What happens when you combine a world-renowned theoretical physicist, a Russian billionaire, and the founder of Facebook? Apparently, an epic space adventure to look for alien life.
No, this isn’t some new reality show, this is one of the most ambitious space expeditions that is about to happen. The $100 million project is called Breakthrough Starshot and is backed up by three of the most influential people in the world: Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and the brains behind it all, Stephen Hawking.
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Breakthrough Starshot aims to launch a nano, unmanned spacecraft that is set to travel 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years). Using present technology, this would normally take around 30,000 years, but this innovative spacecraft is poised to complete its mission in a mere twenty.
Classified as a “nanocraft”, it is designed to be the same size as a mobile phone. Don’t expect it to be roaming endlessly around the universe, though, as the team behind the multimillion project have their eyes set on Earth’s possible twin, Alpha Centauri.
Scientists have long been looking at this peculiar planet, which is said to be inhabitable.
“This is Alpha Centauri, our neighboring star,” Milner said in a conference held last November 12. “But in space, neighboring does not mean very near. Alpha Centauri is over 4 light-years away. That’s 25 trillion miles. And the problem is, space travel as we know it is slow. If humanity’s fastest-moving spacecraft Voyager had left our planet when humans first left Africa, travelling at 11 miles a second, it would be arriving at Alpha Centauri just about now.”
The recent announcement comes in the heels of Milner and Hawking’s previous joint project, Breakthrough Listen launched last 2015. As the founder of Breakthrough industries and an avid fan of physics himself, Milner had designed Breakthrough Listen to be the most powerful search ever for extraterrestrial life by surveying 1 million stars in the Milky Way closest to Earth. Spearheading the project is Pete Worden, former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Completing the lineup is Mark Zuckerberg, who, as announced in the same news conference, is part of the project’s board.
The spacecraft is designed to fly at least 20 percent of the speed of light. It also hopes to get useful data from Alpha Centauri as well as observe the star for any signs of life form.
“With light beams, light sails, and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation,” Hawking announced. “Today, we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos. Because we are human, and our nature is to fly.”