Wednesday, 20 September 2017

#256 Stephen Hawking's latest far-fetched comments

I didn't watch The Search for a New Earth, the BBC documentary staring Stephen Hawking that aired earlier this week. A friend messaged me about it while I was getting a haircut. "What has old Hawkers gone and said now?" I wondered. I found some of his past quotes a bit off the wall. It wasn't that I expected the veteran physicist to stick to a rigid script. I knew that if I was world famous, I'd probably come out with all sorts of twaddle but he did seem to have a knack for it.

Sure enough, I was informed that the eccentric professor had made a claim about humanity reaching planets that were four light-years away within the next hundred years. "Pffff" I scoffed merrily. It sounded like utter codswallop. To verify my reaction, I decided to Google the fastest manned spacecraft speed. The result was 25,000 mph. That was in 1969.

Ignoring the fact that in the last fifty years, nobody had traveled faster than the Apollo 10 crew, I decided to play along with Hawking's prediction and assume that somebody would smash the record within a century. At 25,000 mph, a four light-year journey to the Proxima b system would take... if my maths was right... which was about as likely... 100,000 years. To make the trip in 100 years, a person would need to be travelling at 25 million miles an hour. A tall order.

What I hadn't realised was that Hawking was part of a group including Zucks and a venture capitalist called Yuri Milner. They were working on a plan called Breakthrough Starshot. The project aimed to create a fleet of tiny spacecraft, propelled by an earth-based laser array, which would shine upon their miniature sails, a solution which, according to the project's Wikipedia page, could enable the little blighters to travel at up to 20% the speed of light. Not too shabby.

Reading about the plan, into which billions were being invested, softened me up a bit. I looked around for immediate skepticism but it looked like a lot of scientists were behind the idea and agreed that there were no big reasons why it couldn't work. I was suitably impressed. Maybe that documentary was worth a watch after all.

9 comments

Running on empty said...

Pity they can't use solar power. I think there is no wind in space? Unless the astronauts were on a high fibre diet.

Dan Copping said...

Yeah you hear about solar wind but I assume that's only close to the sun and isn't the same as wind on earth.

Fizzfan said...

So glad you mentioned it. Just watched it. It's pretty amazing.
Best fact I didn't know - Hibernating bears are immune to radiation and the chemical they create to hibernate is hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg smell)

Running on empty said...

Bet you didn't know that wombats have cubic poo.

Dan Copping said...

:o :)

Running on empty said...

[_]

;p

Dan Copping said...

Hahaha! :)

Running on empty said...

Well I remember you can thoroughly beat me at that game.

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