(ORDO NEWS) — Sailing to the stars on a human scale can be a matter of choosing the right wind.
Researchers from McGill University in Canada and the Tau Zero Foundation in the US have come up with a new way to traverse the extraordinary distances of interstellar space using little to no seabird inspiration.
So far, one of the most promising solutions for space travel is the use of the spectrum of starlight. flow from the sun.
Although small in impact, the sheer numbers and high speeds make photons an intriguing source of energy to generate the high speed needed to traverse the light-years of the void in a short amount of time.
Innovation in solar sail technology is progressing. significantly over the years, models have been tested in the hostile environment of our inner solar system.
While functional, all solar sails have one thing in common: the sail itself. Solar sails must stretch several meters wide to capture the photons needed to propel the ship.
They also need the right shape and material to turn the smallest momentum of each photon into motion. And they must be good enough to remove heat so as not to deform or break.
This is not just a materials science headache; all these requirements add mass. Even using the lightest materials known, the fastest speeds we could achieve using our Sun’s radiation would be just over 2 percent of the speed of light, meaning it would still take several centuries to travel to the nearest star.
Needless to say, sailing to the stars would be much easier if we could forego the sailing part.
Fortunately, a different kind of storm is blowing from the surface of the Sun, consisting not of photons, but of a fluffy plasma of ions. into a frenzy due to the snapping and crackling of the Sun’s magnetic fields.
Although far fewer high-speed electrons and protons emanate from the Sun than photons, their charged masses pack a bigger punch.
Such particles usually cause problems for conventional sails, transferring their charge to the surface of the material, like static charge on a wool jumper in winter, creating drag and changing the shape of the sail.
And yet, as anyone who has ever tried to push the poles of magnets, knows only too well that an electromagnetic field can provide resistance to a position that does not require a large hard surface.
So, goodbye, shiny material, and hello, superconductor. Theoretically, a cable only a few meters long could create a field wide enough to deflect the charged solar wind tens to hundreds of kilometers away.
The system will act more like a magnetic parachute, one that is carried along by a stream of particles moving at about 700 kilometers (about 430 miles) per second, or just under a quarter of a percent of the speed of light.
This is not true. This is bad, but as birds like the albatross know, the wind sets no speed limits when it comes to flying at high altitude.
Obsessed with air masses moving at different speeds, seabirds may choose to amplify the energy of the headwind, using what is called dynamic soaring to gain speed before returning to their original path.
Using a similar trick in the end-shock “headwind” the turbulent zone of contrasting stellar wind used by astronomers to define the boundary of our solar system a magnetic sail can exceed the speed of the solar wind, potentially bringing it within range of radiation-only solar sails.
While this technology may not seem much faster than the “traditional” solar sail method at first, other forms of turbulence at the fringes of interstellar space could provide greater acceleration.
Even without a soft boost from dynamic hover, a possible plasma-based technology could send cubic satellites around Jupiter in months, not years.
As in the age of sails In the past, we had many ways to take advantage of the currents that wash the vast expanses of space.
And yet, seabirds show us the way.
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