If you had to explain climate change to a bunch of kindergartners and ask them to think of a solution for this devastating issue, letting their imaginations run wild might sound like an extremely entertaining activity for both the kids and yourself. Because let’s face it — what bizarre plan can they come up with that will actually be of use to scientists in the field? Freezing the Sun? Turning all our lights off?
But if any of the kids suggest placing giant balloons in space to block out the heat from the Sun, you might have come across a one-in-a-million genius, as this is exactly what MIT scientists are planning in their contingency against the looming climate crisis!
After these scientists discovered that it would only take a 1.8% reduction in the incoming solar radiation to effectively begin to “fully reverse” the effects of global warming on the planet, they devised an extremely innovative solution — let’s place a matrix of inflatable silicon-based bubbles between the Earth and the Sun that will absorb some from our star.
How the bubbles solve the “geoengineering problem”
This is an example of geoengineering — a type of somewhat controversial science that seeks to create large-scale changes in Earth’s natural systems in order to counteract the devastating effects of climate change on the planet.
Since we are effectively altering the processes that have held ecosystems in place all over the world, it is clear to see why some scientists might be against this type of intervention or even just look at it as some sort of final gambit in a losing battle against the climate behemoth.
But this is also where the MIT genius comes into play! They realised that if at first, you don’t succeed, you can just throw it far away enough that it can’t come back to bite us on our warming backsides.
The researchers plan to deploy these bubbles at L1 — a “parking zone” of sorts 1.6 million kilometres away from the Earth. Located between our planet and the Sun, the L1 is where objects in space can effectively float “in place”, thereby theoretically eliminating the need to have the space bubbles moving to keep giving the Sun its cold shoulder.
Another major advantage of this space configuration is the fact that the bubbles are so far away, that it does not interfere with our biosphere as directly as other geoengineering methods would — such as the prevailing idea of dissolving gases in our stratosphere to help deflect more radiation back from the Earth.
Furthermore, the scientists estimate that if the bubbles aren’t working, we can just pop them, making the process fully reversible and significantly reducing the amount of space debris.
Now, we obviously don’t have Galactus on payroll to help blow these space bubbles in place, so what do we do? The researchers have an answer to this too.
Although the project is still in its early stages, the researchers believe that inflating thin-film spheres into space directly from a homogeneous molten substance, like silicon, can provide the thickness variation needed to refract the most radiation, and spare us the need to launch large structural film elements.
Additionally, the direct production of spheres in space reduces the need for shipment. When fully deployed, the bubbles will cling to each other, forming a raft roughly the size of Brazil in space.
Scientists also plan on investigating railguns to ship the material from Earth! Since these are again just bubbles, maintenance of such a fragile construct becomes an issue, prompting an investigation into how often the bubbles will have to be replenished in space.
However, if this does turn out to be a viable climate-change mitigation strategy, initial estimates by Rogel Angel — the astronomer who first came up with this shielding idea — suggest that it could be carried out with only 0.5% of global GDPA over the course of 50 years.
For weather, science, space, and COVID-19 updates on the go, download The Weather Channel App (on Android and iOS store). It’s free!