From the overstuffed “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” file cabinet in the “Don’t Scientists Ever Watch Movies?” drawer comes this story from Iran – an astrophysicist concerned about climate change has devised a plan to change Earth’s orbit with asteroids that will swing it farther away from the Sun, thereby cooling it off. All together now: “Hasn’t he seen ‘Don’t Look Up’?”
“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.”
The preprint paper “Gravity-Assist as a Solution to Save Earth from Global Warming” by astrophysicist Sohrab Rahvar of Iran’s Sharif University sounds so simple (just four pages are needed), elegant and possible (he includes the mathematical formulas he used) that one might be inclined to ignore the screams of “Don’t let him do it!” in various languages coming from around the world. While this “gravitational scattering” sounds more like scientific treatise on billiards (Rahvar himself calls it “gravitational billiards”), Rahvar is actually building upon previous research by Friedrich Zander, a German pioneer of rocketry and spaceflight in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union (how many red flags did you count?) and Yuri Kondratyuk (real name Aleksandr Ignatyevich Shargei), a Ukrainian and Soviet engineer and pioneer of astronautics and spaceflight who developed the first known lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) concept for spaceflights to and from the Moon – the concept became reality with the Apollo program and most interplanetary probes. If it works so well for them, can it work just as well for Rahvar’s Earth-moving plan?
“All you have to do is strap a chemical rocket to an asteroid or comet and fire it at just the right time. It is basic rocket science.”
In 2001, Dr. Greg Laughlin of the NASA Ames Research Center in California proposed a similar plan (he wanted to extend Earth’s life by six billion years) using conventional rockets attached to an asteroid to push or pull it to the sweet spot of “gravitational scattering.” While feasible, any slight miscalculation could cause the rocket to push the asteroid at Earth and create a “Don’t Look Up” scenario. Rahvar, as noted, is more elegant and modern – he proposes attaching solar sails to select giant asteroids between Mars and Jupiter to slow their own orbits enough to force them to succumb to the Sun’s gravity and streak towards it. this would be a precisely calculated path causing the to pass extremely close to Earth, thus pulling the planet away from the Sun into a farther and thus cooler orbit.
"For instance, in order to decrease the Earth's temperature to one degree, we need to move it away from the sun in the order of 150,000 miles. The result would be a fainter sun in the sky and a decrease in the Earth's temperature."
What could possibly go wrong? Well, we don’t really know all of the other problems that might occur with a dimmer sun and cooler planet. It will take a lot of giant asteroids – Rahvar estimates that one 1,010 kg asteroid would need 70 years to move the Earth 150,000 miles from the Sun. Do we have that kind of time to wait? Then there are all of the computers and satellites which use the old orbit for calculations. What will this do to GPS? Will it push Earth into an entirely different path of killer asteroids that NASA’s algorithm isn’t designed to detect?
Someone call Sohrab Rahvar and invite him over for some apocalyptic movie binging.