Posted on Tuesday, August 26th, 2008 by David Chen
In the year 2029, the asteroid Apophis (270 meters in length) is scheduled to pass by Earth, significantly within the moon’s orbit. While the vast majority of us have probably already either taken the attitude of a) Resigning ourselves to an asteroidal death, or b) Completely disregarding the possibility that anything catyclismic could ever originate from outer space, a select few of the best and brightest of us entered the Move an Asteroid Competition, which evaluated technical papers on how to deflect an asteroid or comet from colliding with Earth.
The Register reports that Mary D’Souza recently won the competition for the paper entitled “A Body Solar Sail Concept for the Deflection of 99942 Apophis.” D’Souza’s plan calls for wrapping the asteroid with mylar film, which will cause solar radiation pressure to move the asteroid off of its path.
As I read this news, I realized that I had heard an extremely similar plan long ago: It was one of the solutions presented for the asteroid that threatened to destroy us in Michael Bay’s Armageddon.
For those of you who don’t have 100% recall of that film, remember that before they hire Bruce Willis’ character to sweep in and save Earth, Billy Bob Thornton at NASA entertained a wide variety of solutions to dealing with the asteroid. Here is the exact line from the movie, delivered by one of NASA’s scientists:
Some of us have got this idea: We want to land a craft, deploy solar sails. You’ll have a great big canopy. Solar winds will be caught by these mylar sails!
C’mon guys! We’ve gotta come up with something realistic here!
That’s of course the point at which someone comes up with the genius idea to bring in Willis and his ex-convict/roided up colleagues and shoot them into space to drill a hole in the asteroid and then drop a nuke into it. To even the most casual scientific observer, this plan was obviously superior and more plausible than the mylar sails…until now.
That being said, it’s interesting that Armageddon writer Jonathan Hensleigh is now batting two for two in coming up with scenarios that have frightening real-world implications; Hensleigh fans will remember that he was detained by the FBI after writing Die Hard With a Vengeance because they determined that that movie’s plan to rob the Federal Reserve was actually possible.