back to article Aussie has answer to save Earth from asteroid attack

An PhD student with the University of Queensland's School of Engineering has won top prize in an international competition for her plan to wrap a giant asteroid with reflective sheeting to prevent a collision with the Earth. The asteroid, Apophis, is estimated to be perhaps 270 metres across and it will pass close to Earth in …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Modifying the orbit

    How do they know this won't bring forward the collision date by a few years?

  2. Paul Young

    Exactly How ....

    ... Are you supposed to wrap an asteroid in friggin cling film?

    And my surname used to be D'Souza, luckily my mum changed it when

    I was 10 years old.

    I have enough trouble wrapping a bloody left over piece of meat, to keep in the fridge for a few days.

    Someone needs to consider the problem here...

    This is not theoretical physics, it's practically in-plausable physics.

    <1> Locate Asteroid (It'll be up there somewhere)

    <2> Hire Bruce Willis & friends (they have experiance with asteroids)

    <3> Find an absolutly giant roll of cling film (Lets Say, 330m x 660m)

    <4> Develope a vehicle capable of carrying said roll of cling film

    <5> Then add to vehicle a way of despensing massive cling film

    <6> New vehicle sits in orbit and watches

    <7> Fucking big piece of rock hits earth

    <8> Atmosphere evaporates into space

    <9> Huge tidal waves swamp the planet

    <10> New cling film space vehicle departs earth orbit for the Klingon Empire

    Am I missing something here?

    She claims to be using something orbiting the asteroid, has this

    technology already been invented/deployed?

    If the thing is gonna be near us in 2011 then we need someone to start

    ordering the cling film from Lidl or Aldi or even the local car boot does

    400m rolls @ 50cm wide.


    Can I have my coat please, the one with the cling film in the pockets.

  3. Andy Barber

    @ Paul Young/D'Souza

    "She claims to be using something orbiting the asteroid, has this technology already been invented/deployed?"

    Yes look here

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @ paul young

    Exactly How ....

    By Paul Young

    Posted Sunday 24th August 2008 20:37 GMT

    ... Are you supposed to wrap an asteroid in friggin cling film?

    I have enough trouble wrapping a bloody left over piece of meat, to keep in the fridge for a few days.

    I think that's most of us folks who aren't female

    <2> Hire Bruce Willis & friends (they have experiance with asteroids)

    Yea lets just nuke it.. it worked for them :P

    Paris, cus it would be funny watching her trying to fight with a roll of cling-film

  5. Joey

    If the end of the World comes...

    it will be the fault of illiterates who can't spell to save their lives using command line computers!!!

  6. Anonymous Bastard

    Nothing to add

    I don't have an original plan, I just wanted to have the coat icon and say:

    Mine's the one with the ICBM in the pocket. Ooer matron!

  7. David Webb
    Paris Hilton

    The answer....

    "... Are you supposed to wrap an asteroid in friggin cling film?"

    The answer is in the subject, a sattelite is put in orbit around the asteroid which then covers it with cling film. As the sattelite spins around in its orbit it releases a small amount of cling film with enough slack to not pull the spinny thing crashing into the surface of the asteroid. As it spins around its orbit, more of the cling film is wrapped around it. At least thats what I made of the bit in the article.

    Paris, to do with cling film, wrapping her up etc....

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Basically, you just blow them up...

    According to Wikipedia, the Apophis is approx. 270m in diameter. If you send up Bruce Willis with an old russian "Tsar Bomba", that should be plenty enough to disintegrate the entire asteroid with a fireall diameter of 4,6km...


  9. Dave The Cardboard Box

    I will use grammar to deflect this perfidious rock

    by spray painting "an asteroid" in gold paint on the side, rather than "a asteroid" which would surely mean it plunging into a major city. Don't laugh, it could be Bristol.

    I have an joint Ph.D in the grammar and world saving dontcha know.

    If that doesn't work litotes will. It always does.

  10. cor
    Paris Hilton

    F\/ck the cling film...

    ..I'm gettin' me tinfoil hat out.

    Anyways if this oversized astral pebble 'spends most of its time behind the sun', why don't we nuke it there?

    Better still, wrap it up in 2011, see if her theory works. Why wait until the shit is getting caught in the grating of the ventilator?

  11. Andy Barber

    @ Basically, you just blow them up...

    More like 47km with a "Tsar Bomba" is More than enough.

    A 5Mtn warhead damage is what you described. The "Tsar Bomba" was enough to turn London to Brighton to a crater!

  12. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Ok, now...

    1) That "Journalist's Impression" must have been made with Heavy Afghan Resin. An asteroid like that would be the size of France and the impact would most certainly not look like a plume from a depth charge with a kind of shockwave around.

    2) Breaking up a 'roid with "electromechanical devices" is going to take some serious energy I would imagine. I hope that idea does not come from the corner of the crowd who want to to break up the Earth with a device Tesla invented in 1910 and which feeds on two car batteries but produces "resonances".

    3) Otherwise the Mylar idea sounds interesting, you have to wrap the object early enough to get good leverage though.

  13. Anonymous Coward


    According to my poor calculations, that's just shy of three gigatons. That's probably well within the "earth shattering kaboom" range.

    Anyways, I'm taking issue with the 'Hiroshima bombs' explosives metric. That has become so trite that we really need a better one. I can't think of anything better off hand, but surely there should be a Reg standard for explosives.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This isn't exactly a new idea.

    There's been plenty of talk about changing albedo to redirect asteroids and comets, some using mylar, some using foil, some using white paint/titanium dioxide powder. The only thing the author seems to have added is a potentially complicated application system.

  15. Gareth Pye


    How fast can something orbit an asteroid of that type of size? I would have thourght rather slowly.

    But I guess this plan only works if the approach after 2011 isn't the fatal one, as we'll have to use that approach to launch the satellite to glad wrap it up to start slowly pushing it.

  16. Captain DaFt

    My submission was disqualified for some reason

    Even though the physics behind it had been proven time and time again:

    Step 1- Train a coyote to place a giant Acme coil spring on the precise part of Earth the asteroid's going to hit.

    Step 2 - Then place coyote in a space ship heading away from Earth's orbit.

    Step 3 - Asteroid lands on giant coil spring and rebounds. Due to the laws of cartoon physics, the asteroid will now fly directly toward the coyote, which is why we have him moving away from Earth.

    Step 4 - After the asteroid collides with the coyote, a roadrunner will mockingly call, "Beep-beep". Earth is saved.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    About as much use as a foil hat....

    First, is it even possible to get a space-faring loo roll dispenser to orbit something as small as 270m across (Eros is 33Km), and if so I fail to see how wrapping it up in a shiny suit is somehow going to attract more sunlight than would otherwise hit it anyway.

    And just how long would it take for the pressure of sunlight to change the orbit of a substantial lump of rock by any significant amount?

    Nah, keep Mr Willis and friends on standby for the time being.

  18. Kanhef

    re: blow them up

    Nuclear weapons are significantly less effective in space. There's no atmosphere to conduct a shock wave or burn things, so all you get is the radiation blast. No fireball or mushroom cloud. If the bomb is in direct contact with the asteroid there will be a seismic shock wave, but it won't shatter finely enough for this to be a solution. Even if half the asteroid is turned into dust, there's enough material left for a cloud of 10,000 ten-meter-wide chunks. That's big enough to cause significant damage, and since the cloud diverges, dozens are guaranteed to hit the earth. The shotgun may not hurt as much as the rifle, but it still hurts plenty.

  19. Fozzy
    Thumb Up

    Alternate theory

    For my money I think the simpsons are onto something where the thick smog and pollutants in the air burned the asteroid to a small rock by the time it hit the ground. So I'm doing my part and bruning all the fossil fuels I can get my hands on

  20. Mark York

    Paper Title

    It's 3am & I am bleary eyed & in pain, I read her paper title as A Bloody Solar Sail Concept for the Deflection of 99942 Apophis.

    Doing a Arthur Dent & getting my dressing gown.

  21. T. Harrell
    Thumb Up

    Missing the opportunity of the millenium!

    Push it away!? No!

    Space agencies everywhere are entirely missing one of our greatest opportunities! Here's an asteroid already headed straight for our orbit, not too far out from our own satellites. Put a few tiny thrusters on the rock and bring it into a proper orbit around Earth, then strip-mine it for raw materials! Asteroids like that are estimated to be loaded with valuable minerals, and NASA's been drooling over the possibility of bringing one in from the asteroid belt since the 70's!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Modify Orbit

    I'm with the first AC...

    So the suggestion is to make an unknown and uncontrolled change to the orbit of a rock that may or may not hit us?

    Was this a competition for pre-schoolers? Was it judged by pre-schoolers?

    This suggestion is akin to putting on a blindfold, spinning around a couple of times and then blowing as hard as you can in the asteroids general direction. Sure you might change its path, but is it going to be better or worse?

    Are the morons who thought this was the smartest idea, also the ones who are responsible for actually protecting us (I really hope not).

    Paris - she could probably come up with a better plan.

  23. Alan Potter

    @Dave the box

    You've just given me an idea - why don't we just send in the Piranha Brothers?

  24. norman

    It's easy...

    Tell President Bush the Asteroid has WMDs.

    We can have a color coded Asteroid threat level...

    What are the odds?

  25. MacroRodent Silver badge

    The environment impact statement of Tsar Bomba to consider

    > If you send up Bruce Willis with an old russian "Tsar Bomba",

    Um, compare the environmentalist/peace activist hue &cry between this option and just sending a huge roll of Mylar... Not hard to see which solution is harder to get off the ground. (Barring a globally-imposed state of emergency in the face of imminent asteroid impact, of course).

  26. Chris G Silver badge

    Citroen Picasso saves the world

    Actually spray painting it might be easier, we already have a lot of technology with spray painting robots.We just need to stick a couple of rocket engines up one and programme it with Bruce Willis' determination. If the asteroid already has an electrostatic charge, even easier.

  27. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    @Paul Young: Locating the asteroid is easy

    we know where it is. Not rocket science at all. In 2011 we want to be sure to within a far smaller error margin where it will be in 2029, and astronomers can do that readily.

    As for blowing it up is not such a good idea: you are turning a rifle bullet into a shotgun blast. As any hunstman can tell you, it is WAY easier to hit a bird with a shotgun than a rifle. It will only work if you can be sure ALL bits are small enough to burn up at entry, and you cannot be that sure.

  28. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    rocket science...

    deflection of sun rays would create force (very small, but persistent) and that force applied to asteroid will skew its orbit away from Sun (as well as from Earth). I wonder, too, whether that force would be strong enough, and whether skewed orbit might endanger Earth some time later again.

  29. TeeCee Gold badge

    Deep Nuclear Penetrator

    Time to resurrect that particular project methinks.

    Combines the drill hole, insert nuke, asteroid go boom process in one handy fire 'n forget package.

    As for the shotgun blast argument, an impressive firework display, a few nasty holes and a few tens of thousands of corpses is infinitely preferable to one sodding great big hole and extinction.

    Mines the one with "best before 2029" written on it.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    How about...

    ...using Murphy's law.

    Spray the far side of the asteroid with butter.

    Everyone knows the principle that buttered toast always lands face down.... so in theory and asteroid with butter on the "up" side would not hit the earth at all.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Windmill science

    The idea seems to be to replicate one of those executive-toy solar windmill things to change the orbit by a fraction of a percent, which wwould be enough to avoid an impact... that I see and could actually work.

    However, we need to make sure that it gets deflected in the right direction - we don't want it hitting into the moon either, coz that would really fsck things!

    Critically though, I see two problems:

    first: the article says that the asteroid is spinning - if we apply anything to it, we may change it's axis so it's spinning differently and thus have unpredictable consequences.

    second: This thing's in space, subject to the full force of the sun, how do you ensure that you don't wrap up a gas pocket, that once the sun hits will then generate a lot of pressure that wouldn't otherwise have been there?? Could be dangerous

    I vote for paintballing it - we could make it a competition, and I'm sure there's a market for the PS3 game version, which could generate enough revenue to pay for the tech to get to the asteroid, paint a bullseye on it, then proceed to paint half the thing with silver paintballs!

  32. Alex


    Tinfoil to deflect a big piece of rock? I want what she and the judges were smoking -.-'

    The giant coil idea is the best i've heard so far ^^

  33. Mike Smith

    Lol @ Nuking it

    Not only will nuking it have the shotgun effect as mentioned above, but all the buck from the shotgun will surely be radioactive!

    How will cling film even act in such harsh sub zero conditions? And if light is so effective at pushing things away, how do they know the sun isn't constantly changing the orbit of this chunk of rock in the first place?

    I think we should invent big-ass lasers that will push it out of harms way. For a start, it's far far cooler than using cling film, don't you think? Secondly it may also heat up the rock, causing pockets of gas to explode and shift it further out of orbit, as well as having the same photon push effect as the cling film.

    Ahh, armchair physics :) We're all doomed

  34. Pete Silver badge

    @T. Harrell

    Hmmm, a large rock hanging over our heads. Have a quick read of Larry Niven's "Footfall" for some ideas how to use this (hint: not for mining)

    Success is being at the top of the gravity well, not the top of the food chain.

  35. Christoph Silver badge

    @ various objections

    I know it seems weird but the scientists investigating this actually have thought of and considered the various objections. They haven't simply decided to try some wild idea while cackling madly.

    Several decades ago we managed to steer a tiny primitive spacecraft right across the solar system. We put it in exactly the right path, even at the outer planets. So yes, with vastly better computers we really can get to a nearby rock, and predict with good enough accuracy where it will go when we push it.

    What we need is the best technically feasible and practicable and safe way of doing the pushing. Which is what this is all about - asking for ideas that can then be tested and refined, *before* they are urgently needed.

  36. Mark Duncan

    This was solved in the 60s

    Clearly what is required is a small triangular spaceship which fires lasers out it's nose, is capable of 360 degree rotation and has a thruster. While bigger asteroids may require hits to break them up i'm confident that at 270m one shot should be enough to vapourise it

  37. Muscleguy Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    A biologist speaks

    The point is to *change* it's albedo. Yes, the sun does already push on it and we can calculate it's orbit with that. The idea is to change how the sun pushes on it and calculate how that will push it, if it pushes it away from us then job done.

    An argument based on your ignorance of how something works speaks only to your ignorance. Good point Mike Smith about the shotgun remnants being radioactive, mmm how I love the smell of fallout in the morning.

    Paris, because whe knows all about arguments from incredulity.

  38. Adrian Midgley

    more clever than most commentators

    Only the numbers matter.

  39. Zmodem

    sails are fiction

    if they could move a asteriod nasa would use them to get to the moon to build its base. with a next gen shuttle. it would be easier to fly out like a movie and drill some trusts onto it

  40. Matt Thornton

    Wrong way round

    Why not just wrap earth in cling film and let the sun reflection wotsit move us out of the way of the asteroid?

  41. James Pickett


    If you can get a satellite capable of deploying all that plastic up there, why not send one with a bigger motor and just give it a push? It won't need much deflection at that range, and the nice thing about space is that there's no friction - just a lot of inertia.

    Of course, that wouldn't make such an impressive thesis, but it would be bit simpler. Alternatively, we could just throw things at it...

  42. Wize

    Missing step

    There is the dramatic moment where they struggle to find the end of the cling film and realise their gloves are not helping.

    Could almost make its way into some kind of epic movie

  43. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Black Helicopters


    Well the problem is rather simple

    How do you modify the orbit of a big space rock?

    The current answers look to be fine examples of the human species' genius for looking at problems and coming up with really stupid solutions.

    Eg 4 suicide bombers kill 54 people in london.... how to prevent it happening again? turn the UK into a giant prison camp.

    going over to the nuclear solution, are you aware the tsar bomba weighed in at 27 tons, the onlty spacecraft we have able to launch that is the ares 5 rocket and that aint even built yet, then you have to design a suitable spacecraft to deliver said nuke to the big space rock.. then hope nothing goes wrong between launch and explosion.

    On the plus side, the tsar bomba had been de-tuned somewhat by replacing the ueanium tamper with a lead one, so it should be easy to scale up to 100 megatons without a weight penalty


    <<wearing his tinfoil hat that prevents government mind control and bits of spacerock from affecting his mind

  44. Zmodem


    the current shuttle weighs around 110tons and a payload of 20tons. and it has absolute to carbon fiber/graphite anywhere, and crap old 1980s tube monitors for the primitive computer systems with mamoth cpus of back in the day

  45. wayne

    Solar sail.

    What about a solar sail like wrap?

  46. Steve Glover

    Who was that German again?

    We could simply tell him Roy Orbison moved there....

  47. Christoph Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    @ James Pickett

    Two problems.

    1> Getting enough fuel for the rocket up there. You need far too much. The reflective idea doesn't need it.

    2> As far as we know, small asteroids are not a solid lump of rock. They are a pile of loose rubble. Pushing this with a rocket is not likely to work.

  48. Chris

    Orion.. the answer.

    Not the latest sad idea, but the original one.

    It used a series of fission explosions to 'push' against a battleship sized spacecraft's 'pusher-plate'.

    What's that you say? 'Nukes don't work properly in space because there's no medium to transmit a shockwave'?

    Well, oddly enough, a bunch of the world's best minds KNEW that when they started to design it.

    What they also knew was that it's possible to direct a fission explosion (think shaped charge conventional explosive) - indeed, fusion explosions would be difficult to arrange without a directed fission explosion trigger.

    If you then place a quantity of a suitable substance (tungsten seems to work well) in the path of the directed energy release it will turn pretty smartly into a narrow cone of rapidly moving plasma.

    And when that hits a nearby object (be it the pusher-plate of a spacecraft, or an asteroid), kinetic energy is released and it MOVES.

    So, to deflect the offending incoming asteroid you simply launch a stream of these small (say, 1kt) nuclear propulsion 'bombs' at the target, set to detonate at the required distance from it.

    No rains of meteors from a fragmented asteroid. No need for Bruce Willis style heroics. Just a steady push (avereged out) to change the course of the asteroid, either to impact another body (the Moon?) or into a non-threatening new orbit.

    I imagine a sort of gatling gun in space launching the propulsion bombs. The Orion designers did, in fact they got design help from a major soft drinks manufacturer,

    Of course, that was launching the bombs to explode behind the spacecraft, from inside the spacecraft. The principle works equally well from an external launcher though.

    It's established technology. In fact, OLD technology.

    Of course, it would be handy if the documentation still existed... It was recently discovered that quite a lot of Orion data had been lost by the US Government (that's lost, not 'lost') and had to be re-created from copies of documents obtained from ex-employees and their heirs (yes, the technology is that old, mid-60s).

    And this sort of thing's not that uncommon. NASA was found, some years ago, to have accidentally thrown away the engineering details of the Saturn launch booster during a 'spring cleaning'...

  49. Louis Cowan

    Simple answer

    Leak a memo saying it's full of oil. Someone somewhere will have it hollowed out to a thin shell in no time

  50. Torben Mogensen

    Re: Missing the opportunity of the millenium!

    The problem with this idea (mining) is that the asteroid whizzes past at so high a speed that it would take enormous energy to change its orbit to be around the Earth instead. It would be far easier to mine the moon.

    As for foil wrapping the asteroid, I agree that spray-painting would be a lot easier.


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