Chinese Scientists Have Insane Plan To Lasso Asteroids And Bring Them Back To Earth In Blankets

Tuesday, 31 July 2018 - 2:26PM
Weird Science
Solar System
Tuesday, 31 July 2018 - 2:26PM
Chinese Scientists Have Insane Plan To Lasso Asteroids And Bring Them Back To Earth In Blankets
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We thought launching convertibles into space with a David Bowie soundtrack was as crazy as it got.

We were wrong.

A team of astrophysicists just announced plans to lasso an asteroid and bring the whole damn thing back to Earth.

Scientists from the National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences are confident they can pull it off, and they outlined the mission for a roomful of optimists at a recent tech conference in Shenzhen.

Step one: choose your player. Researchers will focus on smaller asteroids "just a few hundred tons," which limits the search to objects approximately 32 feet in diameter (slightly longer than London's iconic double-decker bus).

Once the target is selected, a swarm of robot probes – yes, really – will trap the asteroid in a sort of butterfly net to gently steer it Earthward.

This is where things break down into the fantastic theoretical (No, not before). Objects entering Earth's atmosphere usually incinerate upon descent. To prevent the asteroid from going up in smoke, our hive of robot probes would then need to wrap it in a heat-shielding space blanket that can also slow the asteroid's velocity from 7.7 miles per second (25,200 miles per hour) to a mere 459 feet per second (313 miles per hour – slower than a Boeing 777).



There are many unanswered questions, of course. Namely: How do you safely control where this captured asteroid would land? If it plunges into an ocean (highly likely given the percentage of our planet's surface that is covered with water) the asteroid could be rendered useless. If it lands near a populated area the risk to human life becomes uncomfortably high.

With all these caveats, you may wonder why researchers are so intent on seeing this idea through. Scientist Li Mingtao pointed out that it could be a valuable tool against near-Earth asteroids, redirecting the potentially dangerous ones on to a safer trajectory.

A more likely reason, however, would be the rich deposits of precious metals on-board an asteroid. Psyche 16 – an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter – has been valued at $700 quintillion. The first country to mine an asteroid will have access to sudden and unlimited wealth…

And what started out as one small theoretical experiment presented to a conference full of tech nerds in China could upend the balance of world power.
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