Attaching a Sunshade to an Asteroid Could Be Innovative Approach to Slow Down Climate Change, Scientists Suggest

Climate Change is one of the most impactful disasters affecting billions of people across the globe. Scientists have discovered that climate change is heating up our planet and the effect seems to cause extreme weather conditions on Earth this year. Hence researchers are seriously finding possible solutions to reduce its effects on Earth.

While many scientists are thinking of different solutions, a researcher at the University of Hawai’i is suggesting the creation of a massive solar shade in space. This giant shade will be massive enough to block a huge portion of sunlight reaching Earth, thereby countering climate change.

How The Scientist Suggests that We Could Counter Climate Change With this innovative approach

The idea of attaching a sunshade to an asteroid to counter climate may appear like science fiction to many. However, the science behind this futuristic idea is quite fascinating. This method of mitigating climate change was first introduced in the early 1920s as a unique means of climate engineering.

However, engineers are recently proposing the use of solar sails and sunshades as multipurpose technology to cover one side of the Earth and possibly create a means of capturing sunlight for solar power. Astronomer István Szapudi, a scientist from the University of Hawai’i revealed that tethering a sunshade to an asteroid could be an applicable design that can be developed within this decade. He revealed that the design will be based on the regular experience of engineers.

“In Hawai’i, many use an umbrella to block the sunlight as they walk about during the day,” said Szapudi. “I was thinking, could we do the same for Earth and thereby mitigate the impending catastrophe of climate change?”

How the Sunshade can counter Sunlight to Mitigate Climate Change and Global Warming

An artist’s representation for a proposed sunshade tethered to an asteroid. Credit: Brooks Bays/UH Institute for Astronomy

Engineers can create a massive Sunshade that is huge enough to reduce the effect of sunlight on Earth. However, the job will need a partly massive installation in space. The engineers have to make the Sunshade to balance gravitational forces and also resist solar radiation pressure as it operates in space. Astronomer Szapudi revealed that the Sunshade will be made with lightweight materials and attached to a massive object and an asteroid is the best option.

The scientist noted that the asteroid would move towards the sunward side of the massive sunshade. The mass of the space rock would help to lower the weight and mass of the shield in space. Szapudi said that this system would commence operation to lower solar radiation by 1.7%. Scientists believed that this method can theoretically reduce the effect of climate change on Earth.

Szapudi noted in his paper that the system would be named a Solar Radiation Management (SRM) system. It will be placed on the L1 Lagrange point between Earth and the Sun. The researcher noted that space agencies could think of stability by using several smaller shields instead of one massive shield. A firm substructure would be used in tethering each smaller shield and possibly counterweighting the asteroid.

Szapudi’s paper also suggests that there will be a need to maintain the stability of the entire system and conduct fuel-free orbital maintenance. Hence, if we can theoretically implement this system before the end of this decade, humanity will be a step towards mitigating climate change.

Can Space Agencies Possibly Deploy this Futuristic Idea

Any space agency looking towards implementing this idea of reducing solar radiation should be prepared to face several challenges. Making the sunshade with lightweight materials would not prevent it from weighing about 3.5 million tons. Currently, the launch capabilities of space agencies are only about 35,000 tons.

Hence, designing a single massive shield to be launched may be challenging in this era. However, it could be possible to make it in the future with lighter materials that space agencies could launch without much worry. Since the counterweight is an asteroid, it implies that one major challenge to implement this approach is already solved by nature.

However, space agencies will still have to face the challenge of locating and moving a target asteroid into the L1 Lagrange point, which is a stable orbit between Earth and the Sun. But there are solutions to this challenge. The work crew can either attach the shield on an asteroid naturally captured into an orbit around the Earth or deploy an artificially applied force in moving the asteroid to a point where it will be needed for the implementation of the system.

The lack of abundant strong tether materials to develop this system is also another challenge space agencies will encounter. However, the technologies required to bring this futuristic idea into reality are not far-fetched, unlike space elevators. The tethers that will connect the sunshades to the counterweights can be made with graphene. And It is becoming cheaper in recent times.

In fact, a square meter of graphene is sold for about $100 recently. The price could become more affordable in the next decade as graphene could be sold for $1/square meter. The launch cost will also continue to decrease as well.

How the Author revealed that we would get a Sunshade

Artistic impression of near-Earth asteroids providing an anchor for a sunshade Map credit NASA

Once the tethers are available, the next challenge will be the development of Sunshade. However, Szapudi, the author behind this idea suggested a means of getting a shield for the job.

“Depending on the parallel and intertwined development of graphene, tether, and orbital technologies, a tethered shield might initially be faster and cheaper to realize than a heavier structure satisfying the McInnes bound,” Szapudi suggests. “Nevertheless, the latter might eventually serve as a solar energy source for Earth or solar system exploration.”

The development of solar shields will take some time to accomplish. However, Szapudi has remained hopeful about the future of this technology in mitigating climate change and protecting humans from the hazardous impact of global warming. The author suggests that this method can be deployed if other approaches to countering climate change fail.

Conclusion

Astronomer István Szapudi, a scientist from the University of Hawai’i suggests that humans can fight climate change by shading the sun with a massive shield tethered to an asteroid. This system will be placed in the L1 Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun. Currently, the lighter-weight materials to build this system is not readily available. However, scientists are suggesting that we are far from bringing this technology into reality. What do you think about this innovative approach to counter climate change?

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