SPACECRAFT with sails could be propelled by lasers to the closest habitable planet to Earth.
That’s according to new calculations from researchers who think small spacecraft could be our best chance of exploring another habitable planet without it taking thousands of years to reach.
Scientists hope to send small craft to Proxima Centauri b in the hope of confirming that the exoplanet is habitable[/caption]
The supposedly habitable planet in question is called Proxima Centauri b.
The exoplanet is rocky and is in the habitable region of the star it orbits.
Unfortunately, it’s just over 4.2 light years away and would take thousands of years to reach with our current technology.
A new study, published in the journal Nano Letters, suggests low-powered lasers based on Earth could launch small probes and propel them into deep space.
The lasers would maneuver the small craft in the right direction.
Sails on the craft would catch laser beams just like sails on boats catch wind to help direct them.
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Researchers hope that small spacecraft would be able to move at nearly the speed of light in this way.
Some scientists are already working on this concept.
A project called Breakthrough Starshot is hoping to send a small probe to Proxima Centauri b on mission that could take about 20 years.
The aim is to power the craft with a laser that can make it move at 20% the speed of light.
The new study in Nano Letters suggests it is possible to send similar small sailed craft on interplanetary and interstellar missions without needing a lot of fuel.
Researchers Ho-Ting Tung and Artur Davoyan think we’d only need low-powered lasers to send spacecraft at speeds never achieved before.
They also determined that the perfect materials for the laser catching sails on the craft were silicon nitride and boron nitride made on a tiny scale.
They said: “Space exploration is of paramount importance to advancing fundamental science and the global economy.
“However, today’s space missions are limited by existing propulsion technologies.”
And, concluded: “Our analysis indicates that lightweight (1–100 g) wafer-scale (∼10 cm) spacecraft may be propelled by lasers to orbits that are beyond the reach of current systems.”
Laser powered craft could help us explore new worlds that are currently way out of reach[/caption]
In other news, Nasa has revealed a stunning image of an unusual ‘space triangle’ it was able to capture with the Hubble Space Telescope.
Elon Musk has long been vocal about his ambitions for colonizing Mars – here’s everything we know about his plan.
And, astronomers have observed a red giant star dying in real-time for the first time ever.
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