Saturday, 1 June 2013

Asteroid management – interplanetary landfill

Asteroid management – interplanetary landfill

The recent close encounter with Asteroid 1998 QE2 has drawn attention to the long term need to manage the threat to Earth posed by these objects.
Since the realisation that an asteroid was probably responsible for a mass extinction event that caused the dinosaurs to become extinct, some consideration has been given to the means of diverting Near Earth Objects (NEOs) away from a future collision with earth.

NEO programme.

The possibility of altering the orbits of material that threatens the continuation of civilisation on Earth offers the intriguing possibility that putative extra terrestrial cultures, not much more advanced that ours, are already doing so. If a civilisation that is significantly more advanced than ours were to engage in a long term asteroid management what would they do with them? Perhaps instead of continuing with an interplanetary juggling act, civilisation might decide to consolidate the managed material into one large body that would enter an orbit away from their own home planet. Although the unplanned addition of a new planet to a star would potentially destabilise the orbits of existing planets it has recently been discovered that some solar systems can have empty ‘slots’ into which a new body could be safely inserted.

New Scientist

The Astrophysical Journal

The energy to undertake such a large scale engineering project would depend on the successful ‘taming’ of thermonuclear fusion. The current progress with the ITER project in France is some years away from demonstrating this possibility.

But assuming that controlled thermonuclear fusion is achievable there is the intriguing possibility that that some of the extra solar planetary systems currently being detected contain artificial planets that are in effect landfill dumps for unwanted material that previously threatened the wellbeing of an extra terrestrial civilisation. It might be easier to engage in this scale of engineering than the creation of an alternative habitat away from the home planet. The processes that could make it possible (thermonuclear fusion, rocket propulsion) are currently better understood that the ecological processes that keep our planet alive. Paradoxically, the control of thermonuclear fusion might be simpler than micromanaging a replica earth.