Tiny ‘Star Chip’ Could Reach Distant ‘Earth 2.0’ in 20 Years
Can a probe the size of a postage stamp reach Alpha Centauri ?
Stephen Hawking is hoping to send a space probe to a potentially habitable world around Alpha Centauri.
During a speech at the Starmus Festival in Norway this week, the world-famous physicist described a new type of miniature spacecraft called a Star Chip that could soon make it possible to acquire close-up images of the nearest extrasolar planets within a matter of decades.
Measuring mere centimeters in size and equipped with a solar sail, these tiny probes would be propelled forward by a laser beam fired from the surface of the Earth.
Under the right conditions they might even be able to reach up to one-fifth the speed of light.
“Such a system could reach Mars in less than an hour, reach Pluto in days, pass Voyager in under a week, and reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years,” said Professor Hawking.
“Once there, the nano craft could image any planets discovered in the system, test for magnetic fields and organic molecules, and send the data back to Earth in another laser beam.”
“Importantly, the Star Chips’ trajectories may include a fly-by of Proxima b, the Earth-sized planet that is in the habitable zone of Alpha Centauri.”
Based on Hawking’s calculations, if one of these Star Chip probes was to be launched today, we could be receiving data about the nearest habitable extrasolar planet in just under 25 years.