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article image'Spaceballs,' a possibly viable defense against asteroids

By Can Tran     Oct 27, 2012 in Science
MIT graduate student Sung Wook Paek won the 2012 Move An Asteroid contest by introducing a plan to coat an asteroid in light-colored paint pellets as a means to move it away from Earth.
The earth can be devastated and all living things let alone humanity can be wiped out by a number of ways such as global warming, nuclear war, a viral outbreak, invaders from outer space, or even an asteroid. In the case of an asteroid, perhaps humanity should not have to worry about that as a possible method of getting killed.
One method has been proposed by Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate student Sung Wook Paek. Paek is a student of MIT's AeroAstro program. He is the 2012 winner of the annual “Move An Asteroid” competition by Space Generation Advisory Council (SCAC) which is associated with the UN Programme on Space Applications.
His method utilizes the philosophy behind Occam's Razor, which is the rule of thumb in which many scientists use.
Paek's method does not come out of anything you see out of the usual shows, movies, and so forth when it comes to dealing with incoming asteroids. However, Paek's method introduces something that's never even been heard of until now. Under Paek's plan, there are no uses of explosives or lasers; instead, paint pellets. But, the paint pellets would be of a larger size.
Most might laugh off this method and find it preposterous; but, one should at least listen to Paek's plan. There would be two volleys of of paint pellets. The first volley would cover the first half of the asteroid; then, once the other side comes into view, it would receive a coating of paint from the second volley.
However, it is important that the color of the paint is light colored. As the asteroid is painted in a bright color, the sun would make it brighter. With assistance of the sun's radiation, the asteroid would be knocked off course. In this respect, there is no involvement of doing anything to destroy the oncoming asteroid.
This is similar to the philosophy of “soft-style” martial arts. Instead of trying to defend with force, you defend by moving off the line of attack. Under Paek's plan, the large sized paint pellets would fall under that same instance. Instead of trying to blow up the asteroid, the paint pellets would assist and knocking it off course.
It reflects upon the philosophy of Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in which strength can be overcome with leverage and proper technique. The leverage would come from the sun's radiation while the proper technique would involve the use of the paint pellets.
Furthermore, this will utilize Newton's Third Law of Motion.
However, Paek is not the only person to use a similar method. The other one is Mary D'Souza, a PhD student who won the same prize back in 2008. D'Souza is a student at the University of Queensland. Like Paek's plan, D'Souza's plan involves covering up the asteroid. Instead of using paint, D'Souza's plan proposed covering up the asteroid with Mylar film.
The material reflects solar energy. If half the asteroid was covered up in Mylar film, the surface would be reflective.
Paek and D'Souza came up with simple explanations. Keep in mind, simple does not mean easy. Paek and D'Souza both used Apophis as an example. Apophis is supposed to get close to Earth in 2029 and again in 2036. For this to work, it would take time for the necessary amount of solar radiation pressure to build up.
In preparation of Apophis, it seems highly likely that a combination of these plans would have to be implemented together.
More about Asteroid, Asteroid threat, Apophis, apophis asteroid, Science