The Sun’s gradual brightening will seriously compromise the Earth’s biosphere within ~ 1E9 years. If Earth’s orbit migrates outward, however, the biosphere could remain intact over the entire main-sequence lifetime of the Sun. In this paper, we explore the feasibility of engineering such a migration over a long time period. The basic mechanism uses gravitational assists to (in effect) transfer orbital energy from Jupiter to the Earth, and thereby enlarges the orbital radius of Earth. This transfer is accomplished by a suitable intermediate body, either a Kuiper Belt object or a main belt asteroid. The object first encounters Earth during an inward pass on its initial highly elliptical orbit of large (~ 300 AU) semimajor axis. The encounter transfers energy from the object to the Earth in standard gravity-assist fashion by passing close to the leading limb of the planet. The resulting outbound trajectory of the object must cross the orbit of Jupiter; with proper timing, the outbound object encounters Jupiter and picks up the energy it lost to Earth. With small corrections to the trajectory, or additional planetary encounters (e.g., with Saturn), the object can repeat this process over many encounters. To maintain its present flux of solar energy, the Earth must experience roughly one encounter every 6000 years (for an object mass of 1E22 g). We develop the details of this scheme and discuss its ramifications.
(Submitted on 7 Feb 2001)