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Is it possible for a launch of a space object originating from Earth to go so badly that it would cause permanent damage to the Solar System or even destroy it?

Example: a spaceship going off trajectory, ramming into a small planet or satellite, and destroying it or permanently changing its orbit or gravity, therefore changing the flow of light and radiation throughout the entire Solar System.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is this limited to present-day technology, or does it include future projections? $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy Sep 26 '16 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ I pretty sure that's next to impossible. We can't even make something big enough to destroy the earth, let alone the entire universe. $\endgroup$ – Christian Dean Sep 26 '16 at 0:17
  • $\begingroup$ When do you consider a solar system to be destroyed? Astronomy found, that the universe is full of solar systems and most of them may have different flow of light or radiation. If your question is about changing our solar system in a way that it wont support life, you should add that to the question. $\endgroup$ – Andreas Sep 26 '16 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ Permanent damage, sure--just very tiny damage. Do an inadvertent Deep Impact with a really tiny asteroid and the Solar System would be permanently without a really tiny asteroid. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Sep 26 '16 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ How can a question that has 6+ answers that have currently accumulated a score of 400+ to the answer posters have a negative score itself? I'll add +1 to at least bring it to non-negative values. I think it's a good question and clearly deserves an answer. Yes the Kessler syndrome answer is not good as written, but this question could use an improved Kessler Syndrome answer as well. Also, what about bio-contamination? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 25 '17 at 1:04
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First, some perspective.

The impact of a single fragment of the Shoemaker-Levy comet on Jupiter released an estimated energy equivalent of six million megatons of TNT (approximately 600 times the size of the world's nuclear arsenal), leaving an impact scar that was visible for several months afterward. That was obviously a bad day for Jupiter, but that impact had little to no effect on anything else, including Jupiter's moons.

We simply cannot build anything that could deliver the kind of energy necessary to cause any kind of damage to anything bigger than a small asteroid (where "small" means on the order of a dozen meters across). We smacked a hammer into a comet which excavated a lot of material, but didn't significantly alter the comet's path. We could possibly knock a larger asteroid on a collision course with another planet, but that wouldn't be an accident - it would require planning and a non-trivial amount of energy.

Objects in the solar system are so massive and so far apart that nothing we could launch would have much of an effect.

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No.

Look at the numbers:

                          10000 kg. => Your rocket 
        73420000000000000000000 kg. => The moon 
      5972200000000000000000000 kg. => The earth 
1989000000000000000000000000000 kg. => The sun

To put this to scale, the rocket has a similar mass towards the moon as that of one human cell towards a human.

You can throw it as fast as you want, it won't have any effect.

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    $\begingroup$ Very ingenious answer and nice formating using many zeros. There is a brilliant sentence about the solar system: The solar system consists of the Sun, Jupiter; Saturn and some rocks. That small amount of rocks includes Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Pluto, Charon, the Asteroid belt, the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. The Sun and all Gas Planets are more than 99 % of the mass of the solar system. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Mar 20 '17 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ This little ebola virus would like a word with you. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Nov 11 at 7:13
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Not in terms of physical damage, no. Rockets and spaceships and all the energy they contain is just so very, very, very, very small compared to everything.

There is one possibility for large scale damage though, even if it is very unlikely. There is a very small chance that some kind of virus or bacteria carried on a vehicle to some destination might just happen to survive and spread when it gets there, and if so, that could infect, pollute or otherwise damage where it landed. If you were really unlucky, over a very long time such an infection could spread to cover the entire body it landed on.

Although it is very unlikely, NASA do take this quite seriously, to the point of sterilizing all spacecraft components and assembling them in an ultra clean room, as well as calculating the probability that organic life survives that process, and survives the flight time to the destination, to make sure that the chance of contaminating the destination is sufficiently low. The Office of Planetary Protection is responsible for this.

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Let's assume you have a rocket made of anti-matter. Let's give it a 100 metric ton rocket of the stuff. $e=m c^2$, and with anti-matter, we are converting a mass twice the size of the rocket to pure energy. Let's just say that they have answered that question on World Building, you are quite a bit short of the limit of $10^{15}kg$ required to completely destroy the Earth alone, let alone the entire Solar System...

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One idea that came to mind is near-earth asteroids. There have been discussions on how to nudge one away from earth, but if you wanted to switch to evil genius mode, you could nudge it towards earth - Wouldn't destroy the solar system, but would make for a bad day/year/millennium/... for earth.

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  • $\begingroup$ But that's hardly a rocket launch going bad. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 26 '16 at 19:14
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For a launch, I'd say no. About the only scenario where it could be bad, at the planetary level, would be if the mission was to go out, say past pluto, and redirect a comet. And something goes wrong, and you end up aiming the comet at some planet.

Even that would take a lot. But if we posit that the original mission plan was to move the comet. Just that the execution screwed up, and moved it the wrong way -- then maybe.

That still wouldn't affect the whole solar system. It would ruin your day if it hit the planet you were on. But the rest of the planets would be fine.

unless you want to talk about timescales of billions of years. Then.... maybe ... just possibly... you could get a butterfly effect. where your ship slightly changes the orbit of hundreds or thousands of pluto-distance comets and over time, we get unlucky enough that several planets get impacted, maybe several times.

so, maybe earth (well - Life on Earth - the rock itself wouldn't notice), the moon, maybe some bases on a few other moons, would be toast?

as far as hurting a gas giant, or the sun. NO. Not Gonna Happen. There's an XKCD What if? comic about “what are the chances of accidentally affecting Jupiter's orbit?” Suffice to say, you cannot accidentally affect a gas giant in any meaningful way.

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