It sounds impossibly far-fetched, but could a megastructure built around the sun be powerful enough to steer the entire solar system through the Milky Way?
One astrophysicist is the latest to demonstrate how it might be possible with two stellar engine designs based on the latest understanding of physics. One of the megastructures would be theoretically fast enough to move the solar system by 50 light-years in about a million years, providing enough time and distance to steer clear of a powerful explosion from a dying star, for example.
The solar system can be hypothetically moved this way, because everything in it is pulled by the sun’s gravity, keeping it all in constant orbit.
One is an extremely thin parabolic solar “sail” or giant mirror much like the “Shkadov thruster“. It would be made from highly reflective material, thinner than a red blood cell, positioned over the sun’s poles, and would not orbit. Caplan noted that metal foils of 0.2 micrometre are commercially available. The position of the mirror is crucial in order to avoid impacting the Earth’s temperature, but it also limits the direction in which the solar system can be steered.
The solar radiation reflected onto the giant mirror creates thrust and would slowly push the sun. With this “passive” method, the solar system could move as much as 100 light-years over 230 million years, according to an animated explanatory video by the Kurzgesagt YouTube channel. This would not be fast or far enough to avoid the “kill radius” of a supernova, however, Caplan wrote in his paper.
The other design was for a faster, “active” thruster, dubbed the “Caplan thruster” by Kurzgesagt, which had originally asked him to make the designs for a video. The Caplan thruster would work much like a rocket, blasting out photon particles to propel itself forward. The thermonuclear-driven thrusters would require millions of tons of fuel per second and are a modified form of the “Bussard ramjet“, a conceptual interstellar spacecraft propelled by fusion energy.
Caplan’s design would collect matter from solar wind through a large electromagnetic field to create fusion. There are two jets, one directed toward the sun (to prevent a collision with the star) and one away from the sun that creates a net momentum, functioning like a tug boat. A Dyson sphere would be used to lift billions of tons of mass off the sun, providing a large amount of fuel to power the jets.
A Dyson sphere is an enormous structure, such as a shell or a ring, built around a star and uses its radiation to capture energy. The concept was the product of a thought experiment on how highly advanced civilizations might satisfy its ever growing energy demand.
The Caplan thruster design would move fast enough to avoid a supernova and could redirect the solar system in its galactic orbit in about 10 million years.
“A stellar engine produces a small net acceleration of the star, not large enough to disruptthe planetary system on short timescales, but sufficiently large to deflect the star and planetary system in its galactic orbit by many light-years given millions of years,” Caplan wrote in his paper. Caplan was a Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics National Fellow.
“A catastrophe such as a supernova could likely be predicted millions of years in advance, at a minimum, for an advanced civilization with detailed understanding of star formation and the supernova mechanism.”
Megastructures and stellar engines themselves are not exactly new. These hypothetical concepts have been around for many decades, and have also made numerous appearances in popular culture.
Captain Picard and his crew on Star Trek: The Next Generation encountered a Dyson sphere during an investigation into a Federation ship that had been missing for decades. It powers a weapons forge on Nidavellir, a dying neutron star in Avengers: Infinity War. In The Expanse novels and television series, a megastructure turns out to be an artificial wormhole built by an extinct alien civilisation.
“With the Caplan thruster, we could turn the entire solar system into our spaceship,” Kurzgesagt said in its video, adding stellar engines would be built by civilizations thinking in terms of eons, not decades.
Humanity could colonize other parts of the Milky Way, or escape the galaxy altogether, Kurzgesagt added. “A stellar engine could allow the far future descendants of humans to travel to other stars without ever having to venture into the terrifying dark abyss of interstellar space.”
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Russian counterparts return safely to Earth from space station – Fox News
MOSCOW – A trio of space travelers safely returned to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission on the International Space Station.
The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan at 7:54 a.m. (2:54 GMT) Thursday.
After a brief medical checkup, the three will be taken by helicopters to Dzhezkazgan from where they will depart home.
Cassidy will board a NASA plane back to Houston, while Vagner and Ivanishin will fly home to Star City, Russia.
The crew smiled as they talked to masked members of the recovery team, and NASA and Roscosmos reported that they were in good condition.
As part of additional precautions due to the coronavirus, the rescue team members meeting the crew were tested for the virus and the number of people involved in the recovery effort was limited.
Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner spent 196 days in orbit, having arrived at the station on April 9. They left behind NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.
Cassidy, returning from his third space mission, has now spent a total of 378 days in space, the fifth highest among U.S. astronauts.
While serving as the station’s commander, Cassidy welcomed SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first NASA astronauts to launch to the space station on an American spacecraft from American soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Cassidy and Behnken completed four spacewalks for a total of 23 hours and 37 minutes, becoming two of only four U.S. astronauts to complete 10 spacewalks.
Before the crew’s departure, Russian cosmonauts were able to temporarily seal the air leak they tried to locate for several months. The small leak has posed no immediate danger to the station’s crew, and Roscosmos engineers have been working on a permanent seal.
In November, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are expected to greet NASA’s SpaceX first operational Crew Dragon mission comprising NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
NASA successfully tags asteroid Bennu: What you need to know about the mission – CNET
Editors’ note: Osiris-Rex has touched down on Bennu.. Our answers to questions about the mission are below.
major first for NASA and a boon for science, space exploration and our understanding of the solar system.briefly Tuesday to snag some rocks and dust from its surface to be returned to Earth for study. On Wednesday, NASA . The event marks a
The touch-and-go, or TAG, sample collection of asteroid 101955 Bennu was deemed a success at around 3:12 p.m. PT. NASA broadcast the TAG maneuver live on NASA TV and the agency’s website. You can find a video at the end of this piece. For answer to your mission questions, read on.
When did the mission begin?
Osiris-Rex as a concept has been in existence since at least 2004, when a team of astronomers first proposed the idea to NASA. After more than a decade of development, the spacecraft, atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The spacecraft spent the next 26 months cruising to Bennu, officially arriving on Dec. 3, 2018.
Since then, the mission team has spent nearly two years orbiting the diamond-shaped space rock, surveying and mapping its surface to select the best sampling spot. In recent months, rehearsals led up to the sample collection attempt.
Bennu is what’s called a “rubble pile” asteroid, meaning it was formed in the deep cosmic past when gravity slowly forced together remnants of an ancient collision. The result is a body shaped something like a spinning top with a diameter of around one-third of a mile (500 meters) and a surface strewn with large rocks and boulders.
Bennu is thought to be a window into the solar system’s past: a pristine, carbon-rich body carrying the building blocks of planets and of life. Some of these resources, such as water and metals, could also be worth mining at some point in the future for use on Earth or in space exploration.
The asteroid has one other characteristic that makes it particularly interesting to scientists, and humans in general. It has a chance of impacting Earth in the distant future. On NASA’s list of impact risks, Bennu is ranked No. 2. Current data shows dozens of potential impacts in the final quarter of the 22nd century, although all only have a minute chance of actually happening.
How does TAG work?
For anyone who’s ever dabbled with robots or maybe even entered a robotics competition, the Osiris-Rex mission would seem to be the ultimate culmination of a young roboticist’s dreams. The touch-and-go sampling procedure is a complex, high-stakes task that’s been building to a key climactic moment for years. If it succeeds, it will play a role in history and our future in space.
The basic plan was for Osiris-Rex to touch down on Bennu at a rocky. The van-size spacecraft would need to negotiate building-size boulders around the landing area to touch down on a relatively clear space that’s only as large as a few parking spaces. However, a robotic sampling arm was the only part of Osiris-Rex to actually set down on the surface. One of three pressurized nitrogen canisters was fired to stir up a sample of dust and small rocks that could then be caught in the arm’s collector head for safe keeping and return to Earth.
The descent to the surface of Bennu took roughly four hours, about the time it takes the asteroid to make one full revolution. After this slow approach, the actual TAG sample collection procedure remarkably lasted only a few seconds.
Preparing for TAG did not go exactly as planned. Mission organizers initially hoped the surface of Bennu would have plenty of potential landing spots covered primarily with fine materials comparable to sand or gravel. It turns out the surface of Bennu is extremely rugged with no real welcoming landing spots.
After spending much of the last two years reevaluating the mission, the team decided to try “threading the needle” through the boulder-filled landscape at Nightingale.
It’s all paid off, so far., but we won’t know for sure if it collected a sample until later in October. Fortunately, if the tag was unsuccessful, the spacecraft can try again. It’s equipped with three nitrogen canisters to fire and disrupt the surface, which means the team gets up to three tries at nabbing a sample.
Immediately after collecting its sample, Osiris-Rex fired its thrusters to back away from Bennu. The spacecraft will continue to hang around above Bennu for the rest of 2020 before finally performing a departure maneuver next year and beginning a two-year journey back to Earth.
On Sept. 24, 2023, Osiris-Rex is scheduled to jettison its sample return capsule, which will land in the Utah desert and be recovered for study.
Hasn’t this been done before?
Yes. Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft successfully returned tiny grains of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Its successor, Hayabusa-2, and then retrieved some of the shrapnel. That sample is on its way back to Earth.
How can I watch?
The CNET Highlights channel covered the event live. You can rewatch the stream below:
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