Welcome to your new landfill: a giant ball of burning gas that we call the Sun. With surface temperatures of 5500°C (9,940°F), it could obliterate any type of trash we throw at it, from pesky plastics to nuclear waste.
And with everything we’re launching into space these days, surely it wouldn’t be too hard to send a little trash to the Sun. But how much would it cost?
What dangers would be involved? And why would it be easier to send a rocket right out of our solar system than it would be to get anything to the Sun?
Our planet is filling up with garbage. At the rate we’re going, by 2050 we’ll be dealing with 12 billion metric tons of plastic sitting in landfills — that’s 35,000 times the weight of the Empire State Building!
Sure it’d be nice to put it all in some giant rockets and blast it off, but there would be some serious risks involved. What would happen if there was an accident while a rocket was in the Earth’s atmosphere and all our trash and nuclear waste came raining back down on us?
The Sun is about 150 million km (93 million miles) away from Earth, so getting any trash there would be extremely expensive. To put it in perspective, the Ariane 5, a modern European rocket, has a payload capacity of 7, 000 kg (15,432 lbs) and costs approximately $200 million to launch into orbit.
So to get all of the planet’s garbage headed off towards the Sun would take 168 million of these rockets, just to remove our trash for one year! The price tag would be $33 trillion.
And that’s just the cost of getting the rockets into orbit around the Earth. If we wanted to get them from Earth’s orbit to the Sun, it would require ten times more fuel!
Ok, we get it. It would cost a lot of money, but that’s just the beginning of our problems. You see, Earth moves around the Sun at 30 km/s (67,000 mph), in a direction that is basically always sideways relative to the Sun.
If you were to launch a rocket from Earth straight towards the Sun, it wouldn’t lose that sideways speed, and so it would miss its target. The only way we’d be able to get that rocket right into the Sun would be if we could cancel out all that sideways motion by slowing down the rocket by 30 km/s (67,000 mph).
How tricky would that be? Well, put it this way, if we could speed up the rocket by 12 km/s, it would have enough momentum to get out of our Solar System. Let’s simplify that a bit. To crash into the Sun, lose 30 km/s. To get out of the Milky Way, gain 12 km/s.
For the sake of efficiency and fuel costs, it’s better to go to the outer Solar System, where the rocket’s speed would be lower, then use a little booster juice to fire the engines enough that the rocket and its load of waste would fall into the Sun.
Even if we were able to figure this all out, and successfully deliver our garbage rocket directly to the Sun, it probably wouldn’t be worth all the risks involved.
“What risks?” you ask. Well, for starters let’s say we’ve got our first rocket all loaded up with a bunch of nuclear waste, and just as it’s about to takeoff, it explodes on the launchpad. Now we’ve got some fun nuclear fallout to deal with.
Maybe we’re a little luckier, and the rocket launch itself is successful, but it explodes once it’s in orbit. The best case scenario here is that we add a ton of debris to the already growing problem of space junk circling the Earth.
The worst case scenario is that our exploding rocket packed with thousands of tons of household trash and spent nuclear fuel comes crashing back down on us.
Either way, it’s not good, and this whole operation really doesn’t seem worth it. Maybe instead of looking for these outlandish solutions, we should just, you know, stop producing so much waste…
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- “Eight Million Tons Of Plastic Dumped In Ocean Every Year”. 2015. news.nationalgeographic.com. Accessed July 24 2019.
- “This Bug Can Eat Plastic. But Can It Clean Up Our Mess?”. 2017. news.nationalgeographic.com. Accessed July 24 2019.
- “Global Waste To Pile Up By 70 Percent In 2050 | DW | 21.09.2018”. dw.com. Accessed July 24 2019.
- “Why We Can’t Just Throw Our Garbage Into The Sun”. Wenz, John, 2016. Popular Mechanics. Accessed July 24 2019.
- “Why Don’T We Shoot Garbage Into The Sun?”. 2019. bbc.com. Accessed July 24 2019.
- “We Need A Plan To Stop Polluting Space Before It’S Too Late”. Nast, Condé. 2018. Wired. Accessed July 24 2019.