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!
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