By Mariya Guzova
“Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever—sooner or later, we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey,” said Stephen Hawking at a press conference announcing the launch of a $100 million search for extraterrestrial life.
Stephen Hawking, is joining with Russian billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Milner, to launch a space exploration project called Breakthrough Starshot. The idea hopes to launch tiny, postage stamp-sized spacecrafts into the habitable zone of Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth, located roughly 4.37 light years away.
That’s 25 trillion miles. With conventional technology, it would take 30,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, but the project estimates they could get there in just 20. The light-propelled nanocraft are a thousand times faster than any spacecraft technology that exists today, moving at 20% of the speed of light.
Astronomers estimate that it’s likely this region could hold Earth-like planets and that there is a possibility of discovering life there. It’s also hoped that the system’s kilometer scale telescope works for astronomical observations, solar system exploration, and detecting asteroids crossing Earth from large distances.
The design serves as a proof of concept for future ideas of this scale. The project is led by Pete Worden, the former director of NASA AMES Research Center. In addition to Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be on the board of directors for the project.
The nanocrafts have cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation and communication equipment, constituting a fully functional space probe. They can be mass produced at the price of an iPhone and be sent out in fleets to provide greater accuracy, redundancy, coverage, and error measurement. The light beamer that propels them through space costs a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Breakthrough Initiatives, the organization behind this project, holds the view that it is important to see things outside of ourselves and that it is our duty as human beings to try and answer the question ‘Are we alone?”
Arguably, now is a perfect time to begin on the journey to answering this question. Major technological advancements such as the Kepler Telescope are now reaping the fruits of their labour, discovering thousands of exoplanets, some of which have a strong possibility for fostering life.
“There has never been a better moment for a large-scale international effort to find life in the Universe. As a civilization, we owe it to ourselves to commit time, resources, and passion to this quest,” wrote Yuri Milner, in an open letter from Breakthrough Initiatives.