back to article Paintballs proposed as defense against ASTEROID ATTACK

An MIT graduate student has devised a plan to save the world from destruction by an inbound asteroid using a novel weapon: interplanetary paintballs. Sung Wook Paek of the Cambridge, Massachsetts, brainiac academy's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics – affectionately known as AeroAstro – entered his asteroid-deflecting …


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  1. Steve Knox

    But more importantly...

    Can we control the distribution of paint in order to put an image, or logo, on the asteroid?

    Then we can charge some company a modest* advertising fee for the project, which will make it entirely self-funded.

    * Modest relative to most advertising projects, of course.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      He who pays the piper...

      ...chooses the target. Come 2029 the message on Apophis will read "This Earth-impactor proudly sponsored by Aum Shinrikyo"

    2. Anonymous Coward


      Great idea!

      There's even another huge advantage; if the pallet attack fails then we can sue that company for sending an asteroid to us. We already have all the visual evidence we'd need!

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: @Steve

        "...if the pallet attack fails..."

        You reckon it wooden work?

  2. EzJ

    Re. "But more importantly..."

    On the grounds that the asteroid may harbour life forms , I believe it should be afforded the same privacy as we expect. This would rule out any kind of tracking or targeted advertising. Whether or not this would have a positive impact on the end users remains to be seen ;P

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Re. "But more importantly..."

      > afforded the same privacy as we expect.

      So they'd have to opt out before we got there to spray them? That'll work, I'm sure.

      1. vonBureck

        Re: Re. "But more importantly..."

        No different to reading the EULA before opening the packaging it's in, and THAT obviously works.

  3. Winkypop Silver badge

    Interstellar tennis anyone?

    We paint it white, send it on its way.

    Eons later...

    Another race paints it black, to send it on its way (away)

    Eons later...

  4. Rombizio

    A brilliant idea

    Indeed very clever. But between paint balls and a gigantic nuclear warhead I prefer the latter. Right in the middle of the asteroid. Call me crazy, but I rather obliterate something then try to move it when it comes down to my ass being destroyed.

    1. Darryl

      Re: A brilliant idea

      Don't you remember the lessons you learned playing Asteroids? If you blast a giant asteroid, you end up with a whole bunch of smaller, but still deadly ones. And we don't have a hyperspace button...

      1. Antoine Dubuc

        Re: A brilliant idea

        I might be wrong. But if you nuke it down to pieces, the overall surface exposed to sunlight increases, and thus if paint is cheap, the number of available marketing slots available is increased and so in the overall efficiency of the repulsion scheme, doesn't it?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A brilliant idea

        Ah, but 2 smaller rocks burn up in the atmosphere easier than 1 big, and so on. Just cracking the asteroid may be enough. I do not guarantee a nuke could crack a nut that big though.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A brilliant idea

      "...I rather obliterate something THEN try to move it when it comes down to my ass being destroyed.."

      You obliterate it THEN try to move it? Sounds like overkill to me. However I commend your protective feelings towards your donkey. You must really love that animal.

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: A brilliant idea

      > Call me crazy

      You must be the guy with the retarded redneck role (there is one in every Hollywood movie) who comes up with MANLY PLANS that every spectator knows will go haywire and probably kill at least 20% of the likeable protagonists, including the nice young female.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    asteroid rotation

    I was under the assumption that these asteroids rotate and not show one side towards the sun all the time. Even if they are not rotating hitting them slightly off-centre can cause tumbling.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: asteroid rotation

      Tumbling is not allowed in space. It is verboten.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: asteroid rotation

      The paint plan actually takes the rotation into account with TWO volleys, to be fired at intervals where each half of the asteroid is in the sights.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: asteroid rotation

      Did you RTFA?

  6. spork

    MATLAB, not Maple

    MATLAB is the Alpha and the Omega in Aero/Astro (and at MIT in general); I never saw anyone using Maple.

  7. G.H.

    I thouht...

    ... El Reg was supposed to use SI units?

  8. bitten

    5µm? and now a method: spray painting nope; powder coating (30µm ?) nope; gold deposit ... yes, but first we need a stable base.

  9. Christoph

    Not as easy as it looks

    Pretty picture with nice spherical asteroid. Tiny problem, nearly all asteroids are not spherical.

    The small ones likely to endanger us will have very weird shapes - see the various photos from fly-bys.

    That will make it much harder to give them an even coating, and much harder to work out what the effect on the trajectory will be. And the uneven pressure is likely to gradually change the rotation rate and axis which will make the calculations even more difficult.

  10. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    > 2036 visit.

    Implying the US will still exist by then and not have - in a best-case scenario - defederalized and killed its whole nazi bureaucratic pyramid. In the worst case - well, it's 7.3 billion against 300 million.

    1. pepper

      What has your sociapolitical outlook on the U.S. has to do with planetary objects. The hint is name.

    2. Steven Roper
      Thumb Up

      More likely

      by then the USA will have become the next 50 provinces of China.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Paint the asteroid? Maybe in that "Feminine Pink" that was being discussed the other day? Or, if you prefer - and knowing you, you probably do - then either "Masculine Pink" or "Ladyboy Pink".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Paint.

      Any pink will do... we can save the planet and "raise awareness" about breast cancer at the same time!

      1. hplasm
        Thumb Up

        Re: Paint.

        We could cure cancer,and use the publicity to raise awareness of earth-destroying asteroids- the spare money will be up for grabs!

  12. Anonymous John

    Re: It would then take up to 20 years

    I don't like the sound of that. What if it doesn't work for some reason? Say the effect of the paint-balls hitting it, and the effect of the changed albedo cancel out. We need a plan B that could be implemented must faster. Time would be running out.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not use tinfoil chaff + something sticky? Surely that would have a more profound effect on the albedo so you'd need less of it.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Know of a glue that works at near-zero Kelvin?

  14. BlueGreen

    "mass of about 27 gigatons" ?

    Sounds just too high - radius is 225M, 4/3piR^3 and assuming 10tons/M3 (unrealistically heavy) = 477,000,000 tons.

    Maybe the kinetic energy is equivalent to such a TNT equivalent, don't know. Would be ouchy for sure.

  15. The Prevaricator
    Black Helicopters

    re: "mass of about 27 gigatons" ?

    You're forgetting the secret black hole research lab hidden inside Apophis that NASA have conveniently forgotten to tell us about...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A paintball gun *that* capable..

    .. would be an excellent tool for "recalibrating" speed cameras too, I think.

    Not that I want to give anyone ideas, though. Just a theoretical exercise. Honest.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Thunderbirds Siberia

    We need to fire up the cauldrons, obviously.

    (If the hair at 7:39 is of "Earth origin" I'm a kipper.)

  18. The Prevaricator

    re: "mass of about 27 gigatons" ?

    Actually, I do believe the mass should be 27 megatonnes (metric tons, for the decimally challenged among you). <-- lists the mass as 2.7e+10 kg.

    factor of 1000 fail in article.

    C- must do better.

  19. Hyper72

    Feeble nukes

    We don't have any nukes that are capable of breaking up a meteoroid of the size and type we fear, not even close. That's why we try to come up with alternatives. There'll be no blasting or obliterating with our feeble nukes.

    NASA's current plan is to nudge an asteroroid with 6 nukes a few years, or more, before it comes too close.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Feeble nukes

      If we wait until they're meteors, it'll be too late no matter how powerful a weapon we use. Much better to attack it while it's an asteroid.

  20. Geoffrey Swenson

    This probably wouldn't work if the asteriod is spinning.

  21. Scott 2

    Best plan is to land a few powerful rockets on the surface, and if spinning, time a short pulse with each spin thus pushing the thing off course - preferably towards planet Alpha Centauri Bb ( - just in case they plan on invading.

    Hey if we can land an SUV on Mars, a few rockets on a small rock isn't much of a challenge, right?

    1. Robert Heffernan

      I would nudge the thing into an orbit much too close to the surface of the sun. Deal with it for good

      1. Christoph

        It takes a huge amount of shove to nudge it close to the sun - look at the weird path they had to use for the Mercury orbiter. You have to get rid of all that orbital velocity somehow.

    2. Big_Ted

      Re: Hey if we can land an SUV on Mars

      Problem is we would have to land something on it first to find out what it is made of, if its too soft the rockets would just push into it.

      If its iron then is it magnetic and therefore could affect the gyro's etc and leave it being pushed towards us.....

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I am pretty sure we already have landed on an asteroid!

      so it is just scale if we want to land something bigger and more powerful, something like an Orion booster is needed

  22. Inventor of the Marmite Laser

    5 Tons of black and white paint, eigh?

    That, sir, is one HELL of a Banksie

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 5 Tons of black and white paint, eigh?

      Using more advanced paint techniques, slow it, and alter its trajectory so it enters the atmosphere, skips across the Atlantic and river Thames, and rolls harmlessly to a stop in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, where it can form the centerpiece of a new exhibition of exciting contemporary work. If they can have millions of hand painted sunflower seeds or giant slides, this has gotta be a realistic aim.

  23. Big_Ted

    If you do blow it into smaller pieces with nukes then it burns up in the atmosphere increasing global warming by heating the atmosphere near it.

    However if we nudge it just right to hit the centre of say Australia then we get the benefit of chucking loads of dust etc into the atmosphere and thereby reducing warming

    There you have it folks, global warming can be fixed by firing comets and asteroids at Australia and cooling the planet.....

    1. Oengus

      Hows about we drop the asteroid somewhere where it can wipe out the source of a lot of hot air say the European Parliment or Washington DC. It can then solve the problem with the climate change lobbyists at the same time...

  24. Nuke

    Is this a joke?

    I do not know much about the solar sail effect, but if the momentum of the paint is considered significant enough to mention in the same breath then forget it. This would need to be done a VERY very long time ahead of the predicted Earth impact, and the astronomers are not that good at predicting.

    A far greater deflection would be achieved by blowing a piece off it with a nuke - it does not need to be a big piece, a few hundred tons perhaps, but in the right direction. You do not need to fragment the whole thing.

    1. Ru

      Re: Is this a joke?

      "I do not know much about the solar sail effect, but"

      So what you're saying is, you don't know what you're talking about but you're willing to rubbish work by someone who does on the basis, of, uh, you're from the internet and therefore are an expert in pretty much anything?

      And from this lofty position of credibility, you suggest what you feel to be a better plan despite having demonstrated that you know practically nothing about astrophysics and orbital mechanics. Well done.

      Inevitable Internet Omniscience Syndrome strikes again.

      1. Nuke

        @Ru - Re: Is this a joke?

        Nuke wrote : "I do not know much about the solar sail effect, but"

        Ru responded :- "So what you're saying is, you don't know what you're talking about but you're willing to rubbish work"

        Quite a flame that. Seeing that almost everyone here is poking fun at the idea (painting logos etc), I just wonder why you got as far down as my comment before you came out. Especially as I was actually taking it more seriously than most and discussing the science.

        I was up front with the fact that I do not know the solar sail effect. The guts of my comment refers to the paintball momentum idea. OK, lets's get more technical. I am pointing out that the momentum imparted by placing a thin later of paint on this thing is so tiny in proportion to the asteroid's momentum that it would have to be such a long time ahead of earth impact that the prediction of its future path would be unreliable. It is TFA itself that mentions the paint momentum effect as being, though less, of some significance compared with the solar sail effect. I am saying that if - IF - that is true, say within two orders of magnitude, then the solar sail idea is also impractical.

        As for saying that I "know practically nothing about astrophysics and orbital mechanics", be careful what you claim about other's knowledge here. This is a techies' website after all. I don't know if you know these subjects or not yourself, but what is certain is that you know almost nothing about me. I think you might be surprised.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Is this a joke?

      Trouble is that some asteroids aren't solid but rather clusters held together by gravity. Blow one of the chunks off, and it'll likely take all the energy, leaving the rest intact. There's also the fact that many asteroid rotate on axes, meaning you have to fight their rotation as well. The effects of a nuke on a corner of an irregular, spinning cluster of rocky objects moving at a surprisingly speedy clip (closer to the sun, the faster it goes) is rather uncertain, but most scientists basically sum it up as "not much".

  25. Oengus

    Old hat

    I remember reading a Sci-Fi novel years ago (can't remember the title or author) about a scientist who proposed a very similar idea and was discredited.

    Later he learned of an asteroid on a collision course with earth and tried to get the governments to paint the asteroid white and blast it with high-powered lasers. He was fired and took a job on the moon in an automated mining operation which had on-site manufacturing. He set the automated plant to making lots of high-power solar powered communications lasers and then fired them at the approaching asteroid to deflect it using light pressure.

    Same basic principle. His prize should be stripped from him for "prior art".

  26. Bunker_Monkey
    Thumb Up

    Would be one hell of a marketing project...


  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Imperial TONS

    Metric *TONNES

  28. Lockwood


    I thought it was Anubis who got the bright idea of flinging giant rocks at Earth...

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