Physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner plan to reach Alpha Centauri in two decades to search for alien life – a journey at a speed that would allow for us to reach Pluto in only 3 days.
Alpha Centauri is the star system closest to our planet; it is 4.37 light-years away from us (read 40.2 trillion km). We would only reach it in over 30,000 years if we were to use current technology. However, the new mission will entail tiny, light- and laser-powered nano-spacecrafts that would move at 20% the speed of light. At this rate, they are expected to pass by Pluto in only 3 days such that they would be able to attain the star system in around 20 years.
The aim of the ambition-driven mission named ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ is to look for alien life beyond our solar system.
Have we really reached a time when we can aspire to literally reach out for stars beyond our system? According to Milner, we can “do more than just gaze at the stars”. So he says in a statement featuring in the official announcement of the project in New York City. He has injected up to US$100 million in the development of the nanocraft. Milner is also famous for investing in endeavours aimed at searching for aliens.
The tiniest of spacecraft to be powered by light has been named Starchip. Its size is comparable to a postage stamp; it weighs a gram. It will be packed with cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, and navigation and communication equipment.
A lightsail will be added to the spacecraft to thrust it with the light particles. Lasers will also be included to boost the object.
A prototype has been presented by Milner and Hawking.
“The Breakthrough concept is based on technology either already available or likely to be available in the near future,” said Milner. “But as with any moonshot, there are major hurdles to be solved.”