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Scientists are preparing to send a massive 'shield' into outer space: 'It's come to this'

"We're going to show that it can be done."

"We’re going to show that it can be done."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists have been toying with the idea of bringing an umbrella-like contraption to space for some time, and one institute may be ready to make that a reality.

In February, the New York Times reported that the Asher Space Research Institute at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is prepared to build a 100-square-foot "sun shield" prototype that blocks small amounts of solar radiation. An enormous parasol, in theory, could cool down the Earth by blocking sunlight and preventing it from heating up the planet. 

While the shading device would be a fraction of the size of a full-scale version, which would likely require a worldwide investment of trillions of dollars to build, researchers estimate that the technology could reduce Earth's temperatures by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit over two years if completely realized, the Times reported. 

"We can show the world, 'Look, there is a working solution, take it, increase it to the necessary size,'" Dr. Yoram Rozen, a physics professor and the director of the Asher Space Research Institute, told the news outlet. 

The prototype would reportedly attach "lightweight solar sails" to a small satellite destined for the Lagrange Point One, a spot where "the gravitational pulls from the Earth and sun cancel each other out." The sails would then control the amount of radiation being filtered — similar to a Venetian blind, per the Times.

The proposal might sound far-fetched, but as detailed by the Times, different iterations of it have been increasingly on researchers' radar as a way to regulate temperatures. 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the world average is roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in preindustrial years (and 2023 was 2.43 F above the preindustrial average). And scientists believe another half-degree of warming could cause additional irreparable damage to our ecosystems. 

"It's come to this," Cara Buckley wrote for the Times of the mind-boggling potential solution of a sun shade, which began circulating as a possibility as early as 1989, when the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's James Early proposed a "space-based solar shield." 

This type of technology doesn't come without its concerns, though. 

Doctoral candidate Susanne Baur, who is focused on solar radiation modification at the European Center for Research and Advanced Training in Scientific Computation, pointed out to the Times that a sunshade could be damaged by space rocks. 

If that were to occur and other measures weren't in place to reduce the rise of global temperatures, a sudden uptick of heat on Earth could be catastrophic. Additionally, scientists haven't fully explored other unexpected consequences of geoengineering ploys like this one.

Technion is still in the predesign phase of its project, but it believes its technology could be ready to launch within three years after fundraising is complete, per the Times report

"We at the Technion are not going to save the planet," Rozen told the Times. "But we're going to show that it can be done."

But even though the idea of a giant sunshade has been gaining traction in some circles, the scientific community agrees that the best solution to the Earth's overheating is a transition away from dirty energy sources, which account for most planet-warming pollution.  

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