Swarm of bees to save the Earth

Sending a swarm of mirrors into space is the best way to save the Earth from a devastating asteroid impact, British scientists have discovered.

Their research shows that launching a fleet of satellites, like robot bees, each fitted with a “shaving mirror” 20 metres wide, would deflect a threatening space rock.

The swarm of mirrors would all be turned to concentrate sunlight onto the asteroid, like a multitude of magnifying glasses, melting the surface and producing a jet of material.

This jet would act like a rocket thruster, steering the asteroid onto a path away from the Earth.

The satellite swarm, dubbed mirror-bees, is the brainchild of researchers at Glasgow University who compared nine methods of responding to a real-life Armageddon threat.

Just ten mirror-bees flying together would be enough to stop a small space rock. But a 5,000-stong fleet would be required to deal with a bigger asteroid such as that which hit Mexico 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs.

Announcing the plan, Dr Massimiliano Vasile, of Glasgow’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, said: “Asteroid impacts are a real threat. The Tunguska explosion in Siberia 1908 devastated an area bigger than Greater London. With only 10 spacecraft flying in formation, we could deflect a similar-sized asteroid into a safe orbit in about six months.”

Dr Vasile said that the UK proposal was safer than the option of blasting the asteroid with missiles because that could just break it up into several dangerous rocks.

He said: “Our studies show that this technology is genuinely feasible and, unlike methods where an explosion or impactor is used to divert the asteroid, there is no further risk from fragments.”

Although it is highly unlikely, scientists have still not been able to rule out an from a 250-yard wide asteroid called Apophis in 2036. If it strikes, with the force of 65,000 atomic bombs, it could wipe out a country and cause global devastation. Skymania reported in August how leading satellite company Astrium propose to deal with Apophis.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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