On Wednesday, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced they will be teaming up with Haute 100 lister Mark Zuckerberg for an initiative to explore the stars. The initiative, which was revealed atop Manhattan’s Freedom Tower, will be called Breakthrough Starshot.
Slated to cost $100 million, the venture will be headed by Milner and supported by Hawking with Zuckerberg serving on the board. As stated on the initiative’s site, “Breakthrough Starshot aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Along the way, the project could generate important supplementary benefits to astronomy, including solar system exploration and detection of Earth-crossing asteroids.”
Traveling at 20 percent of the speed of light, the miniature spaceships are slated to take 20 years to make the journey to Alpha Centauri. The miniature spaceship will involve a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. The hope is that the miniature spaceships will be able to broadcast images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.
Zuckerberg, who announced his role in the venture via Facebook, said, “I’m proud to join Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking for a new space initiative to go beyond our nearby planets to explore other stars for the first time in human history.” He continued, “The reason this project is important is recent research has found many stars have planets within a distance where they could have water to sustain life. That is, they’re close enough to their star that any water isn’t frozen but not so close that it has all evaporated. But just because a planet is in this habitable zone doesn’t mean it has water and is a place we can actually live. For example, Mars has no water, so it would be difficult to ever live there. It’s quite possible the closest planet that humans could actually live on is orbiting Alpha Centauri, and the only way to know that for sure is to visit close enough to photograph the planet, which is what this project will do.”