Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking revealed a plan today to send small robotic spacecraft 4.37 light years away to our closest neighbor solar system, Alpha Centauri, and send back pictures.
The basic idea is to send thousands of probes into space and then propel them forward with powerful laser beams from Earth. The nanocraft could then accelerate to 1/5th the speed of light and reach Alpha Centauri in approximately 20 years.
Of course there are 10’s of billions of dollars to raise for the mission and countless details to be worked out like building robust light sails, circuits that can withstand radiation in space and high gravity, and a suite of high powered lasers that work in perfect unison. However, if successful, we might get actual close-up pictures of a new solar system. Alpha centauri hosts three different stars and at least 1 known planet (and likely many more).
We all may be alive to see the launch, but we’ll have to wait about 20 years + whatever time it takes to beam back the images to see the fruits of the mission. Exciting nonetheless!
On January 16, 2006, the New Horizons space probe left Earth on a voyage to Pluto. 9 years, 5 months, and 29 days later, the spacecraft has successfully made it 3+ billion miles to the distant “planet.” The image above was shared via NASA’s Instagram page and represents the first look at the planet up close and personal.
“The color is real! The reddish hue is due to tholins, organic (carbon-based) molecules crated when methane, abundant on Pluto, is hit by ultraviolet light from the Sun. This breaks apart the simple molecule and allows it to reform into more complex molecules.”
The folks at NPR’s Skunkbear put together this short tribute video to honor the journey:
And here’s a quick 1 minute informational video to catch you up on the key statistics of the mission:
Look forward to many more detailed images in the days to come.
The first image taken from the Philae Spacecraft on the surface of the comet
The European Space Agency succeeded in putting a spacecraft on the surface of a comet yesterday! This is a wonderful achievement for mankind! The robotic probe, Philae, reached 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (what a name?!) on the back of the Rosetta satellite on a 10-year, 6.4 billion-km journey. The descent to the surface took approximately 7 hours, and it wasn’t without its fair share of suspense. The 2 harpoons which were meant to stabilize the probe failed to launch, and the spacecraft actually bounced a few times on the surface before reaching its final resting place.
The main problem with the current position is that the lander is suffering from a lack of sunlight to power all of its tools. Philae is only receiving about 1.5 hours of illumination during every 12-hour rotation of the comet (much less than the agency had hoped for). The Europeans would love to power up Philae’s on-board drill and analyze the comet’s composition, but at the moment, they are worried that the drill’s rotational forces will destablize the probe and send it off into space. Regardless of future plans, this is already a tremendous achievement. Any time you accomplish something that has never happened in the history of humanity, I’d say it was success!
Why did they attempt this mission?
Many scientists believe that comets brought organic molecules to Earth, helping give rise to our oceans and atmosphere, and maybe even the seeds of life. So, learning more about comets’ materials in space could help us discover how life began at home.
A little known fact is that here at RobotSpaceBrain, we actually launched a manned-mission to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko around the same time, and we are HAPPY TO REPORT, THE MISSION WAS A RESOUNDING SUCCESS! We even stuck the landing:
Needless to say, this is one of those really exciting moments in space exploration!
Mattias Adolfsson is a Swedish artist who created these incredibly detailed pen & ink sketches of surrealist architecture, machines, animals, and spacecraft. The illustrations are so intricate that I often find myself staring at them for long periods of time and discovering new details each time I look. I have a feeling each piece probably takes several days of back-breaking concentration to complete.
Most of the drawings are stand-alone pieces of art, but he has completed work for The New York Times, Work style Magazine, Amtrak, and Wired.
Mattias has a LARGE collection of work, just type his name into google, and you’ll see the whole gamut (or just check his website).
Also, you can find a cool book of some of his illustrations which are printed onto Moleskin HERE.
The Cassini spacecraft has just found evidence for an ocean of liquid water inside Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. Of course, this is exciting news because we know that water is an essential agent for all biochemistry on Earth. In other words, the best places to search for alien life in our solar system contain some source of liquid water (i.e. Europa).
The ocean was found using gravitational measurements from the spacecraft. According to Sami Asmar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.: “The way we deduce gravity variations is a concept in physics called the Doppler Effect, the same principle used with a speed-measuring radar gun. As the spacecraft flies by Enceladus, its velocity is perturbed by an amount that depends on variations in the gravity field that we’re trying to measure. We see the change in velocity as a change in radio frequency, received at our ground stations here all the way across the solar system.”
Enceladus is just one of 52 named moons that orbit Saturn.
There may be an ocean of alien life swimming around underneath the surface of Enceladus, but we’ll never know until we can drill into the moon. A similar project is being planned for Europa sometime in the 2030’s.