Space Probes To Planets Of Other Stars: Episode 2

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Space probes to planets of other stars - 2
In April 2016 the scientific world was shaken by the news of the discovery of an extrasolar planet of terrestrial type orbiting in the "habitable zone" of a small and cold star, a red dwarf as there are many in our Galaxy and probably all over the universe. Only this star was not just any star, but the closest star to Earth! A star that is not for nothing called Proxima, or rather Proxima Centauri, only light-years away!
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The little red dwarf is the third and weakest member of the triple system of Alpha Centauri. Describing a very long ellipse that runs in about 547,000 years, Proxima orbits around the two main stars of the system, much brighter and more similar in characteristics to the Sun. Currently, it is close to the point of maximum distance from the center of gravity of the system, equal to about 13,000 astronomical units.
The planet, named Proxima b, has instead a minimum estimated mass equal to times that of the Earth, and orbits around its star in days at a distance of about 7 million kilometers.
This is a very small distance if compared with that of Mercury to the Sun (58 million kilometers) or the Earth to the Sun (150 million kilometers). This could make you think of a planet with a very hot But Proxima Centauri (with a surface temperature of 3000 degrees) has a brightness that is just one-thousandth of the solar one, so that astronomers have estimated that Proxima b receives 2/3 of the light that the Earth receives from the Sun, which is enough to ensure a surface temperature compatible with the possible presence of liquid water.

In short, thanks to the strong motivations brought by the discovery of an extrasolar planet so close, the idea of reaching another star no longer appears as mere science fiction.
In fact, a few months before the discovery of Proxima b, a group of entrepreneurs and scientists had already taken the first steps towards a mission to the Alpha Centauri star system. We are talking about the Starshot Breakthrough project.
The Facebook patron Mark Zuckerberg, Steven Hawking (unfortunately recently deceased) and the two Nobel physics laureates Steven Chu and Saul Perlmutter are just some of the minds that have made possible a project that will cost between 5 and 10 billion dollars and will be funded with 100 million dollars by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner.
The goal is to launch in 20 years a fleet of small probes equipped with laser-propelled sails. The total cost, hopefully those responsible, should be around 10 billion dollars, and the company would take another 20 years to reach Alpha Centauri. On the contrary, to reach Proxima b! (since the destination was obviously and immediately changed after the discovery of the planet…).
But here is the mission plan.
The launch. Breakthrough Starshot has as its goal the realization of a completely different type of interstellar probe from those conceived so far. All this is part of a mission where there will be a "mother ship" capable of conducting in Earth orbit thousands of nanoprobes that will use the well-known solar sail technology to move. It's known for over a century that light carries momentum and can give a boost to objects. But the sunlight is not powerful enough to accelerate a probe up Proxima Centauri; the trip would require a huge sail and almost impossible to control. So in the project sunlight has been replaced by radiation from powerful lasers placed on Earth to generate beams of light so consistent that they "blow" into the sails for several minutes without interruption, long enough to accelerate them up to 60,000 kilometers per second.

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Credits: Nasa/Shutterstock/Storyblocks/Elon Musk/SpaceX/ESA
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#InsaneCuriosity #InterstellarSpace #SpaceProbes
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