Most climate experts agree that significant CO2 emission reductions are necessary to prevent the worst consequences of climate change, including severe droughts and rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent and severe every year.
The large quantities of greenhouse gasses that humans have been emitting into the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution are creating a sort of blanket around our planet, trapping heat in the atmosphere and leading to an increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s surface, which is steadily rising since the start of the industrial revolution and its heavy use of fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that the world is ready to give up the use of fossil fuels just yet, so several researchers are exploring a radical Plan B for reversing global warming. Solar engineering scientists are now investigating ways to reflect the Sun’s rays away from Earth to bring down the planet’s temperature. Sending a bunch of giant “solar sails” would be feasible but extremely costly and technically very challenging.
Releasing reflective aerosol particles into Earth’s atmosphere
Solar engineering scientists have suggested that one possible way to stop global warming is to inject reflective aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere. This is the method that has received the most attention from researchers. There are a few different approaches that we could take to accomplish this goal.
However, once those aerosols were let loose into the atmosphere, there wouldn’t be an easy way for us to collect them again if the plan failed to be effective or had unanticipated negative consequences.
According to an interview that an expert on international climate policy gave to Discover Magazine, Linda Schneider, “even our understanding of the climate change that we’re unintentionally causing right now still has limitations,” especially regarding the impacts that will occur further in the future.
The ‘Space Bubbles Project’ from MIT
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have proposed a ‘Plan B’ project to save the Earth from global warming. They suggest creating a fleet of “space bubbles” the size of Brazil to cool the Earth. The radical concept of using a fleet of “space bubbles” to deflect sunlight away from our planet is currently being investigated. Their suggestion which may seem outlandish can potentially reduce the dangers associated with solar geoengineering.
Solving the problem in space rather than in our atmosphere
The researchers from MIT have proposed that we take solar geoengineering into space rather than injecting particles into the atmosphere of Earth to cool the planet.
To be more specific, the group is looking into what would take place if a bubble shield was placed at Lagrangian Point 1, which is a location in space where the gravitational pulls of the Earth and the Sun come together to form a sort of equilibrium that would maintain the shield in orbit there indefinitely.
The proposed shield would be approximately the size of Brazil. The bubbles needed for it could be manufactured and deployed in space, possibly out of silicon.
Creating bubbles fit for space
The MIT group has already conducted experiments in the laboratory with the creation of these “space bubbles.” During their preliminary experiments, the researchers tried to create approximate space conditions of zero pressure and near-zero temperature. In a press release, the researchers stated that they could successfully inflate a thin-film bubble at a pressure of 0.0028 atm and maintain it at around -50°C.
The purpose of the proposed “space bubbles” is to deflect solar radiation away from the planet Earth. This method of solar geoengineering, according to the team from MIT, would not be as risky as methods that directly involve Earth’s atmosphere because the bubbles would be almost a million miles away from the planet.
Carlo Ratti, the study’s principal investigator and the head of the Senseable City Lab at MIT, told Dezeen that most geoengineering proposals are earth-bound, posing tremendous risks to our living ecosystem.
However, using bubbles in space as a solar geoengineering solution would be completely reversible, and the amount of debris in space would be significantly reduced.
The team stated that the bubbles could simply be popped. They claim that their solar geoengineering solution is fully reversible and can significantly reduce space debris.
Solar shields in space
It is not the first time someone has suggested placing a solar shield in space to cool the planet, but making the shield out of bubbles would provide a relatively simple way to abort the mission.
At this point, the radical concept for solar geoengineering developed by the MIT group is still very much just a proposal. Additional research and experimentation are required to determine precisely how we could create, deploy, and destroy the space bubbles.
The researchers hope they will obtain the necessary support for that research if we have to implement ‘Plan B.’
Bubbles in space, what do you think?
The researchers’ plan is a ‘Plan B’ idea to save the world, and they are looking for funding support. It is a plan humanity may need in the future if all other attempts to get people to reduce their C02 emissions fail. Our descendants and we may potentially be staring up at bubbly space skies in the future.
How bad do CO2 levels on Earth need to become before humanity resorts to spending millions to create big rafts of bubbles millions of miles away in space?
As the researchers say, additional research and experimentation are needed to determine precisely how to create, deploy, and destroy space bubbles. We would love you to share your ideas in the comments. Many of us may have played bubble-popping games as small children. What were your favorites?
Sending bubbles into space to block out the Sun seems like a really neat idea. What could possibly go wrong?
Feature image credit: MIT Senseable City Laboratory/MIT