I have to admit that I’m not that familiar with the story The Little Prince. However, who doesn’t want to know if we could live on an Asteroid? I don’t think you need to know the story to be interested.
The Little Prince
This is a bestselling book about a prince traveler from a far-off asteroid. It was written in 1942, before anyone even knew what an asteroid looked like. Our first glimpse wasn’t until 1971.
The story was written on the basis that an asteroid had gravity, air, and a rose. As the link below says “There’s no point in trying to critique the science here, because (1) it’s not a story about asteroids, and (2) it opens with a parable about how foolish adults are for looking at everything too literally.”
How Should The Asteroid Be Like In Order That We Can Live On It?
The first property needed would be gravity. In order to have Earth-like gravity, if the radius of the asteroid was 1.75 meters, it would need 500 million tons of mass. That mass is equal to the combined mass of every human on Earth.
Though the gravity would be comparable, something to keep in mind is that there would be tidal forces. Your feet would be heavier than your head. That might feel like a gentle stretching sensation. Remember when you were a child laying down on the merry-go-round with your head towards the center? That’s kind of what it would feel like.
Will The Asteroid Be So Small That We Will Fall Out Of It (Or “Escape The Surface”, As Scientists Prefer To Call It)?
The velocity for us to escape the surface would be 5 meters per second.
That is less than a sprint, but more than a slow walk. The article explains it best by saying if you can’t dunk a basketball, you wouldn’t be able to escape this asteroid by jumping off it.
The article goes on to explain a little bit more about velocity which bears repeating: escape velocity is not affected by the direction that the speed is going, as long as you don’t go toward the planet. This means you could escape by sprinting across the asteroid horizontally and then jumping off a ramp.
If your speed was too slow, you would end up in orbit around it.
The speed of your orbit would be about that of a jog. Every part of your body would be pulling a different way in the orbit. If this happened to something like a moon, it would break apart into rings. Luckily, this would not happen to your body. Your orbit would be plenty chaotic without the rings.
A Real-Life Investigation
These orbits have been investigated by scientists in relation to real-world problems. A paper written by Radu D. Rugescu and Daniele Mortari explored different types of orbits. They showed that large elongated objects follow strange paths around the larger central body. Even the center of their gravity/mass didn’t move in a perfect ellipses. Some examples of the patterns they follow would be pentagonal orbits, or some will crash into the planet.
The practical application for this investigation was that scientists were looking into whirling tethers to move cargo in and out of gravity wells, acting as a free-standing space elevator. This could transport cargo to and from the moon or pick up a space craft. The challenge explained above with the orbit creates a challenge in making this a reality.
So, while it may seem far-fetched, if you ever do find yourself living on an asteroid, be careful not to race your fellow inhabitants. If you sprint too fast, you will end up in orbit.
Please check out this link and download the book. This particular scenario is under the Little Planet heading. There are many more enjoyable scenarios to explore.
Featured photo credit: Man With Open Arms on The Top of The Mountain/Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com