Man-made climate change is an immediate concern, with a global warming apocalypse appearing increasingly likely. However the planet’s long-term prognosis is even more dire, because the sun will one day run out of fuel and expand, destroying the Earth in five billion years. Moving the Earth to a wider orbit to escape this fiery oblivion may seem like a far-fetched solution, but an engineer has now outlined several theories for escaping this fate.
Scientists know the Sun will one day change from its current state to a red giant, a star far larger than its currently size.
And this expansion will eventually reach Earth’s orbit, rendering it totally uninhabitable in around five billion years.
However, in an extreme case of future planning, University of Glasgow space engineer Dr Matteo Ceriotti has proposed some radical solutions to help Earth change orbit.
The proposals have to be extreme as, for example, the Earth’s mass is so large we do not have enough power to move the planet using conventional rocket propulsion.
The radical ideas are loosely based on current technologies, although it is safe to assume any surviving humans will have significantly advanced science by then.
Dr Ceriotti said: “I have come up with a thought experiment about what we could do with our current technology in order to move the orbit of Earth father away – say towards the orbit of Mars.”
This is approximately 1.5 times the radius of Earth’s current orbit, in order to keep the Earth habitable in the future.
One such idea is targeting asteroids which pass by Earth’s vicinity and then using the space rocks’ gravitational attraction to pull the orbit of the Earth away from its current location.
Dr Ceriotti told Express.co.uk: “With this idea we would need a huge number of spacecraft to be able to fly to asteroids and then divert the asteroids into an orbit that passes within Earth’s vicinity.
“Another way would be to shoot the asteroid with an ion beam and the ion beam would push the asteroid away from its orbit.
“Other methods involve simply landing on the asteroid and then turning on a rocket on its surface in order to eject material – this is called a mass drive.
“Or we could deploy a constellation of mirrors around the asteroid and the mirrors would reflect the Sun’s light onto its surface.
“The surface of the asteroid would sublimate, or turn into gas and this gas would provide the force to move the asteroid away.
“But the simplest one is simply impacting the asteroid with a spacecraft, and this is called a kinetic impactor.”
But asteroids are not the only available option, although they would be involved in building a solar sail, a large reflective sheet that captures the momentum of light from the Sun and use that momentum to push the planet forward.
However, explains Dr Ceriotti, its required size would be huge – several times the diameter of the earth.
He said: “At the moment we cannot even envisage how we could built such a large solar sail on the ground and then send it into space, where it would be deployed.
“But in the future we may develop technologies in which we can actually built structures direct in space.
“And some of this research is actually being conducted here in Glasgow University.
“So we may, for example be able to move an asteroid into Earth’s vicinity and then be able to extract its material.
“And then using automated 3D printing in space, you can use the resulting material to create a solar sail in space.”
And final project proposed is the construction of huge solar power plants capable of convert the light of the Sun into electric power, and then this power could be converted into lasers, which would then be shot into space in order to move the Earth.
He added: ” These theories are essentially based on physics and the consideration of fundamental physics.
“This is not something which is going to change in the next billions years, and although new technologies may be developed, the physics is not gong to change.”