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Another Giant Leap For Mankind

Spacecraft may soon be able to reach interstellar space, relying on the pace of technological advancement related to light, which may bring the distance beyond thought closer. Hence, it may take just two decades to reach the destination where it is supposed to take 40,000 years.

Scientists have hinted that it would soon be possible for spacecraft to run close to the speed of light in space. They have claimed that it might take just 20 years to reach Proxima Centauri, a small, low-mass star located 4.2465 light-years away from the Sun in the southern constellation of Centaurus. Its Latin name means the nearest (star) of Centaurus. It is currently 12,950 AU (0.2 ly) from AB, which it orbits with a period of about 550,000 years. Currently, a spacecraft takes at least 40,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri.

Space scientists have claimed that they have been conducting research on the speed maintained by spacecraft for the last few centuries, but it is the light that has created problems for them. Specifically, the weightlessness of light particles has so far denied them getting success. However, what a thrilling experience it would be to run a spacecraft at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). Human beings, then, can easily be able to reach the innumerable unknown and unfamiliar worlds of this universe in much lesser time.

It is not possible even for the most advanced spacecraft to reach those places after covering an unimaginable distance. Modern spacecraft, run by solar power or other fuels, would be able to travel billions of miles into space. However, it is almost impossible for them to reach our nearest constellation in the lifetime of a human being. If a spaceship can maintain just 20% of the speed of light, then it could reach many unknown destinations in nearby constellations in a shorter span of time. As the photon particle of light is almost weightless, its pushing force, too, is very low. Scientists have explained that even if they increase this force to the desired level, then the cover of the spacecraft could be burnt due to its collision with light particles.


Meanwhile, two studies have made an attempt to resolve this issue. Nano Letters, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal, published the two research papers, one of which has been prepared by the University of Pennsylvania, and another by the University of California, on February 18, 2022. Breakthrough Starshot, a research and engineering project by the Breakthrough Initiatives to develop a proof-of-concept fleet of light sail interstellar probes named Starchip, to be capable of making the journey to the Alpha Centauri, funded these two studies.

Researchers have shown that it might be possible for a spacecraft to cover an unimaginable distance in space in a very short period of time, in not-so-far future. The pressure of the light, which reflects from a human body during sunbathing, is one-thousandth of one gram. To address this issue, scientists had planned to increase the size of the spacecraft so that more light could be emitted on it. They thought that the force of the light could be increased many times this way. However, it also increases the mass of the spacecraft, making it difficult for the light to push the spaceship. Again, a light-weight spacecraft can shatter with the slightest flicker of dust while traveling to space.

Journey to surrounding constellations by following the path of light

There had been a lot of research on another process in past. Scientists also tried to put a very large amount of strong laser beam on a very small area. However, it damaged the outer layer of the spacecraft. As the outer layer absorbed the ray, it got heated quickly. It could be a cause of danger while traveling to space.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have come out with a solution, as they have created the mantle of spacecraft with two layers, made of two different compounds (Molybdenum disulfide and Silicon nitride), which would protect the outer surface from strong laser beams. They have also been able to design the spacecraft in such a manner so that the force of the laser beams could be increased. Furthermore, this small and light-weight spacecraft could easily travel to space.

Hence, it is believed that a spacecraft could soon be able to reach the nearest constellation with the help of light. Within a decade or two, spacecraft could reach Proxima Centauri, 4.2465 light-years away from the Sun, and other galaxies. In other words, distances beyond the reach of the universe can be travelled by human beings!

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