Monday, 6 October 2014

Interstellar Fever: Part 2

We sneak-peeked into figures concerning interstellar travel in the previous article, but now it is time to know about the concept and theories involved/proposed.  

Meanwhile you can check out the latest trailer of “Interstellar-the movie ” here to warm up for the article:

As highlighted in the previous article, we will need to travel at least 40.11 * 1012 kilometers (distance between sun and proxima centauri, the nearest star) in order to qualify as interstellar travelers. Also, the fastest human made spacecraft i.e. Voyager 1 would take about 75000 years to accomplish the task. That is not good enough by any means now that we are aiming to reach the stars literally.

We need to speed up.

Let us say we have managed to speed up to half the speed of light. Do some math, we will reach the nearest star in 40.11*1012/1.5*105*365*24*3600 = 8.47 years.

That is encouraging, what is stopping it?
1) Energy required for this operation is more than all energy production on earth.
2) Interstellar dust will damage the spacecraft at such a high speed.

That is disappointing.

We need something that fuels our travel in space or we need to cut down our fuel requirements. After all, burning earth down is the last thing we would/could do.
Let us look at some theories that promise great things:

Light sailing:

This is an interesting theory. We do not need any fuel here; all we need is a lightweight frame/sail. The theory is based on the fact that light beams exert pressure. The challenge here is that we will need a sail of size of Uttar Pradesh (around 250000 Km2) to generate enough speed.  Even if we manage to pull off such a sail, here are two limitations for you:
         1) Travel time could be centuries.
         2) Light beam will dilute over interstellar space as the spacecraft advances, hence the pressure and speed will eventually reduce.

The best thing about this theory is that you don't need any fuel. That could make it the most feasible method for us in coming time.

Bussard Ramjet:

Hydrogen gas occurs in the space. Bussard Ramjet focuses on the usage of this hydrogen gas as the fuel. It can aid our endeavors massively since we would not need any (OK, nominal) fuel from earth and would be able to collect fuel on the go.  Magnetic fields can be used to collect the hydrogen gas in the rocket engine.

This sounds too great, there has to be some complication.

A theory suggests that the drag offered by the hydrogen clouds would be much more than the thrust obtained by it as a fuel.

Black holes:

Black holes are considered the most monstrous thing in space and we have always believed that they suck you up and throw you out through the rectum but in pieces. That is the power of black holes.

How about we use this outrageous power to fuel our interstellar missions? It has been proposed that once we establish a technology to create artificial black holes, we can couple their power with ours to reach even beyond stars.


This theory is groundbreaking and ridiculous. Christopher Nolan has opted for this theory in his much anticipated interstellar voyage movie.
It is believed that wormholes exist in our universe and act as tunnels between two very far destinations in the space. When you travel through one of these, you travel faster than light and practically go back in time.

Think about it, traveling faster than light and you puke in the backseat of your car.

In the next article, we will see what happens when you travel close to speed of light and faster.

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