Could clouds of moon dust temper global warming?
Scientists at the University of Utah believe firing millions of tons of moon dust into the atmosphere could help to prevent global warming.
The best answer is often the simplest… is a mantra being emphatically shunned by climate scientists at the University of Utah.
The group of researchers at the institution have been running computer simulations to test what is undoubtedly the most unorthodox climate mitigation scheme yet: launching millions of tons of moon dust into our atmosphere to reduce global warming.
Falling under the fundamental bracket of solar geoengineering, it is theorised that clouds of lunar dust could shade the Earth from enough of the sun’s rays to drive the planet’s temperatures down.
It may sound like a child’s sci-fi submission to Blue Peter, but scientists genuinely believe this ‘high-porosity, fluffy’ material would be perfect for absorbing light energy, scattering photons away from Earth.
In terms of logistics (many of which, unsurprisingly, haven’t yet been addressed), 10 million tons of dust would need to settle 1.5 million kilometres away at the first Lagrange point — L1.
Here, the gravitational pull of the sun and our planet cancel out and objects remain in a fixed position for days until eventually dispersed by solar winds.
The team of scientists modelled this exact scenario in a simulator and discovered that a dust shield of 1 million tons at L1 could dim Earth-bound sunlight by 1.8% in a year. This is equivalent to completely blocking out an entire six days’ worth of sunlight.
If successfully sustained over a number of years, the data shows this idea would likely be the ultimate offset for all harmful greenhouse gases. In reality, however, it’s a serious stretch to put any hope in lunar mining helping us reach our climate targets.
Given we haven’t set foot on the moon in over 50 years, picturing terraformed facilities with giant dust shooting canons calibrated for L1 is, let’s say, optimistic.
China is aiming to establish an off-world nuclear base here by 2028, and the US by 2034. I’ll bet that neither is keen on bringing forth the unthinkable levels of funding and resources required to even have a shot at this.
Besides, even if this was a milestone agencies wanted to strive for, we haven’t even touched on logistical hurdles or geopolitical considerations. The lists for both are endless, really.
A patchwork of contradictory policies dating back to the 1970s prohibits nations from seizing the moon’s resources as their legal property. Meanwhile, a nonbinding international agreement — called the Artemis Accords — suggests that commercial resource extraction is a huge opportunity.
There are those planning for space exploration within a certain framework as we speak, while the likes of China and Russia have decided to go it alone. Space has become prime real estate, and everyone is striving to capitalise.
Given the measure of political division we’re dealing with on Earth, terrestrial politics are surely an afterthought at best.
To the research team’s credit, they conceded that they’re not experts in climate change and are merely testing novel ideas. Fun as this one is to imagine, we probably shouldn’t be looking to the stars to find climate change solutions in the immediate future.