Space, time, technology and many other complex things to manage keep us at inhuman distances from other stars. If we want to reach another star system on a journey that does not last for several human generations, we have to find a new propulsion system.
For many astronomers, the best idea would be a solar sail, a way to propel a craft using the speed of photons. Something that at the moment seems very far from our technological knowledge.
However, engineers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California have taken a small step forward in this regard. “The idea of a light wing has been around for some time, but now we’re just trying to figure out how to ensure those designs survive in flight,” says Igor Bargatin, a mechanical engineer at the University of Pennsylvania.
Like air molecules hitting a sail of cloth, waves of radiation exchange momentum with whatever object they hit. Unlike air molecules, it has no rest mass, so any force it transmits will be small. Imagine that you are sunbathing … you do not feel any force pushing you, yet it is there but it is very light, about a thousandth of a gram.
How do you convert it into energy then? Theoretically, by shooting a laser at him. Here, however, many problems we have not yet solved appear.
But ideally, this project, called Breakthrough Starshot, would attempt to make a ship light enough to reach speeds of about 20 percent the speed of light; Enough to cover 4.2 light-years from Proxima Centauri in just two decades, our closest star.
Unfortunately, the presence of humans on board the ship is currently unexpected.
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