Hug asteroids might become home for space colonizers.
Scientists from the University of Rochester have published, what they call, a “wildly theoretical paper” showing how asteroids can become city-sized space habitats.
The theoretical method involves one large, spinning asteroid and one enormous mesh bag made of carbon nanofibers, a press release explains.
The theory is a twist on the so-called “O’Neill cylinder”, devised by physicist Gerard O’Neill after NASA commissioned him in 1972 to design a space habitat that could allow humans to live in space.
The O’Neill cylinder is a spinning habitat made up of two cylinders connected by a rod, rotating in opposite directions. The structures create artificial gravity but do not induce motion sickness with their spinning.
However, asteroids are not large enough to provide enough gravity for a space habitat. Also, if they are spun fast enough to create gravity, they would break apart.
“Obviously, no one will be building asteroid cities anytime soon, but the technologies required to accomplish this kind of engineering don’t break any laws of physics,” explained physics professor Adam Frank, who worked on the project alongside a number of Rochester University students during the lockdown.
They would then rotate the asteroid to the point it breaks apart. All the rubble from the space rock would be caught in the nanofiber mesh, creating a hollowed-out outer layer that could be used as the exterior structure for a space habitat. Crucially, that layer of asteroid detritus would act as a shield against radiation.
“Based on our calculations, a 300-meter-diameter asteroid just a few football fields across could be expanded into a cylindrical space habitat with about 22 square miles of living area,” Frank says. “That’s roughly the size of Manhattan.”