In the constellation Alpha Centauri, the planet Pandora, inhabited by blue natives, may indeed exist. And getting to them in the foreseeable future is not such a hopeless task.
James Cameron wrote the screenplay for his film Avatar 15 years ago. And even then he placed a fictional extraterrestrial world in a real and closest star system to us – Alpha Centauri A, which is little more than 4 light years from us.
In addition, for some reason, the author settled cinematic brothers in mind – blue navi – not on an independent planet like our Earth, but on Pandora – a satellite of the gas giant Polyphemus, similar to our Saturn or Jupiter.
Three years ago, scientists confirmed Cameron’s first fantastic prediction. Computer modeling by Javiera Guedes and Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz showed that terrestrial-type rocky planets must exist in Alpha Centauri.
Moreover, with conditions on the surface suitable for life. And last year researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) said: extraterrestrial life is most likely to be found just on the satellites of the gas giants – on the so-called exomoons.
Exomoons – of a suitable size with water and an atmosphere – are by no means rare objects in the Universe. An example of this is our solar system. Titan, Saturn’s moon, has a very dense atmosphere and Earth-like relief.
Europa, a satellite of Jupiter, hides many kilometers of ocean under a layer of ice. And if our gas giants were closer to the Sun, in a warmer zone, then life could well exist on their satellites. Up to reasonable. Like on Pandora.
By this year, astrophysicists have already discovered about 400 very warm exoplanets the size of Jupiter or Saturn. It’s up to finding their satellites.
If worlds like Pandora exist, then we will find them in the next 10 years – promises the leading specialist of the Astrophysical Center Lisa Kaltenegger. And it is quite possible that we will find it in the Alpha Centauri region, where the stars are very similar to our Sun. Such tasks are within the power of modern orbiting telescopes.
Avatar takes place in the year 2145. Will humans even be able to get to Pandora by then if they discover that there is life there?
The fastest human-built spacecraft, Voyager 1, has now reached 17 kilometers per second. At that speed, the journey to Alpha Centauri would take 74,000 years. This is only one way.
Advanced ion thrusters, which emit charged particles heated to a million degrees, would make it possible to move much faster. For example, Mars could be reached in just 39 days. But even this speed is too low for an interstellar expedition.
At one time, the American advanced technology agency DARPA worked on the so-called Project Orion. And it created a spaceship in which thrust was created by nuclear explosions.
There was also the Project Daedalus with engines based on thermonuclear fusion. Nothing is known about their current fate.
But it was assumed that vehicles equipped with either one or the other would reach speeds of 10 percent of the speed of light. For flights within the solar system, such agility is quite acceptable. But at a speed of 30 thousand kilometers per second, it will take 40 to 50 years to get to Pandora.
A kilogram of antimatter, annihilating with ordinary matter, would give 10 billion times more energy than, say, a kilogram of TNT. According to NASA calculations, such a “fuel” – from some kind of antiprotons – could accelerate a ship weighing 100 tons to 100,000 kilometers per second. This is a third of the speed of light and a reduction in travel time to 12 years.
But with current technologies, it will take millions of years to synthesize at least a gram of antimatter.
The case, however, is not hopeless. Physicist James Bickford of the Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts says that antimatter can be collected by flying with an electromagnetic trap net beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
There, according to his estimates, due to the interaction of cosmic rays with clouds of gases, approximately 4 tons of antiprotons per year are formed by themselves. It is likely that in the next 60 years, scientists will figure out how to store them and use them safely.
To reach the speed of light and get to Alpha Centauri in less than 5 years would allow projects developed and published by American scientists. Recently, one of them, physicist Jia Liu of New York University, proposed a starship powered by dark matter.
According to Liu’s theory, dark matter consists of electrically neutral particles of neutralins (neutralinos), the main exotic feature of which is that they are antiparticles for each other. And they annihilate under certain conditions, releasing enormous energy.
Liu plans to collect dark matter along the way by opening special cell chambers placed on a roughly 100-square-meter surface. Periodically released annihilation products will generate thrust pulses. And, according to the researcher, they will allow reaching the speed of light in a few days. Crane and Westmoreland rely on the so-called Hawking radiation.
Others – mathematicians Louis Crane and Shawn Westmoreland of Kansas State University in Manhattan – intend to “harness” as much as a black hole. Researchers don’t say it will be easy. But they assure that such exoticism is possible in principle.
Back in the 70s of the last century, this scientist showed that black holes are not completely black – they can “evaporate”. The University of Kansas believes that the resulting flow of subatomic particles can be used to accelerate the spacecraft. And the calculations show that a black hole weighing a million tons would fit. Her energy would be enough for 100 years of flight.
When asked where to get a hole, Crane answers: you can make it yourself, concentrating a lot of energy in a small volume. For example, with the help of a gamma laser powered by giant – hundreds of square kilometers – solar panels.
The resulting black hole will be only the size of an atomic nucleus. It must be placed in a special chamber and equipped with a parabolic mirror that reflects the Hawking radiation.
According to the researchers, the method they proposed for creating thrust and accelerating to the speed of light may well be implemented in the next 100-200 years. And that’s what aliens use, if they exist.
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