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Space & Astronomy

Could paint save us from a doomsday asteroid?

March 22, 2018 | Comment icon 13 comments



Could painting an asteroid change its trajectory ? Image Credit: NASA Goddard Conceptual Image Lab
Rather than ramming or nuking a large space rock, scientists have suggested simply covering it in paint.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the asteroid Bennu - a 200-meter-wide space rock with a mere 1 in 2,700 chance of striking the Earth in the year 2035.

NASA has been showing a keen interest in it as well, having sent its exploratory OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to intercept it, collect a sample of material and then return it to Earth for analysis.

The space agency also recently revealed its work on HAMMER (Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response) - a spacecraft with the potential to intercept and redirect a large incoming asteroid either by ramming it or, if all else fails, by exploding a nuclear bomb.
But what if there was an easier way ? According to Michael Moreau, NASA's OSIRIS-REx Flight Dynamics System Manager, all it might take to save our planet is a fresh coat of paint.

It might sound absurd, but according to Moreau, painting one half of the asteroid a different color would be enough to change its thermal properties and alter its orbit so that it misses the Earth.

Obviously this is only something that can be done with enough advanced warning ( such as we have in the case of Bennu ), but the fact that this is even plausible at all is rather encouraging.

It's certainly a more desirable option than launching a nuclear weapon in to space.

Source: Gizmodo | Comments (13)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by bison 4 years ago
Tumbling would presumably reduce the efficiency of the thrust, if it meant that the painted half of†Bennu faced the Sun less frequently, and sometimes less directly,†than it would in the case of simpler rotation. † I'm also concerned by the fact that Bennu has a fairly short orbital period. It travels between Mars and Earth most of the time, but also dips inside Earth's orbit.The cumulative effect of slight thrust †would increase the size of its orbit. This†seems to mean that Bennu†could be pushed nearer†Earth around the time of its perihelion. †Bennu will†pass inside Earth's†orbit many times ... [More]
Comment icon #5 Posted by Nzo 4 years ago
Lets back up here a bit. Just a little bit. You would have to launch into space hundreds if not thousands of gallons of paint then remotely(or if you are adventurous, pre programmed) have some kind of robot spray one half of an asteroid. And we would be praying it sprays the proper side of the asteroid. This is another one of those ill thought proposals made by an intern, or worse.† The payload would be MASSIVE and painting in space with zero G is probably infinitely harder to do than painting with gravity because every time you press on that nozzle it acts as a booster. † A full 40 megaton nu... [More]
Comment icon #6 Posted by bison 4 years ago
A load of fine, white powder, set to strike the asteroid and burst open with enough speed to distribute it widely would seem to be simpler. Maybe several loads to strike different areas and so improve the coverage. I don't think it matters which side is 'painted', so long as its confined to that one side. Then every time that†side of the asteroid rotates around†to face the Sun, it would reflect the light and give a slight push, away from the Sun.† By the way I don't think it was an intern (or worse) who thought this up. The Gizmodo article says that it came from Dr.†Michael Moreau, NASA's OSIR... [More]
Comment icon #7 Posted by paperdyer 4 years ago
I see issues with the paint and powder plan.† The paint formulation would need to be able to be a liquid, or at least a paste in the cold of space.† On the powder plan, doesn't that depend on the asteroid have enough of a gravity field that the powder just doesn't float away?
Comment icon #8 Posted by bison 4 years ago
With a slow enough impact, most of the powder should probably fall back onto the surface.†(no atmosphere to keep it suspended.). The low gravity could allow it to spread widely, even from a fairly low energy impact.† I doubt that any of this will be necessary, where asteroid Bennu is concerned. The odds of an impact with Earth are currently about 1 in 2700. In the past, the odds of one or another near Earth asteroid striking Earth have increased, the longer the object's orbit was studied.†There are a great many ways an asteroid could†move, and most of them don't pass†very†near the Earth.† Thin... [More]
Comment icon #9 Posted by Hankenhunter 4 years ago
I personally like the solar sail idea. Let the sun do all the work. 2nd would be some type of cluster thrusters.† Hank
Comment icon #10 Posted by Merc14 4 years ago
Cluster thrusters?
Comment icon #11 Posted by Hankenhunter 4 years ago
Some thing I thought of a while back. Auto rock bolt anchored pocket thruster packs†attached at key points on the rock. I haven't figured out the thrust part yet but I'm thinking of something that could make its own fuel once anchored. Ya, I know it's a bit out there but dare to dream. If ice was available on the rock it would be easier. It's the solid nickel and iron ones that keep me running into a wall. Hank †
Comment icon #12 Posted by Peter B 4 years ago
You are a negative nelly, aren't you. Most of the issues you describe don't seem terribly hard to resolve. 1. Launching hundreds or even thousands of gallons? Well, I think powder would work better, but the mass wouldn't be a major issue. Consider that the Falcon Heavy can launch over 16 tons to Mars, so given the location of the asteroid, that means 16 tons could be sent there too. Assuming only half the spacecraft is "paint" (of whatever sort), that's 8 tons, which is over 2000 of your weird American gallons. So we already have the launch capacity with a single rocket. 2. Have some kind of r... [More]
Comment icon #13 Posted by Peter B 4 years ago
Actually, another powder dispersal system might be as simple as landing a device on the surface. It consists of a large container of white powder and a low-powered gas blower aimed at the pile from above. After landing, the container opens up and the powder collapses slowly into a low heap. Then you fire up the gas blower, which would disperse the powder in all directions. The effect is intended to mimic the effect of the Apollo lunar module descent engines, which did a very good job of blowing away dust particles directly underneath. Given Bennu's extremely low gravity, it wouldn't take much ... [More]


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