Thursday, 14 April 2016
You wouldn't get me up in one of those....
Alpha Centuri might be our nearest stellar neighbour, excluding the sun, but even so it's a long, long way away. Some 25 trillion (25,000,000,000,000) miles. Even light which is no slow coach takes 4 years to traverse that distance. Our current space vehicles which are comparatively nifty travelling at a respectable 11 miles per sec would take ... well you work it out... a long, long time to get there. And there's this Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, Mr Facebook and The History (of Time) Man Hawkins reckoning we can do it in 20 yrs.
When I say "we", I don't mean you or me or any human from Planet Earth. If , as planned, the one way trip is to take a relatively short time we're going to need a lot of energy and a very, very, very small space ship. Well it's really doesn't rate as a space ship since it's likely to be smaller than the smallest printed circuits available today. Sounds exciting...not.
The idea is quite simple in theory. We launch hundreds of these micro space crafts, with all the necessary instrumentation to take selfies and sniff out alien life forms, into earth orbit and then we blast them with a 500 gigawatt laser - imagine your CD player playing "A Whole Lotta Lovin" quite loud - that's the energy generated. This laser will smash up against large sails attached to the mini, mini computers and the energy imparted will slowly, but surely accelerate our little space ships over time to speeds nearing one fifth that of light. Which is where the 20 years comes from. Hugely impressive: what!
20 years after the launch the space around Alpha Centuri and its planets (we think it has some) will be littered with microchips snapping away and analysing whatever is up there. It'll be a fairly short visit since our little friends will be humming along at around 30k mpsec (faster than the Stig) and with no brakes. If the aliens are out we'll miss them, and our little fleet of chips will fly on to Infinity and beyond - unless picked up by a Blagulon Kappans' galactic dust cart.
I'm all for this adventure: it sounds really spiffing and quite exciting - Journey into Space that sort of thing. My only worry is what the Alpha Centurian will think of us, their nearest neighbours. A load of chips rushing through their backyard without so much as a "Hail fellow well met." and happy snapping like a bunch of demented Japanese.
It could lead to interstellar strife.