If I told you that an MIT student was going to save the world by shooting a paintball gun at a giant asteroid, you’d probably imagine that I was talking about the plot of a badly budgeted Revenge-of-the-Nerds action thriller. But, in fact, this is an actual plan to save the world should an asteroid be hurtling straight towards it.
The key here is not the paintball gun, per se, but the contents of its pellets.
Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says if timed just right, pellets full of paint powder, launched in two rounds from a spacecraft at relatively close distance, would cover the front and back of an asteroid, more than doubling its reflectivity, or albedo. The initial force from the pellets would bump an asteroid off course; over time, the sun’s photons would deflect the asteroid even more.
Even though you’d need 20 years’ notice to put the plan into effect, this idea is actually one of the best ones out there for asteroid-bumping. It won a U.N. competition seeking strategies to “Move an Asteroid,” plus it would make a great terrible movie — what else could you want out of an asteroid destruction scheme? We’re betting the movie version will star the cast of The Big Bang Theory as the guys who figure this all out and Ashton Kutcher as the guy who gets to shoot the actual paintballs.