Is there a electromagnetic tractor beam we could use to clean up space?

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Offline thedoc

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Nicholas Faupel asked the Naked Scientists:
Is there some kind of electromagnetic tractor beam in development that could haul stuff to space from space? Has that been considered possible or impossible?

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 09/06/2015 13:50:01 by _system »


Offline Bill S

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Hi Nicholas.

Bearing in mind that science fiction can sometimes presage science fact; perhaps the tractor beam, as featured in various episodes of Star Trek might be a possibility for the future.  If we regard the tractor beam as a sort of ethereal “rope” then, quite apart from the considerable difficulty of figuring out how it might work, we would be faced with a situation in which, when pulling on the rope, the lighter object would always be pulled towards the heavier, or the non-anchored object would always be pulled towards the anchored one.  This would mean that the craft doing the collecting would have to be considerably bigger than the things it was collecting.  I think that might be the smallest of the problems faced.

Perhaps the tractor beam would not operate like an invisible rope; perhaps it would have more in common with that other feature of Star Trek, the warp drive.  Imagine a situation in which the Enterprise moves an object heavier than itself by warping spacetime.  Obviously, if it simply contracted space between itself and the heavier object, then the Enterprise would do the moving, but it could, for example, expand space on the far side of the object, while contracting space between the objects, thus causing the heavier one to do the moving. 

As far as I am aware, this is all still science fiction, so there's plenty of scope for some inventive person. [:)]
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