To boldly go where no man has gone before…
These are the introduction words of the Star Trek franchise. Humanity has long dreamed about going out into the starts to explore “strange new worlds and seek out new life,” however, the laws of physics, our knowledge, technology and lack of money have put a damper of such plans. Well today, Dr. Stephen Hawkins, renown physicist, has introduced a mission that can get us to go beyond and study other galaxies.
While at the One World Observatory in New York City, Dr. Hawking launched ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ which is being supported by billionaires Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, INC. On Facebook, Hawking posted:
Today, at the One World Observatory in New York City, Yuri Milner and I launched a mission to the stars. Mark Zuckerberg lent his support by joining the board of our new initiative, Breakthrough Starshot.
Within the next generation, Breakthrough Starshot aims to develop a ‘nanocraft’ – a gram-scale robotic space probe – and use a light beam to push it to 20 percent of the speed of light. If we are successful, a flyby mission could reach Alpha Centauri about 20 years after launch, and send back images of any planets discovered in the system.
Albert Einstein once imagined riding on a light beam, and his thought experiment led him to the theory of special relativity. A little over a century later, we have the chance to attain a significant fraction of that speed: 100 million miles an hour. Only by going that fast can we reach the stars on the time-scale of a human life.
It is exciting to be involved in such an ambitious project, pushing the boundaries of ingenuity and engineering. – SH
This mission entails sending nanocrafts or nanoprobes, or small bots into space that will contain cameras, sensors, maneuvering thrusts and communications equipment. The nanocrafts will be aided by 100-gigawatts laser pulses which will power the nanocrafts’ ‘light sails’ which will give them momentum to travel farther and farther from Earth. It is estimated that these nanocrafts will be able to travel about 20% of the speed of light which travels at 186,282 miles per second. This will allow the nanocrafts to reach our closest star after our Sun, Alpha Centuari in about 20 years. From there, they will be able to beam back information on planets in the system before they go too far and will not be able to communicate with Earth. These nanocrafts will be able to pass both Voyager probes within 2-3 days and they have been traveling into interstellar space for decades.
The plan is exciting and I hope it works well, however, I some things came to my mind. First, what is to prevent the nanocrafts from pulverizing in space as they travel so far causing friction? Remember, light travels at the speed of light, nothing else. Second, since there are asteroids and other objects in space, what will protect the nanocrafts from head-on collisions while traveling at 20% the speed of light? In Star Trek, the Enterprise had the deflector array which “push” away those objects in space which would have destroyed the ship as it travels at warp speed. These are what came to my mind as I watch Dr. Hawking etc give the presentation.