Could a straw be used to suck greenhouse gases into space?

11 April 2010

Question

Hi, Chris

I have heard the term "vacuum of space" if this is the case, can we use this pressure to rid our atmosphere of unwanted greenhouse gases or smoke?

Answer

Dave - That sounds like a lovely idea. The problem is, there's nothing actually around the Earth holding the atmosphere in. There's not like a great big greenhouse holding the atmosphere in. If you keep on going up, you just hit the vacuum of space anyway. So what's holding the atmosphere down? It's just gravity. The Earth has got enough gravity to hold even the tiny molecule of oxygen down on it. And the reason why there's so much air pressure pressuring on us now is all of the air above us is getting pulled down by gravity and it's pushing down on us about 10 tons per square meter. So, if you put a big straw up into space, all you would do is have a straw with air in the bottom and there wouldn't be any air at the top. I guess you could possibly pump the air out. But you'd have to push it a long way up for it to get blown away.

Chris - If you could make a straw 50 miles high, you presumably have got the technology to deal with it another way would be my argument, wouldn't it?

Dave - And it would probably take more energy than not burning the fuel in first place.

Chris - But an impressive sight, though, wouldn't it?

Dave - It would.

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