Interstellar Travel Still a Bit Far Away

Oliver Scott-Hansen, Staff Writer

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For many years, mankind has dreamed of traveling to another star system and maybe visiting its inhabitants if there are any. People have imagined hibernating through a 20-year voyage to a near neighbor and walking on an alien planet. The concept of interstellar travel is being heavily worked on, and we’re pretty close, however, maybe not as close as we’d like to be…

Alpha Centauri and Friends

If you haven’t heard of The Alpha Centauri System, it is the closest solar system to our own. With not one, not two, but three stars. Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri. Both A and B orbit each other, forming a binary system, while Proxima Centauri orbits the stars’ center of gravity, just like A and B. All the stars have at least one planet discovered around them, and another has been discovered orbiting the center of gravity. On average, Proxima Centauri is the closest star to us. But Proxima Centauri isn’t something like 93 million miles away, it is 4.25 Light Years away…

Light Years

One Light Year is the distance that light travels in one year. It, being a ridiculous distance of about 5.88 Trillion Miles takes even light itself a year to journey. The Center of The Milky Way is about 25,000 Light Years away, the Andromeda Galaxy is about 2.5 Million, and the edge of the Visible Universe is about 45 Billion. So if light comes from the edge of the Visible Universe, and we see it on Earth, whatever you’re seeing maybe doesn’t even exist anymore because you are seeing the light that took 45 Billion years to get here.

Probes and Lasers

In the early 2030s, 5 small probes with Solar Sails (explained later) will be put in a Low Earth Orbit (also known as LEO). When they pass over a special station situated on the surface, the station, equipped with multiple laser dishes, will suddenly shoot out all of the lasers it can onto the probe’s Solar Sail, giving it immense acceleration. And when the solar Sail does its part, the probe will be traveling at about ⅕ of the speed of light. That’s enough to reach the moon in 20 seconds! The same process will be initiated towards the other probes. They will be sent on a trajectory to Proxima Centauri. The journey will take a bit more than 20 years!

Solar Sails and Interstellar Dangers

A Solar Sail is a small sail-like object attached on the front or back of future spacecraft. It uses the Solar Wind as propulsion. The Solar Wind is particles rushing out from the sun’s and other suns’ atmospheres. Solar Sails can also be used to capture other forces of energy like Laser Propulsion. There are some risks at traveling at ⅕ of the speed of light. One risk being that at that speed, even a collision with a speck of dust could destroy the probe, which is why we are sending five probes. Thankfully, specks of dust aren’t that common in Interstellar Space (the space between stars). It’s like flying to another planet and somehow you go close to a small asteroid on your way. Still, scientists don’t like to take chances unless the chances are calculated.

Manned Missions

Only in a hundred years or more will humans be able to travel to our neighbors. There is a reason why and how light travels so fast. It is because it has no mass. The problem with manned interstellar spacecraft is that with all that mass of life support systems and all the fuel needed to go somewhere and back, that ship will be nowhere near massless. It will need a tremendous amount of thrust to escape the gravity of our sun and to achieve a speed that will get to Proxima Centauri in 25 years or less. And by the time it gets to Proxima Centauri it will most likely have almost no fuel left. Most of the world’s answer to this is: “Technology will have gone too far for a manned Interstellar spacecraft to be stranded out there. To be honest, we will have polished some landers with drills and resource processors to go down and mine a planet for fuel that far in the future. Unless someone is either super crazy, super lonely, or super dedicated, nobody will volunteer for a one-way interstellar trip.” Of course, this statement comes from me. However, it makes perfect sense. Technology will progress from Now to Interstellar times more than it did from 7,000 B.C.E to 3,000 B.C.E! We’re getting that good. We can only guess what exoplanets (planets in other systems) look like because they are just so far away. Only probes and people can reveal their true form. Voyagers’ definite first destination would be Proxima Centauri. Who or what will be the first interstellar voyager? How patient will we be receiving signals that really happened 4.25 years ago? How much will people want to go themselves?

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