NASA’s Asteroid Deflection Worked! – Help With Global Warming? 

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NASA’s Asteroid Deflection Worked! – Help With Global Warming? Science Paper Shows How the Cosmic Nudge Strategy Might Succeed

NASA’s Asteroid Deflection Worked

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 12, 2022) – NASA has just reported that its test to determine whether it could deflect an asteroid surpassed expectations.

Originally expected to reduce the asteroid’s orbit by only 73 seconds, the deliberate collision increased the orbital period by an astonishing period of 32 minutes.- giving it a boost more than 25 times as powerful as scientists had hoped for.

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This adds plausibility to the suggestion of an astronomer, and also by an MIT-trained engineer with two U.S. patents, that deflecting asteroids might help to change Earth's orbit enough - a scant 0.3% - to counteract global warming, especially after recent calculations in a new paper by a physicist showed more precisely how such a plan could operate.

Although the goal of this experiment in cosmic nudging was to test one method for dealing with a possible situation in which an asteroid might endanger the Earth, it has helped prove our ability to alter the trajectory of objects in space.

Something which might even lead to further consideration of a radical outside-the-box tactic for fighting global warming without radical reductions in greenhouse gases, says Professor John Banzhaf of George Washington University, an MIT graduate and a Fellow of the World Technology Network with two U.S. patents to his name.

Banzhaf showed how increasing Earth's orbit by a mere 0.3% might balance the current global warming crisis caused by the release of greenhouse gasses.

He also suggested several techniques which might be used - especially if controllable energy generation from nuclear fusion proves to be possible - to achieve this tiny change in Earth's orbit, including the well-known and previously utilized "slingshot" technique utilizing deflected asteroids.

Combating Climate Change

Noting that conventional plans for combating climate change do not seem to be making much headway as the warming situation continues to get worse, renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said of the concept that:

"It sounds a little crazy but what he's speaking of is what we call geoengineering. . . . So if he wants to think of a geoengineering idea that could help [global warming], I don't have a problem with that, even if it's a little out there."

Now a new scientific paper by a physicist suggests how this orbital change could be accomplished. Entitled "Gravity-Assist as a Solution to Save Earth from Global Warming": it says:

"We propose an alternative method of using the gravity-assist by the asteroids to increase the orbital distance of the Earth from the Sun.

We can manipulate the orbit of asteroids in the asteroid belt by solar sailing and propulsion engines to guide them towards the Mars orbit and a gravitational scattering can put asteroids in a favorable direction to provide an energy loss scattering from the Earth.

The result would be increasing the orbital distance of the earth and consequently cooling down the Earth’s temperature." [emphasis added]

More specifically, the paper shows how this could be accomplished within a reasonable time frame:

"We proposed the solar-sail as the braking tool to decrease the orbit of the asteroids from the asteroid belt orbit to the Mars orbit. The time scale to lower the orbit is about 70 yrs for a 1010 kg mass asteroid.

Using the installed propulsion jet engines on the asteroids will decrease this time scale and enable us to do the asteroid maneuvering for a larger number of asteroids.

This project can enable us to change the earth’s orbit and cool down its temperature by decreasing the energy flux of the sun received by the earth. This project could be feasible for the future technology on earth." [emphasis added]

Below, in more detail, is Banzhaf's original proposal from 2019 to use astronomical engineering - cosmic nudging - to fight global warming; a concept now being widely discussed, including even an article in Scientific American magazine.

The New York Times has reported that, as the effects of climate change become more devastating, and the success of massive cooperative global efforts to sufficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions becomes less likely.

Some scientists are proposing - as a completely outside-the-box tactic at least worth studying - a strategy of solar geoengineering in which massive changes in the atmosphere would reflect more of the sun's rays back into space. But many are calling the concept a dangerous and illusory fix.

As another outside-the-box idea which might also be worth at least some consideration and analysis, a well known scientist has suggested a cosmic alternative to fight global warming - one which does not require any reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide or methane, nor even difficult-to-enforce widespread international cooperation - and which might even cost less than some of the drastic emission restrictions now being considered, suggests Banzhaf.

Increasing The Earth's Orbit

The basic concept was originally suggested by Matteo Ceriotti, Lecturer in Space Systems Engineering at the University of Glasgow, and involves very substantially increasing the Earth's orbit to reduce the amount of solar energy reaching its surface when the sun, billions of years from now, expands and becomes much hotter.

While Ceriotti's proposal was addressed to a problem still billions of years in the future when Earth would become unbearably hot, the basic concepts involved in changing a planet's orbit are well known. Indeed, the science fiction film "The Wandering Earth" dramatizes - although in an unrealistic and cinematic-type fashion - one such attempt.

Ceriotti admits that his proposal, aimed at moving the Earth from its current orbit to one a full 50% further from the sun [from about 93 million miles to 139 million miles, a increase of approximately 46 million miles], similar to Mars', while theoretically possible, is clearly not feasible with today's technology.

However, Banzhaf notes that providing a remedy for the more immediate problems of gradual global warming, on a time scale now being considered by many governments and scientific bodies, would require a much less drastic change in the earth's orbit which might in the near future become feasible, especially considering the huge costs and major modifications in life style that the alternative of reducing carbon emissions appears to entail.

What Will Happen If The Earth Gets Slightly Warmer

The recent and very important UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report analyzed what will happen when the Earth gets even slightly warmer than pre-industrial levels.

The UN put the cost of a mere 1.5°C [2.7°F] increase in temperature at $54 trillion in today's dollars, a 2.0°C [3.6°F] increase at $69 trillion, and a 3.7°C [6.7°F] increase at a stunning $551 trillion. To put these costs into context, the latter figure represents more than all the wealth now existing in the entire world.

According to NASA, Earth's global temperature in 2013 averaged 14.6°C [57.3°F], or 287.75°K on the Kelvin scale, where 0°K is absolute zero. Thus, an additional 1.5 degrees on the Kelvin scale would mean an increase in absolute average temperature of only about 0.5% [from 287.7K to 289.2K].

Professor Banzhaf points out that the amount of sunlight (heating energy) falling on the surface of a planet is roughly inversely proportional not to its distance from the sun, but rather to the square of its distance from the sun.

Thus, for example, moving a hypothetical planet in an orbit originally 50 million miles from the sun to one twice as far [100 million miles] away would cause the amount of energy falling on its surface to be only one fourth - not one half - as great.

Using these figures, it appears that it would be necessary to increase the average distance of the Earth from the sun by only about 0.3% [290,000 out of about 93,000,000 miles] to reduce the heat energy equivalent, which various surfaces on the planet are now receiving, by 1.5°C or 1.5°K.

Technological Limitations

While this represents only a very rough approximation, it does suggest that changing the orbit by a relatively minute amount might be possible using existing technology, and/or new technology (e.g. energy from nuclear fusion) likely to be perfected in a few years if such efforts can be funded by hundreds of billions of dollars provided by major governments, and involve the same extraordinary innovative planning and research of the type used to permit men to live in space and land on the moon.

Ceriotti and others have noted that there are many well known ways to change the orbits of bodies in space, and some have actually been used to help redirect interplanetary probes, as well as studied just in case it ever becomes necessary to deflect an asteroid from getting so close to the Earth as to cause serious problems.

These alternative methods for changing orbits, some of which appear to be equally applicable (though on a much larger scale) to possibly nudging the Earth into a slightly more distant [by 0.3%] orbit, include:

  • employing an electric thruster, and more specifically an ion drive, which works by firing out a stream of charged particles that propel a body in the opposite direction;
  • using a focused light beam, such as a laser, to change the Earth’s velocity;
  • constructing a huge solar sail floating in space near the Earth; or
  • utilizing a gravitational sling shot; a well-known technique for two bodies to exchange momentum and change their velocities with a close passage; a tactic used several times successfully to propel spacecraft.

Some suggest that nudging large asteroids into new orbits, which could then cause a cumulative sling shot effect on the earth over many years, might be the most feasible alternative - both technologically and economically - in the near future.

Indeed, says Banzhaf, it might be possible to exploit so-called "Δv leveraging" in which a body such as a large asteroid can be nudged slightly out of its orbit and, as a result, years later, could swing past the Earth, providing a much larger impulse to increase Earth's orbit by a tiny amount.

Nudging Asteroids

In theory, and perhaps maybe even in practice, large asteroids could be nudged out of their current orbits, and into new ones in a position to help sling shot Earth, by techniques such as a nuclear blast on the asteroid’s surface, having an unmanned spacecraft collide with an asteroid at high velocity which NASA's test involved, using solar sails, or a combination of methods.

Other techniques for nudging asteroids into new orbits include providing a continuous push over a considerable period of time by a space “tugboat” connected to its surface, or by a spacecraft hovering nearby.

While Professor Banzhaf is certainly not proposing that we abandon plans to limit greenhouse gases in favor of a cosmic nudge strategy, and recognizing that all these orbit-changing possibilities would be enormously expensive.

He does suggest that this novel outside-the-box idea be at least considered and seriously evaluated, and compared to the huge economic costs and major lifestyle changes required to stop global warming by slashing the emission of greenhouse gases, or by using massive solar geoengineering.

During a recent subcommittee hearing, Congressman Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, seemed to propose that one way to fight climate change would be to alter the Earth's orbit around the sun.

Responding to Gohmert's proposal, Congressman Ted Lieu tweeted, obviously tongue in cheek, that he would introduce a bipartisan resolution asking Captain Marvel to help since "she can alter planetary orbits with her superpowers."

But Professor Banzhaf suggests that a more practical and realistic step might be for Gohmert and/or Lieu to formally ask the Congressional Research Service, NASA, or some other appropriate body to report on whether a small (approximately 0.3%) increase in the Earth's orbit would tend to counterbalance current global warming.

And, if so, how the estimated expense of producing that orbital change compares with the costs (monetary and otherwise) of fighting climate change by substantially reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted worldwide.

If science can not only guide a vending-machine-sized spacecraft traveling at 14,000 mph to hit a rapidly moving asteroid only 525 foot wide many millions of miles away, but actually determine to the nearest hundredth of a second the precise time of impact [7:14:23 PM Eastern Time], it should be able to determine whether the concept of altering the Earth's orbit by less than half a percent to fight global warming is worth any further study, argues Banzhaf.