Stephen Hawking joins futuristic bid to explore outer space (Update)

April 12, 2016 by By Malcolm Ritter
Cosmologist Stephen Hawking, left, joined by a group of of scientist including Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson, right, announce the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, during a press conference, Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

With famed physicist Stephen Hawking at his side, an Internet investor announced Tuesday that he's spending $100 million on a futuristic plan to explore far outside our solar system.

Yuri Milner said the eventual goal is sending hundreds or thousands of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. That's more than 2,000 times as far as any spacecraft has gone so far.

Propelled by energy from a powerful array of Earth-based lasers, the spacecraft would fly at about one-fifth the speed of light. They could reach Alpha Centauri in 20 years, where they could make observations and send the results back to Earth.

They might discover a planet or planets there—experts think there may be some, but there's no proven sighting yet—and possibly even find signs of life there or elsewhere, said Milner and a panel of experts at the announcement. The three stars that make up Alpha Centauri are the closest stars to our star—the sun.

"We commit to the next great leap into the cosmos," Hawking said, "because we are human and our nature is to fly."

Hawking has joined Milner and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on the board of the project, called Breakthrough Starshot, which includes a team of scientists. Milner said his $100 million will go to establish the feasibility of the project, and that a launch itself would require far more money.

Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner, and a panel of scientists including renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking, second from left, Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson, science author Ann Druyan, center, Harvard physicist Avi Loeb, third from right, NASA astronaut Dr. Mae C. Jemison, second from right, and former NASA director Pete Worden, far right, announce the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, during a press conference, Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Hawking is also part of a project Milner announced last summer to use earthbound telescopes to seek intelligent life in outer space.

For the Starshot project, the tiny spacecraft would be boosted into space by a conventional rocket, and then set free individually. They would capture the energy from the earthbound laser array with sails a few yards wide. Milner said recent advances in electronic miniaturization, laser technology and fabrication of extremely thin and light materials have made such a mission realistic to consider.

"We can do more than gaze at the stars," Milner said. "We can actually reach them."

Renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking, right, seated in a speech adaptive wheelchair, discuss the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, during a press conference on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Avi Loeb, chair of Harvard's astronomy department and member of the Starshot project's management and advisory committee, told reporters that scientists have scrutinized the technical obstacles and "we don't see any showstoppers.... We think we can overcome all these challenges."

Hawking, of Cambridge University, said the plan fits in with what he said makes humans unique, which is transcending limits.

"With light beams, light sails and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation," Hawking said.

Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner shows the Starchip, a microelectronic component spacecraft , during a press conference announcing the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The project was announced on the 55th anniversary of the flight of Russian Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. Milner was named after him.

Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomy professor at Cornell University, who is not involved in the project, said in an email, "I think it is inspiring on this date to plan our next journey to the stars."

Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner, left, listens as renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking, right, speaks with the assistance of adaptive speech technology, during a press conference announcing the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, Tuesday April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Internet investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner, left, and renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking, right, seated in a speech adaptive wheelchair, discuss the new Breakthrough Initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, during a press conference, Tuesday, April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae C. Jemison, listens during a press conference, where she was among a group of scientists announcing a new breakthrough initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, Tuesday April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Harvard physicist Avi Loeb, left, listens as former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae C. Jemison, speaks during a press conference where scientists announced a new breakthrough initiative focusing on space exploration and the search for life in the universe, Tuesday April 12, 2016, at One World Observatory in New York. The $100 million project is aimed at establishing the feasibility of sending a swarm of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Explore further: Alpha Centauri—our first target for interstellar probes?

More information: Project website: breakthroughinitiatives.org/Initiative/3

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19 comments

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Nik_2213
5 / 5 (3) Apr 12, 2016
How does this fundamentally differ from StarWisp ??

Wiki quote: "Starwisp" is a concept for an ultra-low-mass interstellar probe pushed by a microwave beam. It was proposed by scientist and author Robert L. Forward in 1985,[1] and further work was published by Geoffrey A. Landis in 2000.[2] The proposed device uses beam-powered propulsion in the form of a high-power microwave antenna pushing a sail. The probe itself would consist of a mesh of extremely fine carbon wires about 100 m across, with the wires spaced the same distance apart as the 3 mm wavelength of the microwaves that will be used to push it."
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (11) Apr 12, 2016
Next step, send Hawking and his pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo along for the ride.
compose
Apr 13, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
betterexists
Apr 13, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
betterexists
Apr 13, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
betterexists
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2016
6 Newly discovered Proteins may unlock secrets of how we age - paving the way for new treatments for Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes etc.,
These proteins appear to play several big roles in how the body's cells perform.
betterexists
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2016
6 Newly discovered Proteins may unlock secrets of how we age - paving the way for new treatments for Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes etc., These proteins appear to play several big roles in how the body's cells perform.

Alzheimer's Disease Currently affects 400,000 people in U.S alone! Finding that the newly discovered 6 SHLP Family Proteins produced by the Mitochondrial Genome itself is a Great finding in it itself!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2016
How does this fundamentally differ from StarWisp ??

This guy
https://bearbussj...tarshot/
holds that the difference is the swar aspect.

There's a couple of issues that need to be addressed (see wikipedia entry on starwisp )as well as the power source proposed - which will cost A LOT more than the 100 million they want to spend on this...more like 100 billion.

Then there's whether the return of data is feasible...as well as what kinds of sensors something like this will even be able to carry that will get any data worth having (we're talking about probes in the WAY sub kg range which will be going at high speed with an almost certain guarantee that they won't pass any massive bodies -besides the star- within any appreciable distance)
betterexists
not rated yet Apr 13, 2016
6 Newly discovered Proteins may unlock secrets of how we age - paving the way for new treatments for Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes etc., These proteins appear to play several big roles in how the body's cells perform.
Alzheimer's Disease Currently affects 400,000 people in U.S alone! Finding that the newly discovered 6 SHLP Family Proteins produced by the Mitochondrial Genome itself is a Great finding in it itself!

i.e ½ million out of 312 million total.
As They die, More from the rest will be added to that list.
Hat1208
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2016
@CD

Next step, send Hawking and his pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo along for the ride.
@compost

With full respect to Hawking's disability and hard destiny: a senile physicist and Russian mafioso washing money in science - what meaningful we could expect from this symbiosis?

The two headed jackass has spoken we shall all now bow down.
betterexists
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2016
1917 image was the earliest proof of Exoplanets; Kepler mission until now found 1963 planets outside our solar system, but there are billions more out there
betterexists
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2016
A Futuristic Bid!
Compare Against Yuri Milner's $100M Starshot Project; Tech mogul Sean Parker Donates $250M for Cancer Research, giving a boost to so-called Cancer "Moonshot." The Latter has become Never-ending Cesspool. Those God Believers out there should pray, recommend, beg for its success?
EnsignFlandry
5 / 5 (4) Apr 13, 2016
@CD

Next step, send Hawking and his pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo along for the ride.
@compost

With full respect to Hawking's disability and hard destiny: a senile physicist and Russian mafioso washing money in science - what meaningful we could expect from this symbiosis?

The two headed jackass has spoken we shall all now bow down.


You sound like a bitter unhappy soul who has accomplished nothing. It makes you feel better to attack real achievers.
EnsignFlandry
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2016
How does this fundamentally differ from StarWisp ??

Wiki quote: "Starwisp" is a concept for an ultra-low-mass interstellar probe pushed by a microwave beam. It was proposed by scientist and author Robert L. Forward in 1985,[1] and further work was published by Geoffrey A. Landis in 2000.[2] The proposed device uses beam-powered propulsion in the form of a high-power microwave antenna pushing a sail. The probe itself would consist of a mesh of extremely fine carbon wires about 100 m across, with the wires spaced the same distance apart as the 3 mm wavelength of the microwaves that will be used to push it."


The fundamental difference is that this group is putting up money to get it done.
Hat1208
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2016
@EnsignFLandry

Tell me all about the accomplishments of the two idiots that think they are superior to Prof Hawking and Mr. Milner. One has a Nobel prize the other has succeeded in Russia through capitalism, no easy feat either one. BIOYA
mkilar
3 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2016
While the concept of using thousands of probes seems to provide sufficient redundancy, exactly how powerful would a laser array need to be to provide sufficient energy at distances more than 4ly? Seems implausible.
obama_socks
not rated yet Apr 14, 2016
How does this fundamentally differ from StarWisp ??

Wiki quote: "Starwisp" is a concept for an ultra-low-mass interstellar probe pushed by a microwave beam. It was proposed by scientist and author Robert L. Forward in 1985,[1] and further work was published by Geoffrey A. Landis in 2000.[2] The proposed device uses beam-powered propulsion in the form of a high-power microwave antenna pushing a sail. The probe itself would consist of a mesh of extremely fine carbon wires about 100 m across, with the wires spaced the same distance apart as the 3 mm wavelength of the microwaves that will be used to push it."


The fundamental difference is that this group is putting up money to get it done.
- EnsignF
It's a good start...and in ~20 years, if all goes well, there may be enough data collected that will enable those of us who are still here to learn what the situation is in the Alpha Centauri star system. So near, and yet so far. But $100 Mil is nowhere near enough.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Apr 17, 2016
Important safety tip:

Do NOT make them capable of making more of themselves when they arrive at their destination. Good reasons not to do this include the possibility of destroying what we're trying to investigate, and seriously pissing off aliens if our little monsters start treating their property like a strip mine.

That said, this is a pretty good idea.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Apr 18, 2016
While the concept of using thousands of probes seems to provide sufficient redundancy, exactly how powerful would a laser array need to be to provide sufficient energy at distances more than 4ly?

The proposal I read speaks of 100GW continuous(!) output for the acceleration phase that would also provide enough burst capacity for transmitting energy that can be used by the probe to transmit information back .
I.e. we are talking the power generating capacity of several dozen to about 100 large nuclear powerplants - in orbit(!).

This is why I think 100 million $ is underestimating the cost factor a bit.

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