Crashing Into The Sun: It’s Harder Than It Looks

july272016

As trash, pollution, and nuclear waste build up on Earth, scientists have pondered the possibility of sending a waste-carrying rocket into the sun where it would safely burn up.   You might think that sending a rocket into the sun would be easy. I mean, they do it all the time in science fiction; just point the rocket in the correct direction and launch, right? Wrong! It turns out that it’s actually extremely difficult to hit that giant burning ball of gas, and while that may seem counter-intuitive, the reason is actually quite simple.

The Earth is orbiting the sun at 30 km per second (that’s really fast, approximately 18.5 miles per second). This means it is essentially traveling sideways very quickly while being held in orbit by the sun’s gravity. A normal rocket launched from earth will also end up orbiting the sun instead of crashing into it. To get a rocket to stop orbiting and travel on a direct collision course, you must first slow the rocket down to a stop before you can then aim directly at the sun. If you are still traveling sideways at any speed, the rocket will be pulled into orbit and simply continue to circle the sun.

If the Earth is moving at 30 km/sec, then the rocket must also be launched at the same speed, but in the opposite direction of Earth’s movement, in order to come to a complete stop. This is even faster than the speed needed to escape Earth’s gravity and leave the Solar system. So technically, it would be even easier for you to go find another star to crash into then trying to hit the sun. Kaboom, mind blown.

If you want to watch a really excellent visual explanation of this, visit http://www.wired.com/2016/07/physics-trying-crash-sun/

July 27, 2016

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