Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Can't See The Stars For the Galaxy

Not with so many immediate problems down here on Earth.

Have a fun journey:

"Tiny probes would be the stars of 20-year trip to Alpha Centauri" by Dennis Overbye New York Times  April 13, 2016

NEW YORK — In an attempt to leapfrog the planets and vault into the interstellar age, a collection of scientists and other luminaries from Silicon Valley and beyond, led by Yuri Milner, a Russian philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur, revealed a plan on Tuesday to send a fleet of robots no bigger than iPhones to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, 4.37 light-years away.

If it all worked out — a cosmically big “if” that would occur decades and perhaps $10 billion from now — a rocket would deliver a “mother ship” carrying a thousand or so small probes to space. Once in orbit, the probes would unfold thin sails and then, propelled by powerful laser beams from Earth, set off one by one like a flock of migrating butterflies across the universe.

Within two minutes, the probes would be more than 600,000 miles from home — as far as the lasers can maintain a tight beam — and moving at a fifth of the speed of light. But it would still take 20 years for them to get to Alpha Centauri. Those that survived would zip past the stars, making measurements and beaming pictures back to Earth.

Much of this plan is probably half a lifetime away. Milner and his colleagues estimate that it could take 20 years to get the mission off the ground and into the heavens, 20 years to get to Alpha Centauri, and another four years for the word from outer space to come home. And there is still the matter of attracting billions of dollars to pay for it.

Milner, 54, in an interview announced the project, called Breakthrough Starshot, in a news conference in New York on Tuesday. In a statement released by Breakthrough Starshot, the English cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking said: “Earth is a beautiful place, but it might not last forever. Sooner or later we must look to the stars.”

Don't let him drive.

Hawking is one of three members of the board of directors for the mission, along with Milner and Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder.

Got your helmet?

The project will be directed by Pete Worden, a former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center and the chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, which Milner founded and of which the new venture is an offshoot. He has a prominent cast of advisers, including Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb as chairman; British astronomer royal Martin Rees; Nobel Prize-winning astronomer Saul Perlmutter, of the University of California, Berkeley; Ann Druyan, producer of the TV show “Cosmos” and widow of Carl Sagan; and mathematician and author Freeman Dyson, of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Estimating that the project could cost $5 billion to $10 billion, Milner is initially investing $100 million for research and development. He said he was hoping to lure other investors, especially from international sources.

Most of that money would go toward a giant laser array, which could be used to repeatedly send probes toward any star (as long as the senders were not looking for return mail anytime soon) or around the solar system, perhaps to fly through the ice plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which might contain microbes — tiny forms of life.

In a sense, the start of this space project reflects the make-it-break-it mode of Silicon Valley. Rather than send one big, expensive spacecraft on a journey of years, send thousands of cheap ones. If some break or collide with space junk, others can take their place.

Interstellar travel is a daunting and humbling notion. Alpha Centauri is an alluring target for such a trip: It is the closest star system to our own, and there might be planets in the system. The system consists of three stars: Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, sunlike stars that circle each other, and Proxima Centauri, which may be circling the other two. In recent years, astronomers have amassed data suggesting the possibility of an Earth-size planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B.

It would take Voyager 1, humanity’s most distant space probe, more than 70,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri if it were headed in that direction, which it is not....

Maybe they should stop and ask for directions.


I'd go in the opposite direction if I were you.