# Would There Be Any Ill Effects to Launching Things Into The Sun?

I was reading an article about space elevators, and one of the first thoughts that came to my mind was that if we had one working, we could solve our world’s energy needs by building nuclear power plants, elevator-ing the radioactive waste into space, and then launching it into the sun.

Leaving aside the obvious impracticality of my plan, would there be any ill effects from doing this? Would launching nuclear waste (or anything else) into the sun cause it, or us, any harm?

And as long as I’m on the topic of “Stuff + Sun = ???”, what would happen if something truly massive - say, a rogue planet, Earth-sized or larger - were to strike our star? The idea of wayward celestial bodies colliding with the sun is a fairly traditional sci-fi doomsday scenario, but would it actually spell the end, or would said celestial body just burn up?

Well, why don’t they just launch at night? Wouldn’t that solve it?

Q

The Earth is minute compared to the Sun. You can fit the Earth under many solar prominences. I really don’t think the Sun would notice unless the Earth-sized mass were travelling at a significant velocity.

Mass of Earth: 5.9742 × 10^24 kilograms

Mass of Sun: 1.9891 ×10^30 kilograms or 332,946 Earths (via Google)

You must be answerin’ Alastair, Quartz. My post didn’t have no numbers in it.

You ain’t gonna report me, are ya’?

Can you tell I’m bored???

Q

It’s not just a matter of throwing it out in space and having it get sucked into the sun. The waste would take on roughly the same orbit as the earth. In order to get it to fall into the sun, you’d have to spend a lot of energy decelerating it. I don’t know the math, but I’m guessing even with a space elevator this would be very expensive.

For a more-or-less direct hit, I agree with this. What if it were in orbit and spiraling in? Might it stir up the Sun’s atmosphere enough to change its brightness for a time? Also, the rogue Earth’s matter would get distributed near the Sun’s surface. I could see this having some effect, though I don’t know what.

Not really, it would be like spitting in a lake.

Every launch into space generates air pollution. Mining or making rocket fuels causes pollution. So yes, if we’re suddenly doing weekly launches strictly for waste then we’re going to have a different, potentially worse (guaranteed lung cancer vs possible cancer) pollution issue. Every launch will be a risk too. What happens if the rocket explodes?

Space elevators work with rockets, at least for the first stage, so even a fictional elevator system would have the same problems.

Considering nuclear waste can be safey stored for 3-10k thousands years and reused in breeder reactors with re-processing until there is very little waste left, well, the launch idea sounds pretty dangerous, wasteful, and rube goldberg-ish.

Without having done any rigorous scientific analysis, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that nothing we throw into the sun short of a quantum black hole is going to have the slightest effect. My reasoning is thus:

a. The sun is huge and any materials that we could conceivably toss in the sun would be infinitesimal in relation to the solar mass. Seriously, the sun regularly throws out solar prominences that are many times the size of Earth. Tossing anything of “human” proportion into the sun would be like spitting into a forest fire.

b. The sun is a huge nuclear reactor. Throwing nuclear waste in the sun would be like bringing coal to Newcastle. Any other kind of waste would be immediately reduced to its component atomic particles which are probably already present in the sun to some degree.

Caveats: The sun is largely hydrogen and helium and I suppose there’s always a wild chance that throwing some heavy elements into the sun would act as a catalyst and move the sun into a later stage of stellar development in which it starts producing heavier elements. But I include this possibility only for completeness – I’m sure that enough cosmic garbage has drifted into the sun over the last few billion years so that if this were a real possibility, it would already have happened.

The Sun is the hardest place in the Universe to throw things into. It would literally take less energy to throw our waste into Alpha Centauri than into the Sun.

And just how do you propose to make it spiral in? Orbits just don’t do that unless that region of space is extremely cluttered, or if they’re close enough that gravitational waves are significant. Neither is the case here.

What Chronos said. NASA actually has a plan for a probe that goes close to the sun - about 10 solar radii from the surface, IIRC - but that takes a lot of energy and several planetary flybys.

However, I think a solar sail can make something spiral into the sun. The closer it gets to the sun, the more thrust it gets. Until the sail is vaporized by the intense sunlight, at least.

By the way, if you throw nuclear waste into the sun, it’ll probably vaporize and get blown away by the solar wind.

No, that’s not accurate. The Earth’s diameter in orbit at the surface of the Sun would be a little over 1 degree wide, and the gravitational attraction of its mass would disrupt an area larger by some factor. That’s on the order of 1 percent of the area. Small, but nowhere that small.

I was talking about an earth-sized mass spiraling into the Sun. Not something human-sized.

If it’s in orbit at the surface of the Sun, the Sun’s atmosphere will slow it down. It can conceivably get there through highly improbable interactions with Jupiter, Venus and Mercury.

Say what? Why do you say this? I’d think it would take the same amount of energy to launch into either star, plus the energy to cross 4.3 light years if you want to hit Alpha Centauri. So Earth->Sol == less energy than Earth->Alpha Centauri. As for the rest of the Universe, are you high? I could launch something using less energy into the Eta Carinae than Sol? The Magellenic Clouds? Andromeda? Abell 1835 IR1916 ?

To the OP: What BwanaBob said.

The sun’s mass is 332,950 times the earth’s mass.

For a spitting comparison, Lake Ontario is 393 cubic miles of water. Divide that by 332,950 and you get approximately 0.001 cubic mile. That’s a body of water 0.1 mile on a side. Some spit.

Nonetheless, I’m in agreement with everyone that throwing the earth into the sun wouldn’t cause more than a momentary hiccup and that any nuclear waste we could magically transport wouldn’t be a mosquito fart.

Or wait until the dark side is facing us.

Quoth Zenbeam:

I’m not sure precisely what you’re saying here, but I can’t make sense of it any which way. The Sun is only half a degree across from the Earth, and of course Earth is much smaller than the Sun.

Quoth squeegee:

I’m not actually certain about targets outside the Galaxy, but inside, yes. It takes less energy to get up to escape speed from the Sun that it would to kill our current orbital speed, and without killing our current orbital speed, the payload is just going to loop back up. And there’s no energy at all associated with crossing 4.3 lightyears: A body in motion tends to remain in motion if not acted on by any outside force.

To put it another way, if we make the generous assumption that your average expectoration is 3 mL, you’re still only spitting into a body one cubic meter in volume. That’s a pond, not a lake, and unless you’ve got allergies or a chaw habit, you might only need a puddle – 1/10 cu. m.

I’m sorry, but this just seems completely disconnected from your claim that it takes more energy to launch something into the Sun than it does into another star. The energy needed to achieve escape speed from the Sun may be less than “killing our current orbital speed,” but you don’t need to kill something’s orbital speed to launch it at the Sun. You need to point it at the Sun and make it escape whatever gravity well it starts out in (the Earth’s, presumably.)

I’d agree with squeegee in that on the face of it, your counter makes no sense. The payload will not loop back up if aimed directly at the Sun. The Apollo missions did not loop back up to the Moon when aiming at the Earth.

One cubic meter is about 100 cubic feet. If it’s ten feet deep then the surface is only around 3 by 3. That’s not even a pond. That’s Walden Puddle!