Sailing to the stars in a human lifetime can be a matter of choosing the right kind of wind.
Researchers from Canada’s McGill University and the Tau Zero Foundation in the US have come up with a new way to traverse the extraordinary distances of interstellar space, drawing inspiration from seabirds.
One of the most promising solutions for space travel so far is to use the spectrum of starlight from the Sun. Although small in effect, the sheer numbers and high speeds make photons an interesting source of power to generate the high speed needed to travel light years in a short time.
There are innovations in solar sail technology has progressed considerably for years, with models are tested in the hostile environments of our inner solar system.
Despite being functional, solar sails all have one downside in common: the sail itself. Solar sails must stretch for meters to capture the photons needed to propel a ship.
They also need the right shape and material to transform the small momentum of each photo into action. And they must shed heat well enough to avoid distortion and breakage.
This is not just a headache in materials science; all these requirements add mass. Even if we use the lightest materials known, there will be the highest speeds we can achieve using solar radiation Just over 2 percent the speed of light, that is, the journey to the nearest star will still take several centuries.
Needless to say, sailing to the stars would be very easy if we could open the sail section.
Fortunately, there is another kind of wind blowing from the sun’s surface, one made not of photons but of a plasma of ions. The flapping and cracking of the Sun’s magnetic fields.
Although the high-speed electrons and protons blasting from the Sun are fewer than photons, their charged masses pack a bigger punch.
Such particles are usually a problem for typical sails, when the wool jumps in the winter it transfers its charge to the surface of the material as static charges, creating drag and changing the shape of the sail.
However, as anyone who has ever tried to push magnetic poles together knows very well, an electromagnetic field can resist without requiring a large, solid surface.
And so, goodbye shiny material and hello superconductor. A cable just a few meters long could, in theory, create a field large enough to direct the Sun’s charged wind tens to hundreds of kilometers.
The system will act more like a magnetic parachute, propelled by a stream of particles traveling at speeds close to 700 kilometers (about 430 miles) per second, or less than a quarter of the speed of light.
it’s not bad but as birds like the albatross knowWinds don’t set the speed limit when it comes to flying high.
By moving in and out of air masses moving at different speeds, seabirds are able to harness the energy of the oncoming wind using what is known as wind. dynamic rise gaining speed before returning to its original trajectory.
Using a similar trick in the “headwind” of the termination shock – to the turbulent zone Contrasting stellar winds—the magnetic sail used by astronomers to define the edge of our solar system—could exceed the speed of the solar wind, potentially surpassing it in solar sails based solely on radiation.
While the technology may not initially appear to be faster than the “traditional” solar sail method, other forms of turbulence at the edges of interstellar space may provide a greater boost.
Even without a subtle nudge from dynamic uplift, a possible plasma-based technology could put cube-seated satellites into orbit. Jupiter in months, not years.
Like the age of sails before it, there are many ways to take advantage of the currents that wash the vastness of space.
Again, seabirds guide us.
This study was published Frontiers in Space Technologies.
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