How Asteroids Could Help Stop Global Warming

How Asteroids Could Help Stop Global WarmingIt’s easy to think of asteroids as these giant harbingers of death flying through space at extreme speeds before eventually slamming into the side of a planet. They are, after all, quite dangerous in their natural state.

What if I were to tell you that there was a way that these giant rocks could be used to combat global warming? It sounds silly at first, but a dust cloud left behind by an asteroid could theoretically act as a bit of a sunshade between us and the sun.

As the average temperature of Earth continues to rise, finding a way to reverse the trend has been a task shared by scientists all over the world. Carbon dioxide level reduction is crucial to the reduction of the greenhouse effect, but many scientists believe it’s possible to reduce the average temperature enough to cancel out current warming trends from space.

One theory includes the use of reflective mirrors, which would need to be substantially large and expensive. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much efficiency in this plan as it would mean creating and launching objects that would be many times larger than anything we currently have in low-Earth orbit.

Perhaps a little more practical is a plan recently unveiled by scientists from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. Their plan is to bring a giant, near-Earth asteroid to a point between the Earth and the sun that is gravitationally neutral. Essentially, it’s a place where gravitational forces between the two masses cancel out.

Asteroid dust could be the answer to fighting global warming while we here on Earth attempt to find a more permanent solution.

Current predictions from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate that the Earth will warm by an additional 2 to 11.5 degrees by the year 2100. That might not sound like much, but even a single degree of difference can melt significant amounts of permafrost and provoke a number of different responses from the environment. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and, it is believed, earthquakes are just some of the forces of nature unleashed by temperature extremes and shifts on either side of the scale.

How Does This Crazy Idea Work?

Everything has a gravitational pull about it, and a large enough asteroid could act as an anchor for a dust cloud existing in space. In the early stages of our solar system, gas and dust were plentiful. Our planets are the result of billions of masses of rock colliding together and forming larger masses, which are known as planets today. Billions of years passed by and the majority of these asteroids slammed into the side of larger planets.

There are still some big chunks of rock out in space, and the closest one to us that we know of is 1036 Ganymed, which scientists estimate has the potential for generating and anchoring a dust cloud capable of blocking out over 6% of the sun’s radiation to Earth. Essentially, the dust cloud would act like leaves on a tree, shading us from the sun.

According to reports, the plan involves the use of a “mass driver,” which uses electromagnets to project the asteroid to the point of neutral gravitational pull (referred to as the L1 point). The driver would also project matter from the asteroid to form a more abundant dust cloud.

It’s important to remember that ideas like these take time to plan and implement. Money has to be invested by a leading government agency, and that means approval by politicians. Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t have a lot of profit involved, so the private sector isn’t likely to provide the solution.

What do you think? Could this be a great step in the right direction, or a temporary solution to a long-term problem?

Image: NASA

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Jim

    Respectfully I do not see any advantage to throwing massive sums of money at a theory and expect it to work. Facts, not theory…I am pretty tired of all these theories and not many of any at all are getting proved out. I see it as a temporary fix to a long term problem. The world will become bankrupt due to science and theories. Choose very carefully which path to follow for the end may be abrupt and unsatisfactory.

  • Ty

    Step 1 – recognize that you have a problem. Well, some people have recognized that there is a problem, and I’m glad that there are some smart people trying to figure out what we might do about it. I suppose that there are those who see the problem and think “well we just need to stop ourselves from being so self-destructive.” Great, but that’s difficult enough when you’re talking about a single person dealing with a single self-destructive impulse (e.g. substance abuse). Now we’re talking about changing the way a whole world of people think, work and operate. Now comes the realization that this may not be possible, or at the very least, that it may not come fully-formed or quickly enough. So now we need external solutions (external to us – as people, as societies – and independent of the way we currently operate) that can help to mitigate the damage being inflicted so that we can get some breathing room. I don’t know if this could be one of those external solutions, but at least it’s being thought about and discussed. I think that’s great.

    I may not be getting what Jim was trying to say in his comment, but it came off as anti-science to me, which is a trend in the US that has me very worried. “The world will become bankrupt due to science and theories.” – huh? Technology may sometimes be a two-edged sword, but I’m not sure what to think of this statement. Science and theories are neutral things. People are not. We bring our own baggage to the table. Our emotional, often irrational responses, fueled by fear, greed, envy, pride and the like are a much clearer cause of any decline we may experience than the pursuit of scientific inquiry. Being skeptical – great. Asking questions – great. A bit of caution – great. “Science bad” … ? That I don’t get.