in spray-tanning).

The impact of the paint pellets gives the asteroid an initial small nudge to start things off; after that, you just sit back and let the sun do the work, deflecting it sufficiently to pass by at a comfortable distance from Earth.

All we need to do is make sure we get enough warning to send the supercharged paintball gun up there in time - otherwise it's Bruce Willis and the nukes.

Sung Wook Paek, this week's toast of the Tavern, your very good health!


  1. They could even attract sponsors such as Dulux.

  2. But if this theory is wrong and the asteroid hits who will be left to take the blame. Beam me up Scotty.

  3. AKH, an interesting idea; perhaps the pellets could even be configured to spell out the name or logo of the sponsor.

    Mind you, they'd have to be absolutely certain of success; the last thing they'd want is a global catastrophe with their name on it; "This apocalypse was brought to you by Shadbolt's DIY and Paints, Ltd".

    Demetrius, it rather begs the question 'is there such a thing as blame when there's no one left to do the blaming? '

    As someone who appears to have pondered these matters more than most, where do you stand on asteroid impact, so to speak? Good, bad or inevitable?

  4. So, simple matter - just fire away and there you are. Asteroid covered.

  5. JH, these things travel at a fair old lick, so to intersect it at the point where it's 20 years or more from Earth would mean starting out long before the expected impact date.

    If Paek's idea is the best we have at the moment, perhaps it would be best to start working on the technicalities sooner rather than later - there's quite a lot to do!

  6. Inevitable, any time in the next few hundred million years. But when does a big meteorite become an asteroid?

  7. Demetrius, there's probably some saying out there; 'One man's meteor is another man's explosion' or something of the sort.

    Actually, I think the process must work the other way; it's an asteroid as long as it's quietly going about its business up in space, a meteor when we see it impact the atmosphere and, should any of us be left to pick up the pieces, a meteorite when it hits the ground (though I dare say the suvivors may have other words for it...)


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