Launching worms into space, shading Earth with dust from the Moon
This week I interviewed two physicists in Germany about sending quantum technologies into space (stay tuned for that on an upcoming episode of the Physics World Weekly podcast), so I was amused to find out that six students at the UK’s University of Warwick are planning to send a very different cargo into space. The sextet is working on a CubeSat that will carry microscopic worms in low Earth orbit. The mission is being carried out for researchers at the University of Exeter, who want to study how the worms function and reproduce in low gravity.
The ultimate goal of the research is to understand how worms would fare on a deep space mission, during which the worms would provide “biomass”. I could be wrong, but I suspect that biomass is a euphemism for “food” – and that astronauts travelling to Mars will be dining on worms. Sounds more than a bit yucky, but at least they will have quantum computers and sensors to play around with.
Staying on the topic of firing stuff into space, researchers in the US have published a proposal to cool the Earth using dust from the Moon. The idea is to launch the material towards the L1 Lagrange point, which lies between the Sun at the Earth. It would remain there for a few days, blocking some of the Sun’s rays and cooling the Earth.
Less energy needed
One of the benefits of the scheme, according to Benjamin Bromley of the University of Utah and colleagues, is that ejecting material from the surface of the Moon takes much less energy than ejecting it from the surface of the Earth. Also, the fact that the dust should only linger at the Lagrange point for a few days, means that the cooling can be adjusted or stopped easily.
Bromley and colleagues calculate that to attenuate sunlight by 1.8%, about 1010 kg of dust would have to be ejected from the Moon each year. This is about 700 times the total mass of material that has been launched from Earth into space and is enough material to pack into a sphere with a 200 m radius.
The proposal is described in PLOS Climate.
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