Earth is rapidly warming and scientists are developing a variety of approaches to reduce the effects of climate change. István Szapudi, an astronomer at the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy, has proposed a novel approach — a solar shield to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting Earth, combined with a tethered, captured asteroid as a counterweight. Engineering studies using this approach could start now to create a workable design that could mitigate climate change within decades.
The paper, “Solar radiation management with a tethered sun shield,” is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One of the simplest approaches to reducing the global temperature is to shade the Earth from a fraction of the Sun’s light. This idea, called a solar shield, has been proposed before, but the large amount of weight needed to make a shield massive enough to balance gravitational forces and prevent solar radiation pressure from blowing it away makes even the lightest materials prohibitively expensive. Szapudi’s creative solution consists of two innovations: a tethered counterweight instead of just a massive shield, resulting in making the total mass more than 100 times less, and the use of a captured asteroid as the counterweight to avoid launching most of the mass from Earth.
“In Hawaiʻi, many use an umbrella to block the sunlight as they walk about during the day. I was thinking, could we do the same for Earth and thereby mitigate the impending catastrophe of climate change?” Szapudi said.
Szapudi began with the goal of reducing solar radiation by 1.7%, an estimate of the amount needed to prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. He found that placing a tethered counterbalance toward the Sun could reduce the weight of the shield and counterweight to approximately 3.5 million tons, about one hundred times lighter than previous estimates for an untethered shield.
While this number is still far beyond current launch capabilities,…