Have you ever imagined humans living in an asteroid city in the future? This future may appear far-fetched to many people. However, scientists are already seeing the possibilities of humans attaining such a milestone in the near future. How did the physicists come up with the idea? Can we ever build a city on an asteroid in the future? Continue reading to find out.
How Scientists came up with the plan to build a city on an asteroid
While the concept of building a city on an asteroid may appear unachievable, scientists are theoretically exploring the possibility of constructing an asteroid city for human civilization. A team of scientists conducted a study at the University of Rochester and proposed a plan to build an asteroid city in the future.
“Our paper lives on the edge of science and science fiction,” University of Rochester professor of physics and astronomy Adam Frank said. “We’re taking a science fiction idea that has been very popular recently — in TV shows like Amazon’s The Expanse — and offering a new path for using an asteroid to build a city in space.”
Frank is part of the team of scientists that participated in this study. Other participants of this study include Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen Professors of Physics and Astronomy, and Peter Miklavčič, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering and the paper’s first author. If you basically look at this idea, you will think that it will only be explored in science fiction movies. However, Billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are already envisioning the future of humans living in space settlements in the future.
In the 1970s, physicist Gerard O’Neill developed the concept of the O’Neill cylinder as a futuristic space habitat with artificial gravity. Gerard’s idea was one of the most popular concepts of space habitats explored by scientists when they envision the future of humans living in space cities.
However, not everyone supports the idea of the O’Neill cylinders because of their limitation. One of the major challenges humans will encounter while building the O’Neill cylinders is transporting the building materials into space. The labor cost is also another great limitation that will prevent any agency from proceeding with the construction of that futuristic project.
To find a suitable solution to all these challenges, scientists are proposing the idea of building an asteroid city to save cost and take advantage of the floating space rock. The physicists that participated in this study revealed that building on asteroids will make them spin and keep them afloat. Frank further revealed the great benefit humans will gain from building a city on an asteroid.
“All those flying mountains whirling around the sun might provide a faster, cheaper, and more effective path to space cities,” Frank said. Their abundance and rock layer, which could protect from space radiation, further make an asteroid city an attractive candidate.
Limitations Facing this New Study
While this new study appears quite fascinating, scientists discovered a challenge when they further analyze the math of the study. The problem discovered has to do with the asteroids. The researchers realized that the asteroids will possibly break into smaller pieces even before humans complete the project.
This is because most asteroids are a chunk of space rocks and leftovers of the sun and planets. Since they are not assembled piles of rocks, they may not stand the chance to hold the city in one piece.
The solution to this Problem
Scientists will always find their way around every problem. The researchers that participated in this study are suggesting using a giant, flexible, and lightweight mesh bag made from carbon nanofibers to build the asteroid city. However, the team of researchers did not arrive at this solution immediately.
They focused on finding a solution to the problem while observing the lockdown for COVID-19 in 2020. The researchers made several considerations before arriving at a satisfactory conclusion on how the asteroid city should be. They concluded math on different forces and materials needed for the construction of an asteroid city in space.
After a series of attempts, they concluded on using a giant, flexible, and lightweight mesh bag for the construction of this asteroid city. This is because mesh bags made from carbon nanofibers with these qualities will have great strength to protect the asteroid city from destruction. The carbon nanofibers which will be used to make the mesh bag will be made to be only a few atoms in diameter with great strength.
“This project started as just a way for physicists and engineers to blow off steam, set aside worldly stresses for a while, and imagine something crazy,” Miklavčič, the study’s first author, said.
Just like Frank and others, Miklavčič strongly believed that the outcome of their envisioned proposed city will set a new path of growth for human civilization. While talking about the material that will be used to build the asteroid city, Miklavčič revealed.
“A cylindrical containment bag constructed from carbon nanotubes would be extremely light relative to the mass of the asteroid rubble and the habitat, yet strong enough to hold everything together,” Miklavčič said. “And carbon nanotubes are currently being developed in labs around the world with an eye to scale.”
How The Asteroid City Will be Built
Scientists revealed that the asteroid city will be constructed following this creative approach. Firstly, the asteroid will be made to spin to create artificial gravity. The mesh bag will be implemented in the spinning asteroid to create a layer of rock thick enough to protect future occupants of this city from space radiation. Other futuristic technologies will be added to this city to make it suitable and habitable for its occupants.
“Based on our calculations, a 300-meter-diameter asteroid just a few football fields across could be expanded into a cylindrical space habitat with about 22 square miles of living area,” Frank said. “That’s roughly the size of Manhattan. Our paper lives on the edge of science and science fiction.” He added
The researchers published their study in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.
“The idea of asteroid cities might seem too distant until you realize that in 1900 no one had ever flown in an airplane, yet right this minute thousands of people are sitting comfortably in chairs as they hurdle at hundreds of miles an hour, miles above the ground,” Frank said. “Space cities might seem like a fantasy now, but history shows that a century or so of technological progress can make impossible things possible,” He added.
Even though we are still decades away from bringing this futuristic idea into reality, one could see the possibility of human civilization attaining such a milestone in the future. What do you think about this futuristic project?