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Can We Travel To That Exciting New Exoplanet?

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-can't-even-get-to-chicago dept.

Space 662

An anonymous reader writes "The news last week that exoplanet Gliese 581g may be in the 'Goldilocks zone' and could therefore hold liquid water and alien life got everyone all excited, with good reason. A potentially habitable planet — and only 20 light years away! But to put things in perspective, here are a couple of estimates on what it would take to travel to Gliese 581g. One scientist puts the travel time at 180,000 years based on current space flight technology, while another explains that it could be quite quick if we build a matter-antimatter drive, and can figure out how to bring along 530 times as much mass in fuel as is contained in the ship and cargo itself."

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180,000 years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797150)

180,000 years? Well, what are we waiting for?! Time's a wastin'!

Re:180,000 years (3, Interesting)

D3 (31029) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797262)

Assuming it takes 100 years to build everything we need to make this flight, by the time you get there it will be 178,570 years after the group that took 1000 years to build the matter/antimatter ship finished their project.

Re:180,000 years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797736)

The problem of when to embark on such a trip seems like it will be very similar to the problem of when is the best time to start brute-forcing a decryption process. The answer to both will likely be never. In both cases, using tomorrow's technology will complete the task sooner than using what's available today.

Reality check (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797156)

Dave Goldberg, coauthor of A User's Guide to the Universe, took a more optimistic approach. In a blog post, he assumed an average travel speed of 92 percent of the speed of light

That is one HELL of an assumption. Considering that the fastest space vehicles [wikipedia.org] ever created took 3 months to travel a mere 8 light *minutes* (somewhere around one-16000th the speed of light), the assumption that we will ever reach even a significant fraction of the speed of light with a vehicle created anytime in the conceivable future is a bit of an overstretch to say the *least*. At the speed of the Helios probes, that journey to this planet would take over 300,000 years, BTW. So even McConville's 180,000 year estimate is a bit optimistic.

And that's not even throwing in the navigation difficulties (that's going to require some epically precise calculations), the damage such a long trip would inflict to the craft with radiation and micrometeorites, the need for braking when you get there, etc.

Interstellar space is a big VAST empty that few people appreciate. When I was a kid, all the science fiction and popular misinformation made it sound like the next solar system started right at the edge of our own. It was only when I got older that I realized that our solar system is just a tiny dot in a huge sea of lonely empty. The scale of distances between solar systems is difficult for the human mind to even appreciate.

Re:Reality check (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797222)

It was supposed to be an optimistic estimate:

That is very bad news. Let’s put things in perspective and imagine sending the international space station (m= 370 metric tons) to Gliese 581g. The whole trip would require something like:

        * E = 1.8 x 10^25 Joules

Or approximately 5% of the sun’s energy output in a second. That sounds reasonable, until you realize that that tiny amount would take approximately:

        * 3 million years to collect on earth if the entire surface were covered with solar panels

That, as the physicists say, is non-trivial.

Better start building that Dyson sphere.

Re:Reality check (2, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797492)

The numbers are truly staggering. I remember my grade school teacher telling us that we would probably one day live to see spaceships traveling to other solar systems. I think now what a silly statement that was, but as a kid I was all "Yeah! Let's go!" All the Star Trek and Star Wars probably didn't help with the popular understanding either (not that they were meant to).

Re:Reality check (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797514)

Hey, if we figure out how to dramatically increase human life expectancy, she still might be right.

We'll certainly get that before we get interstellar travel, at any rate.

You are correct, but (4, Insightful)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797384)

You are correct, but just a mere few hundred years ago the fastest we could move was a dozen or so miles in a day. I am optimistic that if we don't manage to destroy ourselves we'll find means of providing energy and types of propulsion that would seem like magic to us today (kudos to A.C. Clarke for the reference).

Re:You are correct, but (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797486)

A few hundred years ago, people were riding horses and moving much further than "a dozen or so miles in a day". AFAIK, this has been true for all of recorded history.

Overly pedantic (4, Informative)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797614)

A man on a good horse can maybe cover 30 miles a day unless he wants to kill the horse. A man on foot maybe 20 if he's in top shape. My comment stands. Maybe I should have said "A dozen or few" but still, you're just being pedantic.

Re:Overly pedantic (1)

zcomuto (1700174) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797802)

Bullshit. I'm not exactly the peak of physical fitness, (Yes, I have man tits) yet I managed to walk 15-20 miles a day - with a 15KG rucksack on my bag - for a month. There are people in he world far, far fitter than me that I'm sure could walk a lot more in a day.

Re:You are correct, but (4, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797496)

I don't think you understand the magnitude of the problem. These are fundamental physical limits of mass and energy we're talking about. Literally the only chance we have of getting to another solar system is to discover an entirely new branch of physics that somehow makes interstellar travel feasible. Probably the best bet is to copy it from visiting aliens, if any ever bother to visit.

I never said it would be soon (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797568)

I understand it quite well, and I'm humble enough in my understanding to acknowledge that if we survive another 1000 years we might solve said problem.

Re:You are correct, but (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797584)

Probably the best bet is to copy it from visiting aliens, if any ever bother to visit.

I guess it would be nice to probe THEM for a change. And we could always use a baited field to lure them out. I suggest a trailer park filled with meth-addled hillbillies.

Re:You are correct, but (5, Funny)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797586)

Probably the best bet is to copy it from visiting aliens, if any ever bother to visit.

Meanwhile in a neighboring star system,

"Probably the best bet is to copy it from visiting aliens, if any ever bother to visit."

Re:You are correct, but (1)

LordSnooty (853791) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797770)

No wonder our universe is so backward... all the civilisations are sat in their gravity wells waiting for someone else to turn up with a solution....

Re:Reality check (4, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797422)

Short version: "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."

Re:Reality check (4, Informative)

MarcQuadra (129430) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797478)

Right? The diameter of our solar system (Pluto's orbit) is about 80 AU. 80 AU is 0.0012 light years. This planet is 20 LY away. That means that it's about 1600 times as far as Pluto.

Remember, you need to bring along just as much fuel to slow down as you did to speed up. This is going to be a long, expensive, boring ride.

Re:Reality check (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797712)

That's not true. There's a lot of interstellar hydrogen out there, you can use that as decelerant if you want. Acceleration and deceleration are often assumed symmetric, but that's not required, and given the distribution of resources not even the most effective way to do things.

Re:Reality check (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797524)

Space Nutters care not for reality. Whether it be engineering, physics, chemistry, biology or psychology, what's important is the emotion. The romantic emotional impact of "exploring" a complete vacuum with laughable technology and pitiful biology is a paradox that is completely lost on the delusional Space Nutters. You can't argue with them, the next thing you'll learn is that we only have computers today because of NASA and other stunning falsehoods and revisionist claims. The Space Nutters are lunatics. Luckily there's very few of them. Since they don't believe in life extension, they're a self-correcting problem!

Re:Reality check (2, Interesting)

ari_j (90255) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797632)

The Helios probes didn't exactly take 3 months to travel 8 light minutes. I'm not sure where you're getting the numbers, but most likely they mean that the probes took 3 months to get from perihelion to aphelion. The article you linked to on Wikipedia claims their speed record to be 0.000234c, which is over 1/5000th the speed of light, around 3 times the speed you quoted. That's only 100,000 years to go 20 light years. Still impractical.

The real question is the delta-v required to make the trip, including navigation along the way and corrections that must be made due to the impossibility of accurately calculating everything ahead of time. The minimal delta-v solution may indeed be around 180,000 years in duration, although other solutions may become practical with time to reduce that figure. Reducing it to only a few human generations in duration, though, will almost certainly require more than incremental improvements in technology.

For now, I think we're definitely better off pointing a radio telescope in that direction and trying to see what the early years of MTV were like for the Gliese 581g-icans.

Re:Reality check (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797696)

Oops. Perihelion/aphelion reversed, but of course the time between them is the same in either direction. :)

In a word: NO. (1)

snarfies (115214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797192)

Well hell, if we develop wormhole technology, we can open a gateway, visit Gliese 581g, and be back home in time to watch the next episode of Fringe. Can I be quoted in the Discoblog too?

Nuclear pulse propulsion (2, Funny)

CompressedAir (682597) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797196)

Project Orion [wikipedia.org] could get us there.

Re:Nuclear pulse propulsion (3, Informative)

Xtense (1075847) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797392)

The theoretical speed for a momentum-limited, 100m orion craft would be 3,3% of the speed of light, so... no. No it wouldn't.

Re:Nuclear pulse propulsion (4, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797432)

I'd really love to see some college actually do a study on if it would be possible or not. It's hard to say without real research just how much and what kind of resources an ark ship would need over those kinds of timescales. What's the theoretical rate of atmosphere loss? How efficiently can waste be recycled and put back into the ecosystem?

Using a sperm bank to dramatically increase genetic diversity would significantly reduce the minimum size of the crew, an all woman crew would further reduce the size but would probably cause all new problems. A vegan diet reduces the need to support non-human animal mass, but adds a requirement to be able to synthesize some vitamins and proteins. Enough redundant manufacturing to produce spare parts for everything, including the manufacturing facilities. IMO, it looks hard but not impossible with today's technologies.

Takes my breath away! (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797242)

Let's make sure first that it has, you know, oxygen, and not one of those 95% carbon dyoxide air content some younger planet lacking vegetation may have. Or one of those fancypants sulfuric acid atmospheres that melts your lungs.

Re:Takes my breath away! (4, Funny)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797306)

Kids today! When I was a lad, we would've killed for a Sulfuric Acid atmosphere. We had to make our own air!

Re:Takes my breath away! (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797418)

The thought occurred to me that perhaps we shouldn't be looking ONLY at earth-sized planets in the goldilocks zone. It seems that a Jupiter or Neptune sized planet in the goldilocks zone could have moons capable of supporting life.

Could we get there? Not by any technology currenly even envisioned. Hell, the Voyager probes are barely past the heliosphere, and they've been travelling for almost 40 years now.

Re:Takes my breath away! (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797554)

Well, you can always just turn around and come back if it turns out that the atmosphere isn't any good when you arrive.

Damn you, Fermi! (1)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797248)

Damn you, Enrico Fermi, and your infernal paradox [wikipedia.org]. Damn damn damn!

Re:Damn you, Fermi! (0)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797666)

We could be picking up extraterrestrial signals right now and not even know it. For example, instaed of using binary computers they could be encoded in trinary, 0=off, 1=positive, 2=negative. It's a certainty that of there's extraterrestrial life it will be nothing whatever like humans.

If a sentient civilization never thought of frequency modulation, then they would not see any TV shows. Or perhaps there are other ways of modulating a radio signal besides amplitude and frequency that we've never thought of that is just so obvious to them that AM and FM never occured to them.

They may not even use radio waves to communicate. They may have discovered something we haven't, while not discovering EMF themselves. Hell, perhaps they're blind to emf and have some other sense that Earth life lacks that gave rise to an "obvious" technology that we're completely blind to.

As to finding an alien spacecraft in the infinite emptiness of space, the odds are so close to zero that if you tried to divide by it your computer would crash with a "divide by zero" error.

We still haven't found extraforgostnic life [slashdot.org]

I'd like a second opinion... (3, Funny)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797254)

How long would it take at warp 6, Ensign Chekov?

Re:I'd like a second opinion... (0, Offtopic)

xenapan (1012909) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797708)

While you are at it, ask Obama if we can do it.

Obama: Yes we can! but unfortunately we won't cause the NASA budget is gone!

What we need is a perpetual motion machine.

Re:I'd like a second opinion... (1)

frostfreek (647009) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797748)

That reminds me, why does it take about an hour to travel to Vulcan, and then something like 48 hours to travel back to Earth, when it's about to be destroyed by a drop of red matter? Solar wind?

Laughable (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797278)

And you Space Nutters are against life extension research too... How do you reconcile that in your religion? Why is unlimited space OK but unlimited time is wrong? Why is it OK to want to see rocks light-years away, but seeing the future of the human race 10000 years from now wrong?

OK Taco, erase this comment from the /. database!

Re:Laughable (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797480)

And you Space Nutters are against life extension research too...

We aren't, QA. We're hedging our bets. Have you considered that unless you want immortality to be restricted to people with the wealth of Bill Gates, we'll pretty much have to develop a means to get off this rock pretty much the day we develop clinical immortality? The oceans are big, but we went from a billion people to 6 billion people within a century or two without immortality. The oceans just aren't big enough to support a civilization of a trillion immortals.

Meantime, while someone else works on life extension, we're workin' on making sure there is somewhere to go. Easiest way to do that is have a bunch of frozen cells in the core of a space probe, and lob the probe towards the nearest suitable star, and let the robots wake the cells up in 10-20K years. A ship full of algae could go first, and a ship full of human embryos - woken and taught by robots - could show up a few centuries later.

We space nutters would also prefer if we get to see the rocks, but in lieu of that we'll settle for a scenario in which someone gets to see the rocks. If, as the Fermi Paradox suggests, we're the first sentient species capable of spaceflight, the galaxy is ours for the taking.

Re:Laughable (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797520)

I would like to volunteer my ex-wife for service aboard one of your algae-ships.

Jerome Kerviel will be free and clear by then! (1)

sgt101 (120604) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797314)


Well - he'll have had 3000 years to enjoy his income at that point!

the question is why ? (1)

carlosap (1068042) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797328)

Why do we want to go there ? Poor aliens if we can go there. May be there are far far away on purpose.

Re:the question is why ? (2, Funny)

Fict (475) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797400)

may be there are far far away, with there babbys

A further shore.... (4, Insightful)

Braintrust (449843) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797356)

Technological limitations aside, this is the first time in several hundred years that we have had a further shore to sail to... a place where no man has gone before, as the saying goes.

That has to count for something.

For me this is the most profound discovery in the history of us. Without hyperbole. The only thing I can see superseding it is, of course, the confirmation of life itself out there.

I think we need a further shore... and I'm glad I lived to see a new one.

Re:A further shore.... (4, Informative)

dasherjan (1485895) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797618)

We already have plenty of shores to explore in the solar system. They're just not as sexy as another earth type place. ;-)

Re:A further shore.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797786)

There are lots of inhospitable, barren rocks in the sea.

No one who sails refers to them as "shore."

Re:A further shore.... (1)

Mastadex (576985) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797672)

People say we need another space race to kick off another golden age of technological achievement. Well, this planet seems like a fairly lucrative goal considering it's the equivalent of a 'new route to India'. We just need a Christopher Columbus to spear head this endeavor.

Re:A further shore.... (2, Insightful)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797800)

Mars, Callisto, Ganymede, Europa, Titan, Pluto, Mercury, Iapetus, Miranda, Charon, Eris and a bunch of other "further shores" I have forgotten the names of that are just a tad closer to home.

But I agree on your other point, Gliese 581g is, possibly, a truly profound discovery. If improvements in remote sensing and telescopes reveal that this new world has an Oxygen rich atmosphere or other solid indications of life (radio?) then it will likely be the most profound and culturally altering discovery ever made since the development of mathematics and writing.

Radio (3, Interesting)

mukund (163654) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797360)

How about sending some targeted "Hello world" transmissions towards that object first? If they have any intelligent life and a SETI program in place, they may hear us and answer back.

Re:Radio (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797470)

Wouldn't you have to wait 40 years for the reply though? (Radio in space travels at the speed of light, right?)

Re:Radio (5, Funny)

Shadyman (939863) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797536)

I read somewhere that they might be intentionally ignoring us until we develop warp capability.

Re:Radio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797744)

No, shhhh. We want it to be a surprise...ATTACK, THAT IS!!! BUWHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Communicate first? (5, Interesting)

earthloop (449575) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797372)

Would it not make sense to communicate first? Radio at 20 light years is a 40 year round trip. You never know, somebody might answer with instructions on how to get there quicker.

Hey! That's given me an idea for a great film. Is Jodie Foster available for the lead?

Re:Communicate first? (2, Insightful)

boarder8925 (714555) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797740)

Would it not make sense to communicate first?

Provided that if there is life out there, and if it's intelligent, said life can understand any of our languages, or would care to take the time to figure out what it meant.

Even if you could... (1)

vistapwns (1103935) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797374)

make a ship that contained the necessary fuel and so on to get there in one human life span, vital systems in the ship would almost certainly malfunction and the crew would be stranded until they died or something. People need to realize the only way we're getting off this rock is with nanorobotic manufacturing. Nanorobot constructed ships would be smart, and self-repair, fixing any problem that arises. If congress would dedicate a small fraction of that $25 billion NASA is getting to study rocks in outer space to nanorobotics, we'd get indefinite life-spans, space ships that could travel to the Andromeda galaxy never mind a star 20 light years away, an end to poverty, disease, crime, and so on. I suggest everyone read "Engines of Creation" by Drexler, it's free to read and posted on the web. http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/EOC/EOC_Table_of_Contents.html [e-drexler.com]

Re:Even if you could... (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797438)

Nanorobot constructed ships would be smart, and self-repair, fixing any problem that arises

Human-constructed ships could be crewed by humans, fixing any problem that arises.

Re:Even if you could... (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797532)

Yeah, but there's that whole risk thing... can't put a human in a suit every week and risk them getting hurt if you only have a few on board.

I don't think nanobots are going to be as huge as the OP, but it is cool to think about.

Re:Even if you could... (1)

vistapwns (1103935) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797560)

You'd have to have two space ships basically, one for spare parts. And what happens if one particular part breaks 3 times? or 20? Over the course of years, in a hostile environment like space, you have to assume that will happen. Nanorobots will fix things by constructing spare parts out of raw materials (atom feed stocks, like large stores of carbon, etc. so the parts need not be stored.) But you knew this right? I mean you're not lecturing me on nanorobots without having a clue about the mechanics of such things, RIGHT?

Re:Even if you could... (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797534)

Sorry, but babbling a bunch of science fiction fantasies doesn't make it so.

Re:Even if you could... (1)

vistapwns (1103935) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797620)

Do you have a real argument, because it seems to me you are the only one babbling. (well maybe the guys who think we're getting 20 light years from here in something equivalent to an apollo rocket as well.)

Re:Even if you could... (2, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797556)

Nanomachines can only do all of that stuff because you haven't thought through the problems yet and realized the limitations. How you power a machine that small, or make it intelligent, or give it sensors, or pretty much anything is still a lingering question. Once you get past the sci-fi aspects, nanomachines start to look depressingly limited. Self replicating nanomachines are especially nutty, given how complex such a device would need to be.

Re:Even if you could... (1)

vistapwns (1103935) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797654)

Well I guess we'll never know because thanks to people like you it won't get funded probably ever, meanwhile we'll spend billions testing plant compounds to see if they can cure cancer and give people 10 extra years of life. How forward thinking.

ET phone home... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797406)

How about we just call the aliens and ask them to come pick us up? I saw ET do that shit in the 80's with a circular saw and some damn string.

Our world (1)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797414)

Why do we need to go away when we still have to colonize about 80% of our planet?

The fantasy to live on another planet is irrational.

Re:Our world (0, Troll)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797484)

This is a huge fantasy. The planet is 4 times the mass of earth; so because of its gravity, I'd weigh 600 pounds. Most of the fat bitches at Wal-Mart would weigh about half as much as my car, and they'd all outweigh a 1000CC motorcycle.

Re:Our world (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797714)

Wait, are you saying this wonderful planet will murder any fat bitch that dares to tread on it? Sign me up!

Re:Our world (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797626)

Why do we need to go to America when we still have to colonize about 80% of Europe?

Humanity explores that which seems unattainable. It's human nature.

Mirror for the train wreck video? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797426)

The video review of HP's train wreck is gone. Anyone got a mirror?

Re:Mirror for the train wreck video? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797642)

Ooops, never mind. Wrong Forum. Weird.

What I find exciting.. (2, Interesting)

rotide (1015173) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797436)

What I find exciting is the prospect of a lot of young minds trying to figure out how to get a probe there with the capability of communicating back (within a reasonable time frame) what it finds. And then the science, if it is a habitable planet, of trying to visit it.

We need a new catalyst to spark imagination and an intense drive to succeed in the sciences.

Even if it is impossible to venture there, the discoveries and new technologies that we _do_ develop that doesn't quite reach the goal, but is above anything we currently have... Exciting!

Re:What I find exciting.. (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797634)

What I find exciting is the prospect of a lot of young minds trying to figure out how to get a probe there with the capability of communicating back (within a reasonable time frame) what it finds. And then the science, if it is a habitable planet, of trying to visit it.

We need a new catalyst to spark imagination and an intense drive to succeed in the sciences.

Even if it is impossible to venture there, the discoveries and new technologies that we _do_ develop that doesn't quite reach the goal, but is above anything we currently have... Exciting!

Give me funding to go to grad school and (more importantly) grants to pay me for this kind of research and I'll gladly quit my well paying salaried+benefits day job to go pursue my childhood dreams.

1040 years (1)

UncleWilly (1128141) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797452)

I bet in the next 1000 years humans could figure out how to make the trip at half the speed of light (40 years).

One word... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797456)


How about some past technology? (3, Informative)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797458)

Everyone is forgetting about Project Orion [wikipedia.org].

The biggest design above is the "super" Orion design; at 8 million tons, it could easily be a city.[6] In interviews, the designers contemplated the large ship as a possible interstellar ark. This extreme design could be built with materials and techniques that could be obtained in 1958 or were anticipated to be available shortly after. The practical upper limit is likely to be higher with modern materials.


Later studies indicate that the top cruise velocity that can theoretically be achieved by a thermonuclear Orion starship is about 8% to 10% of the speed of light (0.08-0.1c).[1] An atomic (fission) Orion can achieve perhaps 3%-5% of the speed of light. A nuclear pulse drive starship powered by matter-antimatter pulse units would be theoretically capable of obtaining a velocity between 50% to 80% of the speed of light.

At 0.1c, Orion thermonuclear starships would require a flight time of at least 44 years to reach Alpha Centauri, not counting time needed to reach that speed (about 36 days at constant acceleration of 1g or 9.8 m/s2). At 0.1c, an Orion starship would require 100 years to travel 10 light years. The late astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that this would be an excellent use for current stockpiles of nuclear weapons.[10]

Hmm... (1)

rakuen (1230808) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797464)

Sounds like I'll need more than a good book for this trip...

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797794)

Sounds like I'll need more than a good book for this trip...

It's a Bring-Your-Own-Author type of trip

Nuclear propulsion. (2, Interesting)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797498)

For now a matter-antimatter drive might as well be a pipe dream. We don't have a way to create antimatter in any meaningful quantity. Using the current process it would take 2 billion years to produce 1 gram of anti-hydrogen. Then there's storage. Anti-hydrogen has been kept from destroying itself for 10 seconds. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

Before we start even talking about getting to other planets there are a few things we need to do. We need a space station far more robust than the ISS. One that allows manufacturing in space. Heavy-lift vehicles get all the materials we need into orbit. It's all assembled and launched from space. Needless to say, that's far easier said than done. But if we want to engage in real space exploration I think to start outside of Earth's gravity well. Too much energy is wasted just getting spacecraft into space and building them to survive launch and flight through the atmosphere. Although, I suppose even in space they have to withstand similar loads. But the point is that if you start in space you have many more options.

And I think it's high time we restarted research into nuclear propulsion.

communicate time - not travel time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797516)

I'm more interested in the time it takes to communicate. 20 yrs at the speed of light. That's doable. Granted we'll have changing administrations and changing agendas over that length of time, and we'd probably alternatively send messages of peace and war every 20 yrs, but at least we could have a few hundred yr communication. Would be nice to know we're not alone in the world, even if its nothing more than that.

What about a couple decades from now? (1)

MoanNGroan (1050288) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797580)

Considering where we were a hundred years ago, it seems rather pedantic and just as dismissive for professor grumpy pants to say it's would to take us 180K years to get there. The stuff that will get us there quickly might still be sitting on grease boards, but chances are it really isn't that far off that a robotic mission will be able to reach a system this close and do it within a reasonable timeframe (i.e. decades). Liftoff before the turn of the century, I'd expect.

What's more likely to stall this is dollars and ability for a project of this scope to survive multiple successive administrations across multiple international boundaries. And a good reason too, hopefully better than "all hands, abandon ship".

If there's intelligent life... (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797582)

...to be found near us, wouldn't "they" have identified Earth as a potential harborer of life and a) attempted communication, b) sent robots, or c) tried to visit? Any meaningful discussion on getting to this place is useless without the technology to actually get there.

morons (0, Troll)

duck_run (1915848) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797598)

why do we a shit about another planet when we can't even control the shit that happens on our own come on people.....

But, do they have oil? (0, Troll)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797646)

If so, the US will be more than happy to inva^H^H^H, bring democracy and free trade to it's inhabitants

At first thought... (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797656)

When I first read this, and someone saying it would take 180,000 years to travel there, I thought, "Maybe we can bring that planet to us!"

But then the various issues with this, not least of which that location matters when discussing habitability, struck me and I thought, "Okay, that wouldn't work."

Even if you made a spaceship sized tunnel between here and there, essentially pulling some section of their solar system across the light years to meet with a section of ours...a wormhole if you will...

Heim Theory? (1)

TheNarrator (200498) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797658)

Just had to mention Heim Theory here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heim_Theory [wikipedia.org]

Extended Heim theory (EHT) is being researched as a possible way to utilize non-propellant methods of interstellar travel, specifically in overcoming the massive distances involved in any space journey. [39]

Response #1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33797668)

The first response to the discovermagazine.com story reads:

Well what pi$$es me off is that people have this idea in their heads that they even have the RIGHT to go and colonize this new planet. Why do we just automatically assume that it’s ours for the taking if we so desire? Why? Just because we found it sitting there that makes it ours to exploit?

This is a theoretical discussion about an undertaking that can't even be realistically considered for the foreseeable future, yet even discussing it is some moral crime worthy of public derision. You really must admire the left in its success at inculcating such a depth of self loathing into the western world. Even inconsequential, totally blue-sky matters must be coerced into the self-hating anti-human mindset, and anyone foolish enough to do otherwise may be cursed without restraint.

Welcomed there by ... their great^N-grandchildren! (1)

dazedNconfuzed (154242) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797728)

Current space-travel technology, even accounting for an Orion ship powered by every nuke on Earth, would take so long to get there as to receive a warm welcome by the travelers' own great^N-grandchildren, whose ancestors stayed behind long enough to develop Dilithium Crystals, Warp Drives, and/or whatever technology will whisk travelers there on the order of a few hours.

Bill Bryson's take ... (1)

WankersRevenge (452399) | more than 3 years ago | (#33797792)

If you haven't read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, do yourself a favor and pick it up. It's wonderful read about pretty much everything. He opens with a chapter on space travel which he says, ...

The point to remember, of course, is that when considering the universe at large we don't actually know what is in our own solar system.

Now the other thing you will notice as we speed past Pluto is that we are speeding past Pluto. If you check your itinerary, you will see that this is a trip to the edge of the solar system, and I'm afraid we're not there yet. Pluto may be the last object marked on schoolroom charts, but the system doesn't end there. In fact, it isn't even close to ending there. We won't get to the solar system's edge until we have passed through the Oort cloud, a vast celestial realm of drifting comets, and we won't reach the Oort cloud for another - I'm sorry about this - ten thousand years. Far from marking the outer edge of the solar system, as those schoolroom maps so cavalierly imply, Pluto is barely one-fifty-thousandth of the way.

Of course, we have no prospect of such a journey. A trip of 240,000 mils to the moon still represents a very big undertaking for us. A manned mission to Mars, called for by the first President Bush in a moment of passing giddiness was quietly dropped when someone worked out that it could cost $450 billion and probably result in the deaths of all the crew (their DNA torn to tatters by high-energy solar particles from which they could not be shielded).

Based on what we know now and can reasonably imagine, there is absoulutely no prospect that any human being will ever visit the edge of our own solar system - ever. It is just too far. As it is, even with the Hubble telescope, we can't see even into the Oort cloud, so we don't actually know that it is there. Its existence is probable but entirely hypothetical.

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