Stories
Slash Boxes
Comments

SoylentNews is people

posted by cmn32480 on Wednesday April 13 2016, @02:48AM   Printer-friendly
from the that's-a-tiny-spaceship dept.

The BBC and the Guardian both carry stories about an unmanned interstellar spacecraft designed to reach the Alpha Centauri system "within a generation" (30 or so years).

The spacecraft would be miniaturised to the size of an average silicon chip, and be propelled by a solar sail which would receive a boost from a powerful laser on the Earth.

Milner's Breakthrough Foundation is running a project, backed by Hawking, to research the technologies needed for such a mission, which they think will soon be feasible.

takyon: The campaign is called Breakthrough Starshot. Breakthrough Initiatives also announced the release of initial observational datasets from the Breakthrough Listen 10-year SETI effort.


Original Submission

Related Stories

European Southern Observatory to Receive Funding from Breakthrough Starshot to Upgrade Telescope

The Breakthrough Starshot initiative, which is known for its long-term plan for sending chip-sized craft to Alpha Centauri using lasers, will fund an upgrade to the Very Large Telescope in order to search for exoplanets:

Today, the European Southern Observatory announced an agreement with Breakthrough Starshot, A group dedicated to sending hardware to return data from the nearest stars. The agreement would see Breakthrough Starshot fund the development of new hardware that would allow the ESO's Very Large Telescope to become an efficient planet hunter. The goal is presumably to confirm there's something in the Alpha Centauri system worth sending spacecraft to image.

[...] The new hardware will be a modification of existing equipment. The Very Large Telescope is actually four eight-meter telescopes capable of being operated as a single unit. One of these (Unit 3, named "Melipal") has hardware called VISIR, for VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared. VISIR can separate infrared light into its component wavelengths, which can tell us something about either the source of the light or any objects in between that absorb light of these wavelengths. Exoplanets turn out to be best to image in the infrared since they often glow with heat, either left over from their formation or due to absorbing light from their host star. But VISIR isn't specialized for planet hunting. For that, it will need a coronagraph, which will blot out the light from the star and make planets easier to spot. VISIR will also need adaptive optics, which can compensate for distortions created by the atmosphere. (The Very Large Telescope may be 2.5km above sea level in a desert, but the atmosphere still poses problems.) And it will likely need additional vibration dampening equipment.

Previously: Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner's $100 Million Interstellar Spacecraft Plan
"Earth-Like" Exoplanet Found in Habitable Zone of Proxima Centauri


Original Submission

Breakthrough Starshot Faces Material Science and Engineering Challenges 5 comments

Researchers have written about some of the challenges involved in building a light sail suitable for Breakthrough Starshot, a project that would accelerate a gram-scale "chipcraft" using lasers so that it could travel interstellar distances in just decades:

A team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology has taken a hard look at the challenges facing efforts to carry out the Breakthrough Starshot project. In their Perspective piece published in the journal Nature Materials, the researchers outline the obstacles still facing project engineers and possible solutions.

The light sail would need to be made of a lightweight but reflective material able to withstand being bombarded by gigawatts of photons without melting. Graphene doesn't qualify. Many of the materials the researchers evaluated have only been studied in their bulk forms, rather than thin films, which can have different properties.

The researchers seem optimistic about the challenges. From the abstract (DOI: 10.1038/s41563-018-0075-8) (DX):

The Starshot Breakthrough Initiative established in 2016 sets an audacious goal of sending a spacecraft beyond our Solar System to a neighbouring star within the next half-century. Its vision for an ultralight spacecraft that can be accelerated by laser radiation pressure from an Earth-based source to ~20% of the speed of light demands the use of materials with extreme properties. Here we examine stringent criteria for the lightsail design and discuss fundamental materials challenges. We predict that major research advances in photonic design and materials science will enable us to define the pathways needed to realize laser-driven lightsails.

Also at Ars Technica.

Previously: Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner's $100 Million Interstellar Spacecraft Plan

Related: NASA Plans to Launch an Interstellar Mission to Alpha Centauri in 2069


Original Submission

"Earth-Like" Exoplanet Found in Habitable Zone of Proxima Centauri 26 comments

Astronomers have reportedly discovered an Earth-like exoplanet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, one of the closest stars to our Sun. However, the claim is based on an anonymous source who is said to have leaked the news ahead of an announcement by the European Southern Observatory:

[In] what may prove to be the most exciting find to date, the German weekly Der Spiegel [translation] announced recently that astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, just 4.25 light-years away. Yes, in what is an apparent trifecta, this newly-discovered exoplanet is Earth-like, orbits within it's sun's habitable zone, and is within our reach. But is this too good to be true? [...] Citing anonymous sources, the magazine stated:

The still nameless planet is believed to be Earth-like and orbits at a distance to Proxima Centauri that could allow it to have liquid water on its surface — an important requirement for the emergence of life. Never before have scientists discovered a second Earth that is so close by.

In addition, they claim that the discovery was made by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) using the La Silla Observatory's reflecting telescope. Coincidentally, it was this same observatory that announced the discovery of Alpha Centauri Bb back in 2012, which was also declared to be "the closest exoplanet to Earth". Unfortunately, subsequent analysis cast doubt on its existence, claiming it was a spurious artifact of the data analysis.

However, according to Der Spiegel's unnamed source – whom they claim was involved with the La Silla team that made the find – this latest discovery is the real deal, and was the result of intensive work. "Finding small celestial bodies is a lot of hard work," the source was quoted as saying. "We were moving at the technically feasible limit of measurement." The article goes on to state that the European Southern Observatory (ESO) will be announcing the finding at the end of August. But according to numerous sources, in response to a request for comment by AFP, ESO spokesman Richard Hook refused to confirm or deny the discovery of an exoplanet around Proxima Centauri.

[Continues...]

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.
Display Options Threshold/Breakthrough Mark All as Read Mark All as Unread
The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
  • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:05AM

    by c0lo (156) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:05AM (#330955)

    Wasn't some news a while back in which the same Hawking was advising "shush, let's hide, don't tell the aliens we're here"? Yes, there was [soylentnews.org].
    Maybe he became too old/ill so he can't resist any more being enrolled into supporting every crackpot idea asking for hundreds of millions?

    Suppose the space-chip reaches the destination.
    How is it going to decelerate? Or will just pass through the system in a matter of hours and that's that?
    How's gonna transmit info back without being drowned by the noise generated by the Alpha Centauri itself?

    • (Score: 3, Disagree) by VanderDecken on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:07AM

      by VanderDecken (5216) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:07AM (#330973)

      How's [it] gonna send info back?

      Quantum entangled transmitters/receivers? I know we're not there yet, but ...

      --
      The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.
      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:49AM

        by c0lo (156) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:49AM (#330990)

        Well, buy some ansibles from LeGuin or Scott Card.

      • (Score: 4, Informative) by maxwell demon on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:15AM

        by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:15AM (#331046) Journal

        Quantum entangled transmitters/receivers?

        No. Quantum entanglement doesn't work that way. In particular, you cannot, in any way, use quantum entanglement to transmit information when you have no way to transmit information without quantum entanglement. This is forbidden by the very fundamentals of quantum mechanics, so breaking this would mean breaking quantum mechanics itself. Or in other words, should we ever find a way to use quantum entanglement in a way you envisage, we'd not use quantum mechanics, but some post-quantum physics. At this stage, you could just as well speculate about using custom-built wormholes for communication.

        --
        The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @12:58PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @12:58PM (#331120)

          At this stage, you could just as well speculate about using custom-built wormholes for communication.

          I'd call it the Early Bird Protocol, and implement it as RFC 2549. [ietf.org]

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @09:19PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @09:19PM (#331305)

          Is it possible to use QE for NON-faster-than-light communication? Even if we can't get FTL, it would be nice to not need huge antennas and power to communicate at such distances.

          • (Score: 2) by butthurt on Thursday April 14 2016, @12:44AM

            by butthurt (6141) on Thursday April 14 2016, @12:44AM (#331375) Journal

            The relativistic speed of this thing would militate against that. If it were to strike a planet, a great deal of energy would be released as heat, enough to cook the organisms aboard.

          • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Thursday April 14 2016, @06:45AM

            by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 14 2016, @06:45AM (#331499) Journal

            Any communication using quantum entanglement has classical communication as integral part. You can use it to do things you could not do with classical communication alone, but you cannot do communication where classical communication is not possible.

            One way to think about it is that entanglement communication is inherently encrypted with a one-time pad only available to the sender, and you need classical communication in order to transmit the key. Moreover if you listen without the other side sending, you'll just get random noise, and thus you cannot even determine if the other side actually has sent anything unless you receive the key through classical communication.

            Quantum entanglement is great if you want to have uncrackable encryption, but it cannot replace classical communication, only add to it.

            So even with quantum entanglement you'll need the big antennas.

            --
            The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
    • (Score: 2) by davester666 on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:24AM

      by davester666 (155) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:24AM (#331002)

      I believe this is a preemptive strike on the evil beings in the Alpha Centauri system, as the chip will be loaded with as many different bacteria and viruses as possible [that are also likely to be viable upon delivery].

      • (Score: 2, Funny) by zoefff on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:58AM

        by zoefff (5470) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:58AM (#331062)

        No, revenge, my dear, revenge.
        Somewhere in 1914 emporer Franz Jozef thought that tsar Nicolas said something like: your mother is a ...., which, as we all know, started WW1.
        Only recently, Stephen Hawkins found out that this was said through a tiny wormhole from the planet Esterion and therefore he proposes this giant interstellar fleet of warships to revenge ourself for WW1, WW11 and the fact he doesn't like peanutbutter.

        That it means something quite innocent in the local language of the planet Esterion and that our fleet will be eaten by a little dog, is something we know, but he doesn't...

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:18AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:18AM (#330958)

    Interstellar RFID tag? A little small for anything useful. Who's going to keep the laser running for years? If it's that small then maybe it can use starlight (all spectrum) to propel it's self. I propose we paint a magnet dark on one side and white on the other. The magnet will keep aligned with the magnetic field of our sun and then reflective side would stay towards it.

    Where's my 100 million now?

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:42AM

      by takyon (881) Subscriber Badge <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:42AM (#330966) Journal

      I was under the impression that the badass laser would be able to accelerate the tiny lightweight spacecraft to 0.2c with a very short pulse duration, maybe hours long, not years. The whole setup is intended to weigh about 2 grams, 1 gram for the craft/chip, 1 gram for the meter long solar sail.

      Laser Propulsion Could Get Craft to Mars in Just Days [soylentnews.org]

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by c0lo on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:43AM

      by c0lo (156) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:43AM (#330988)

      Who's going to keep the laser running for years?

      Guardian FA:

      A 100 billion-watt laser-powered light beam would accelerate a “nanocraft” – something weighing little more than a sheet of paper and driven by a sail not much bigger than a child’s kite, fashioned from fabric only a few hundred atoms in thickness – to the three nearest stars at 60,000km a second....

      But falling costs and increasing processing power mean that spacecraft could become ever smaller and lighter: they could be launched by the thousand from a mothership and then driven by the proposed Light Beamer, a billion-watt laser array, mounted somewhere high and dry such as the Atacama desert in Chile.

      Avi Loeb, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, who heads the advisory board, said that to power the spacecraft, researchers have to work out how to link lasers into one massive array. Since the range of focus of a big laser on a small target would be no more than a million kilometers, the fragile spacecraft must reach terminal speed in just two minutes, and survive an acceleration of 60,000 times the force of gravity.

      So 100 GW laser working in Earth atmosphere - so, it needs a wavelength the atmosphere is transparent to - this rules out infrared and UV, thus VIS only.

      The best efficiency seems to be for Diode pumped - solid-state laser [wikipedia.org] - 48% theoretically achievable effciency.
      Thus the power will need to be at least twice of that - 200 GW - highly probable more than that.
      And this working for 2 minutes - which means an energy of 24 TJ.

      Some comparisons now:

      • 200 GW is that's over 3 times the installed power capacity of Australia [indexmundi.com].
        Atacama, eh? 200 GW is 00/16=12.5 times more than the installed power capacity in Chile [wikipedia.org]
      • the National Ignition Facility [wikipedia.org] uses a laser driver of 500 TW working for picoseconds (500J transferred on the target).
        I don't dare to think what material that sail needs to be made of, I highly suspect we are speaking about unobtainum.

        Any radiation absorption in that sail is going to vaporize it (assume a 10-6 absorption coefficient - that's five 9-s reflectance - and from 24TJ means 24MJ are absorbed - that's enough to boil more around 5 cubic meters of water).
        ---
        Guess what - that reflected energy needs to go somewhere.
        To have a precise trajectory to Alpha Centauri, one need to be extremely precise - so I suspect an extremely precise normal incidence on the sail (after some 100,000 kilometres on the trajectory, even multiple beams from a laser array will look like a single beam)
        So that reflected light? If you are as precise as you need to be, almost all that 100 GW of laser comes back to you, the emitter.

      • I don't want to think how the air is going to behave in a 100 GW laser beam - turbulence is almost certain, but I suspect ionization, some plasma, perhaps even some X radiation will be present
      • (Score: 2) by Gravis on Wednesday April 13 2016, @06:03AM

        by Gravis (4596) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @06:03AM (#331016)

        The only sustainable type of laser at high energy levels are free-electron lasers [wikipedia.org]. Also, you need to be constantly generating a large amount of power which would work using lots of large solar panels. Finally, you don't want to place the laser on Earth, the Earth is moving around the Sun!

        • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday April 13 2016, @06:25AM

          by c0lo (156) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @06:25AM (#331021)

          The only sustainable type of laser at high energy levels are free-electron lasers.

          The vest efficiency in the 5%-10% range. Many high powered ones can sustain lasing only for microseconds at >500kW.

          But no, you can use other lasers if you use them as an array (the way they plan to use).

          Also, you need to be constantly generating a large amount of power which would work using lots of large solar panels.

          At the current PV efficiency (say 33%) and taking 1kW/m2 the solar constant, 200 GW is equiv to 600e6 sqm of panels.
          A trifle really, "only" a square with about 25km side.

          Pricewise? If they use those $100 millions budget only to buy PV panels, they can afford them only if the price is under $0.17/sqm.
          Nah, not gonna happen.

          Finally, you don't want to place the laser on Earth, the Earth is moving around the Sun!

          And yet, this is exactly how they plan to do it. Perhaps the plan to compensate for Earths movement during those 2 minutes of acceleration.

          • (Score: 1) by anubi on Wednesday April 13 2016, @06:56AM

            by anubi (2828) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @06:56AM (#331033)

            I second the notion... Earth is a terrible place to put the laser....

            You know how the lensing effect of temperature layers of our atmosphere makes the stars appear to twinkle, or make mirages appear? Isn't that same lensing effect going to make it damn near impossible to get the light out precisely without the lensing effect randomly deflecting the laser ever so little one way and the other, to make it very erratic to hit its intended target?

            --
            "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
            • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday April 13 2016, @07:25AM

              by c0lo (156) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @07:25AM (#331039)

              See astronomical seeing [wikipedia.org] - after all, there's only one Hubble telescope in space and a great deal of large ones on Earth - this is how they manage [nature.com].

              But... I don't know what shining a 100GW laser will do to the atmospheric air - I think they don't know either.

              • (Score: 3, Interesting) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:15AM

                by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:15AM (#331045) Journal

                I think this is the closest "what if" to your question: https://what-if.xkcd.com/13/ [xkcd.com]

                • (Score: 2) by butthurt on Wednesday April 13 2016, @11:03AM

                  by butthurt (6141) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @11:03AM (#331085) Journal

                  I was thinking of the one that supposes "What if all of the sun's output of visible light were bundled up into a laser-like beam that had a diameter of around 1m once it reaches Earth?"

                  https://what-if.xkcd.com/141/ [xkcd.com]

              • (Score: 1) by anubi on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:19AM

                by anubi (2828) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:19AM (#331051)

                Thanks! I did not know that phenomena had a name, but I knew it existed.

                I extrapolated from how much wavering I observe from about ten miles of atmosphere after the light traveled light-years to get to me, and considered - at the angles I observe - what the mistargeting of the laser would be if I were trying to hit a target thousands of miles away with the laser on Earth... it seems to me ( gut feeling ) - that it would be damned near impossible to hold the laser onto the target - after its random perturbations by our atmosphere.

                I wonder how to sense the phenomena in realtime for correction? Maybe use a nearby star and correct for what the atmospherics did to its light?

                It seems like trying to use a laser ten feet underwater to hit something a mile up in the air... but you can't do anything about all the waves.

                Interesting point you bring up about the interaction of that much laser light with atmosphere. I have no feeling about this one yet, but if anyone here has worked with high power lasers on the ground, have you noticed anything smelly ( like ozone ) that gets released when that much energy is traveling through the atmosphere as light? I do know high voltage will stress the air so much I get ozone and various nitrogen compounds ( even the diesel engine in my van stresses the air enough to form various oxides of nitrogen ) .

                --
                "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
          • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:32PM

            by Grishnakh (2831) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:32PM (#331220)

            It seems like it'd make a lot more sense to just build the giant laser in space, and use it there: no problems with the Earth's movement (the laser could maneuver independently), no problems with atmospheric attenuation, etc. You could also allow it to transfer power over a longer period to the crafts.

        • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:52AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:52AM (#331060)

          Finally, you don't want to place the laser on Earth, the Earth is moving around the Sun!

          Anything residing in our Solar system must either move around Sun, get away of it very fast, or drop into it. Even all of Lagrange points are moving.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by evil_spork on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:31AM

    by evil_spork (6200) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:31AM (#330959)

    The article says it'll send back a laser signal, but it might be too weak to even see.

    Seems like they really need to improve that feature first, otherwise it's utterly pointless.

    Also, there was no mention of power supply. At the mass they're talking about, it won't be solar panels or nuclear batteries. Both are too heavy, and a solar panel would quickly become worthless and provide insufficient power. As to our regular batteries, I don't see them surviving that long, both because of insufficient storage, and vulnerability to the expected environment.

    Ideally we'd want data sent home the entire trip. We don't know what's between the stars, and we really want to.

    Besides, there's that whole too F-N cold issue that will trash our current electronics if they aren't kept warm by something. Yes, I said warm. At the really freaking cold temperatures we estimate are out there, you can expect that sucker to stop working and even physically break apart if it either isn't kept warm, or made of something rather different than what we currently do. (Overclockers with their megacooling come nowhere near these levels of cold.) It seems most likely there will be some kind of warming circuit (maybe just running the systems will be good enough), but that will require power, again a problem in the deep void between the stars with something only a few grams in mass. (That whole thing about non-nuclear batteries being vulnerable is a doubly nasty here as they'd have to spend power to keep themselves warm enough to operate, and I suspect we have nothing capable of that for those conditions, durations, and low mass.)

    The final difficulty I'm going to throw in here is speed and deceleration. Ok, so we successfully get it up to 20%C and it zips out of our solar system in a few hours. Now you get to the target system, and either speed through it with almost no observations worth beaming home, or it needs to slow down and hang around for a bit. Sure you've got that tiny solar sail, but you don't have an equivalent megalaser blasting it. You can pretty much assume the solar wind from it's target star is going to have about as much effect as our sun. Not because it might not be stronger, but rather because you probably won't be hitting it at an optimum angle. This flimsy star grape with gossamer wings can't do aerobraking, even if we knew of a viable body to do that with. At those kinds of speeds, I'm rather doubtful it could even pull one of those gravity only based ones around the star and survive. Not to mention, they didn't say what kind of thrust levels it could produce with those "photonic thrusters", but I suspect it's very tiny, and so course corrections would take hours, which would probably exceed it's within system observable window much less maneuver to brake capability.

    Have those guys thought about all this stuff? Maybe, but the article doesn't mention any of it, and they have indicated that they are hoping some technology is developed before hand as they're going to need it.

    I love the idea, but I hope they have some better answers before spending that much money.

    • (Score: 2) by toygeek on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:38AM

      by toygeek (28) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @03:38AM (#330962) Homepage

      Well the trip will still take so long that by the time the little tiny things get there, they'll have figured out how to slow them down.

      --
      There is no Sig. Okay, maybe a short one. http://miscdotgeek.com
    • (Score: 2) by el_oscuro on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:03AM

      by el_oscuro (1711) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:03AM (#330972)

      Ok, so we successfully get it up to 20%C and it zips out of our solar system in a few hours
      If we can pull that off, without anything else, that is a huge discovery. If the probe can send back any telemetry at all, imagine how much we could learn.

      --
      SoylentNews is Bacon! [nueskes.com]
      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:03AM

        by c0lo (156) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:03AM (#330994)

        If we can pull that off, without anything else, that is a huge discovery. If the probe can send back any telemetry at all, imagine how much we could learn.

        The single solution I can see: chips created with Josephson junctions [wikipedia.org].
        To put it mildly, not very common in the current technology, I doubt anyone tried the Moore law on them.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:17AM

      by takyon (881) Subscriber Badge <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:17AM (#330975) Journal

      It doesn't necessarily need to decelerate to be useful. New Horizons zipped past Pluto and its moons, and was still able to provide plenty of data. That said, the communications link between a gram sized "spacecraft" in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri and Earth will be awful.

      As for solar wind knocking them off course, the plan is to send hundreds of these cheap chips. Many may not survive.

      I hope that this concept gets tested on the gas giants, because today's lasers could be used to get such tiny crafts to anywhere in the solar system within a week. Another team wants to get a 100kg craft to Mars in 3 days [soylentnews.org] (that's at least 50,000 times more mass than this proposal). They may also be able to aim them such that they enter into orbit around the gas giants, something that seems unlikely with Alpha Centauri.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:26AM

      by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:26AM (#331053) Journal

      > The article says it'll send back a laser signal, but it might be too weak to even see.

      Send a chain of them, as far apart as their transmitters / receivers will allow. Have them relay the signals from the frontmost probe back to Earth.

      • (Score: 2) by rts008 on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:36PM

        by rts008 (3001) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:36PM (#331201)

        That is the proposed idea. As the first batch reach a certain point, launch subsequent batches in series to maintain comm's.

        I RTFA, and it seemed well thought out, and may be doable down the road. They openly admit that the success depends on advances in tech that have not been made yet, but are plausible in the near future. The plan is more of a 'let's see if we can figure out how to do this, and if feasible, then do it within 30 years', instead of an actual, detailed, final plan.

        One thing I did notice was how they proposed to power the 'craft' with 'expected advances'; most other areas they at least had a starting point, or suggestion.
        To be fair though, they have listed 20 'items' that needed to be overcome/solved to make this work...power supply was on that list.

        I started reading the submitted articles for entertainment purposes long ago, and it has worked astoundingly well. ;-)
        Reading the comments brings about the same feeling I used to get as a kid, watching Looney Tunes on Saturday morning. :-)

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14 2016, @03:57AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14 2016, @03:57AM (#331459)

      The spacecraft may be just a red herring. The real purpose of the project may be the construction of powerful lasers which could be used to announce our presence to extraterrestrials [soylentnews.org]. Much as the Apollo program popularised Tang [foodtimeline.org], such lasers could have more mundane applications such as diverting asteroids, cleaning up orbiting debris, disabling ICBMs, starting nuclear fusion, large-format engraving, and so on.

  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:31AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:31AM (#330980)

    Remember the old days when a generation was 15 years?

    How soon before career-oriented gold-digging women wait on average until after menopause to reproduce?

    Human extinction due to female greed is going to be hilarious.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by devlux on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:39AM

      by devlux (6151) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:39AM (#330984)

      Humans live a bit longer than we did back then. New opportunities to explore and have a life. Women aren't dependent on men to provide for them anymore.

      Women's increasing independence from men is becoming self evident. Yet laws written in the stone age, force men to have to pay for a one night stand for the next 18 years.
      At least there are movements that try to level this a bit....
      http://metro.co.uk/2016/03/05/male-abortions-would-give-the-right-to-opt-out-of-fatherhood-says-political-group-5735140/ [metro.co.uk]

      Note the baby is fine, but the father is opting out of fatherhood. I love my kids would never want to not be their father. But if women can get an abortion without the consent of a man, or keep the baby. Men should be allowed to opt out of being financially responsible for something women are describing as a "personal healthcare choice".

      Strangely, men can have all parental rights terminated for no cause of their own (mentally ill, unemployed, can't find work, can't feed his kids etc) and still owe child support.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:46AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @04:46AM (#330989)

        Oh joy, you can trot out the fathers' rights crap. And yet you're still missing the point entirely.

        Human lives are lasting longer, but women's fertile years are not, and the average length of a generation is increasing. Do you even understand the potential problem with this trend?

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:03AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:03AM (#330995)

          Women's fertile years are increasing:

          https://soylentnews.org/article.pl?sid=14/10/20/1356234 [soylentnews.org]
          http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/worlds-oldest-mother-of-quadruplets-introduces-her-babies-to-the-world-10460350.html [independent.co.uk]

          A 65-year-old who became the world’s oldest mother of quadruplets in May has proudly shown off her babies to the world for the first time.

          The title of the oldest woman ever to give birth is thought to belong to either Maria del Carmen Bousada Lara, who had twins at the age of 66 in Spain in 2006, and Omkari Panwar, who was reportedly 70 when she gave birth to twins in India in 2008.

          IVF is only the tip of the iceberg. Technological solutions will allow more reliable fertility into older age. The same women who are delaying childbirth are the women able to afford fertility treatment.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:53AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:53AM (#331061)

          I agree with parent, the GP post is a weak/nonexistent argument - if you father a child he has half your genetic material, and hence you have some responsibility for the child.

          I think a stronger argument is that of sexism in family law courts. Friends working in family law have indicated that there is quite a bit of sexism in there (feminism), owing to anachronistic views of the predominantly male judges. Family courts in UK are civil courts, so there is no jury. I don't know of a good statistical study, so my only evidence is anecdotal. It would be very interesting to know if a statistical study of family court outcomes supports my view of massive institutionalised sexism.

          Nb: I believe that I am an egalitarian - so I shout down feminists and masculinists (is that a word).

        • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:48PM

          by Grishnakh (2831) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:48PM (#331225)

          Human lives are lasting longer, but women's fertile years are not, and the average length of a generation is increasing. Do you even understand the potential problem with this trend?

          The solution is simple: we need to figure out how to medically greatly reduce or eliminate aging. Once we figure that out, it won't be a problem (plus, they'll probably figure out how to extend womens' fertile years, or come up with a workaround).

    • (Score: 2) by Kell on Wednesday April 13 2016, @06:28AM

      by Kell (292) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @06:28AM (#331023)

      career-oriented gold-digging women

      Hello, Obvious Troll. It seems unlikely to me that woman who is career-oriented (and thus earning an income) is somehow also going to be a "gold-digger" (ie. social parasite). The sort of women who is independent and self-motivated enough to get and keep a career is hardly going to be happy as a dependent wallflower.

      --
      Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @02:42PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @02:42PM (#331170)

      Your grasp of what's happening is tenuous at best. As the other comments pointed out, gold diggers and career-minded women are two very different animals. Not every person who can give birth must do so for the species to continue. The planet is overpopulated as it is.

      There is nothing to fear from a human being who happens to be cisfemale. However, one should be aware that sooner or later they will invoke their cisfemale privilege and attempt to take advantage of you. Avoid causes such as breast cancer awareness, even if one has that part of female anatomy oneself. Sooner or later, somebody will emerge who is a cisgendered hunny. Should one fall out of favor with the cisgendered hunny, no matter how blatantly obvious it is that circumstances were not of one's making, even if the circumstances are ultimately the making of cisgendered hunnies, one will face the accusation that one is trying to control their bodies. They will block one's access to necessary medical services, especially their coveted hormones and breast care services such as mammograms. Every person who is 40 and over who is not cisfemale who is able to access regular screening mammograms is a direct threat and invasion to them.

      At best, one may have occasional business contact with a cisfemale. It is impossible to tell which are human beings and which are cisgendered hunnies until it is too late.

      As far as gold diggers, they exist. They raise their daughters will full knowledge of what their cisfemale privilege entitles them to, and the mothers encourage the daughters to breed early and breed often with as many different deluded sperm donors as possible. Sometimes they even brazenly attempt to scam men into being the sperm donor with a one night stand and merely a verbal promise that he will not need to worry about the child. This is, of course, a lie. I know men who the cisgendered hunnies have attempted to con this way.

      I do not think you will have to worry about cisgendered hunnies walking away from their cisfemale privileges.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by WalksOnDirt on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:10AM

    by WalksOnDirt (5854) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:10AM (#330997) Journal

    First off, we need a big telescope in space. Probably in the 100m range, or above. We want to know what we are sending a probe in to look at. We also need to demonstrate robotics adequate to maintain the telescope without humans present in deep space. This is trivial compared to what is needed later for the actual probes.

    Once we decide on a destination, we're going to want to attain a soft landing. That probably means we can't hurry on getting there. It should probably take several hundred years, or maybe longer. This means trying to launch in less than a century is pointless.

    The lander should be able to create solar cells from the native rocks of an asteroid. Once it has the power to send messages back to Earth it can start an observing program. It should also build a large receiving dish so we can talk to it efficiently. If we want to send followup probes we can have it build a laser decelerator, so we can finally send probes as fast as the article suggests.

    Yeah, this would take a thousand years or so to accomplish, but what's the rush?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @09:57AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @09:57AM (#331077)

      If it's money to burn.... put a telescope on the far side of the moon, build infrastructure on the moon to connect it to our side and have people stationed there.

      Advantages are that you have a telescope without earth's noise and a good reason to start colonizing the moon. It also opens up the motivation for people again to look at and dream about the future.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @01:56PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @01:56PM (#331148)

        What noise? This isn't RF we're talking about.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 15 2016, @01:38AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 15 2016, @01:38AM (#331982)

          Radio astronomy is a thing.

  • (Score: 1) by b0ru on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:17AM

    by b0ru (6054) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:17AM (#331048)

    If only humanity had the foresight to see Project Orion (http://www.oriondrive.com/ [oriondrive.com]) through before the ban on nuclear weapons in space. It's the greatest application I can imagine. It's marvellous to hear about these ideas, however; it may not be the Motie exploration ship from The Mote In God's Eye, but the idea is still quite remarkable.

    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:45PM

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Wednesday April 13 2016, @05:45PM (#331223)

      Nuclear spacecraft engines would indeed be a big improvement in thrust over our current technology, but according to Wikipedia, Project Orion would still require 130 years to get to Alpha Centauri. That won't seem so bad if we can medically eliminate aging, but until then it's just too long.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:19AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @08:19AM (#331050)

    Note this is a similar time scale to the development and construction of the LHC. It was first envisioned in the 80s. Extrasolar exploration would be F-ing awesome

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @12:29PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 13 2016, @12:29PM (#331109)

    oh lasers?
    i was hoping for a unscalable blackhole engine the size of a soda can or something ...