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article imageHow a spot of re-decoration might avert an asteroid collision

By Robert Myles     Feb 23, 2013 in Science
A theoretical solution using a coat of paint could prevent a future near-Earth asteroid attack, according to a student whose novel solution won a 2012 ‘Move an Asteroid’ technical paper competition.
The events of last week, when the previously observed asteroid DA14 brushed at Earth at a mere 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometres) followed by the Chelyabinsk meteor smashing into Russia causing an estimated 1200 injuries, brought in to sharp focus, once again, just how vulnerable life on Earth could be if we should be unlucky enough to bump into an asteroid or large meteor.
The Russian meteor was too small for advance detection but if asteroid DA14 had been on a collision course with Earth, one solution to avert a potentially life extinguishing event might have been to paint it, according to an MIT graduate whose idea won the 2012 Move an Asteroid technical paper competition sponsored by the Unites Nations Space Generation Advisory Council.
Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate student Sung Wook Paek's idea was earlier reported in Digital Journal in an article ''Spaceballs,' a possibly viable defense against asteroids' but now the concept is being taken seriously by NASA and the novel way of preventing a future asteroid taking a pot shot at Earth is now being explored by a Texas A &M aerospace and physics professor.
The initial signs are promising as the math and science involved in such a freshening-up mission seem to be spot on, reports Phys.org.
The asteroid diversion program wouldn’t involve nukes in the style of the movie Deep Impact nor would any drilling experience be required as was the case in Armageddon. Instead, any future mission to divert an asteroid might have vacancies for those with a talent for re-decoration and a penchant for a paintbrush.
The still theoretical process would involve dusting an approaching asteroid threatening Earth with a thin coat of paint, reports Phys.org. By doing so, the reflective qualities of the lump of space debris would be altered. This, in turn, would change the amount of sunlight reflected by an asteroid on an Earthbound trajectory, producing what is known as the Yarkovski effect, so called after a Russian engineer who discovered it in 1902.
As the reflective qualities of the asteroid are changed, the dusk side becomes warmer than the dawn side causing the dusk side to radiate more thermal protons, each with a tiny momentum. These radiating photons act like a rocket thruster and, the theory goes, cause the asteroid to alter course.
In the case of an asteroid far from Earth, if there were early deployment of this paint process, possibly years or even decades before impact, a very small course correction might be all that is required to avoid a catastrophic event.
As to the type of paint used, the end-of-aisle offers in DIY or hardware stores wouldn’t quite fit the bill. Liquid paint would likely explode in space so it’s probable that paint in powdered form would need to be used to give the asteroid a fresh new look.
Dave Hyland, professor of physics and astronomy and also a faculty member in the aerospace engineering department at Texas A&M commenting on Science Daily, said,
"I have to admit the concept does sound strange, but the odds are very high that such a plan would be successful and would be relatively inexpensive. The science behind the theory is sound. We need to test it in space."
According to officials at Texas A & M, NASA is interested in Hyland's idea and has contacted the researcher to discuss a possible space test.
More about Asteroid, Asteroids, Near earth objects, Asteroid collision, life extinguishing event
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