To boldly go into deep space, Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe we should build an enterprising starship or beam over there via Holodeck if that’s ever humanly possible—he wants to send us blazing into the future on a beam of light.
Hawking recently spoke at the Starmus science festival in Norway, where he stressed that humans need to look beyond Earth if we have any intention to avoid impending disaster from issues such as overpopulation and global warming (the zombie apocalypse was not mentioned). He also believes we are could someday achieve being an interplanetary species by using Einstein’s theory of relativity to our advantage and riding beams of light into the great unknown.
“Shouldn’t we be content to be cosmic sloths, enjoying the universe from the comfort of Earth? The answer is no,” said Hawking. “The Earth is under threat from so many areas that it is difficult for me to be positive.”
Earth is in peril, to the point that Hawking is certain our species faces imminent doom in the next millennium if we don’t figure out an escape. Resources are finite and keep dwindling as we burn them at an alarming rate. Climate change threatens the demise of entire ecosystems. Overpopulation spawns superbugs that keep killing and mutating to be ever more resistant to antibiotics. Breathing room is becoming scarce as clean air and water slowly become a luxury. Unlike the days when you could just embark on a voyage some undiscovered end of the Earth, there are no more places humans haven’t swarmed the planet unless someone wants to hang out at the bottom of the ocean.
"Human colonization on other planets is no longer science fiction. It can be science fact," Hawking challenged. "If humanity is going to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before."
Star Trek reference aside, we obviously cannot delude ourselves into thinking Earth is enough if we want to take Hawking’s advice. He insists that we need to colonize new frontiers light-years away if we want to have any chance of survival. The Professor isn’t too excited about the moon or Mars. Neither has liquid water or a magnetic field, and the moon has nowhere near enough real estate to accommodate our population overflow. Hawking is setting his sights on Proxima Centauri, the closest star system to the Milky Way, is 27 trillion miles away could be considered close. Its potentially habitable planet Proxima b mirrors Earth in several ways. This all sounds like a sci-fi getaway until you remember the seemingly infinite space highway we’d need to take to get there.
Hawking’s solution is riding a beam of light at warp speed. Taking any spacecraft in existence to Proxima b—even at full blast—would mean buckling in for 3 million years. Because a ship rattling with skeletons is not exactly what we want to send there, we need to think beyond jet fuel. Enter travel at the speed of light. It would require matter-antimatter annihilation technology that would release immense bursts of energy from particles of matter colliding with antimatter. While he admits this technology hasn’t even been dreamed into being yet, Hawking imagines us riding a superbeam supplemented with nuclear fusion that would propel the spaceship forward to a tenth the speed of light. That’s a little over 18628 miles per second.
Until someone can figure that annihilation technology out, Hawking has collaborated with physicist Yuri Milner to set Breakthrough Starshot in motion. The project is aimed at making what was once fiction about interstellar travel into science. Their team has already created a prototype of a micro space probe that Hawking wants to shoot into the void by the thousands. These “StarChips” are equipped with arrays of lasers that would merge into one superpowered laser beam that would blast them off with gigawatts of power. Predicted speeds would accelerate to a fifth the speed of light, meaning that these things could reach Alpha Centauri in about two decades and beam back images of candidate exoplanets.
If Stephen Hawking says go, you know what to do.
(via NBC Mach)