How a near-earth asteroid can help fight climate change

The current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are well par the considered safe mark of 350ppm causing all kinds of changes in the normal climate cycle of our planet. While environmentalists are working hard to encourage and educate consumers and industries about the possible effects of greenhouse gases, there are some scientists who are working on ways by which we can buy more time to solve the problems. These large scale engineering projects, commonly called geoengineering, aim to change the conditions mostly by reducing the amount of incident sunlight. We have reported about some of the most ingenious geoengineering proposals in the past too and today we have another similar solution from a team of Scottish scientists who are proposing an out of the world solution to protect the planet from an environmental catastrophe.

The team in Scotland is suggesting the use of an asteroid to create a giant dust cloud in space, which can act as a sunshade for the Earth. Another proposal on the same lines aimed to shade the Earth from the sun using giant mirrors in space, which could reflect sunshine back to where it came from. However, the cost of launching mirrors on that scale to space, is definitely not viable for the global economy. The Scottish team’s idea is to place an asteroid at Lagrange Point L1, a site in space where the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Earth cancel each other out.

The plan is to outfit an asteroid with a “mass-driver”, a machine consisting of electromagnets that could hurl asteroid matter away from the rock, creating a plume of sun-shielding asteroid dust. The research team believes that the largest near-earth asteroid, 1036 Ganymed, could maintain the dust cloud enough to block 6.58 percent of solar radiation, enough to cool our planet. The cloud of dust will be about five million-billion kilograms in mass and about 1600 miles wide.

Asteroids have always been believed as one of the biggest space-based threats to the Earth and humanity and the plan of using one of the biggest near-Earth asteroids as a savior doesn’t seem like a cake walk. With current technology, it is not easy to push an asteroid the size of Ganymed to the desired location in space and using a machine that cannot actually be previously tested to spew out dust seems a futuristic, if not entirely impossible, task. Still if the research team comes up with an equally ingenious way to capture the asteroid, push it to the Lagrange Point L1 and fit it with a machine that cannot be tested, there isn’t really a way to control the amount of mass that will be ejected from the asteroid. Too less and it’s not effective, too much and we’re too cold. Still if the best conditions are maintained, the effectiveness of the asteroid dust will dilute over time as CO2 concentrations will rise and the cloud will disperse naturally.

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