Disappointments & Exciting News: A Science Update

If you follow science, and specifically space science, then you know the last couple of weeks have been pretty exciting.

Artist Conception of Proxima Centauri b
By ESO/M. Kornmesser (https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1629a/)
 [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

First off, we found out that Proxima Centauri has an Earth-like planet in its habitability zone, Proxima Centauri-b (this doesn't mean it's blue and watery, just that it's the same size and planet type as we are). Its location means that we can one-day visit it with current and emerging technology within a human lifetime. There's already a plan to do so which could involve the Planetary Society's lightsail project, or perhaps Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner's plan (much the same). This means that as early as 2060, we could see the surface of another world.

Allen Telescope Array
Photo Credit: By Colby Gutierrez-Kraybill (DSC_0442)
[CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons
Second, we then got an alien-like signal from HD164595, a system about 29 parsecs (~94.5 light years) from Earth. The signal was confirmed by SETI, and got everyone (myself included) excited, but unfortunately it looks like it was a Russian satellite and not aliens... this time. The important lesson out of this one is to remember that false alarms are going to happen since we've filled the space around earth with "noisy" satellites, but to keep looking because we haven't even come close to surveying the whole sky (to quote the SETI League's website: "we've seen less than one fifteen millionth of our own Milky Way galaxy.". So basically we've looked at a drop of water in a bucket so far. It's still too early to declare us alone.

EM Drive Engine
By David A. Brady, Harold G. White, Paul March, James T. Lawrence,
and Frank J. Davies. Eagleworks Laboratories,
 NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
And lastly, there was an article I just read today from Physics-Astronomy.com that stated the "impossible' EM Drive—that's the drive system that uses only microwaves as thrust, no fuel—has been confirmed to work yet again (I think we're up to 4 independent confirmations, including NASA). This is somewhat amazing because, by the classical understanding of Physics, the EM drive is like getting in a box, pushing on one wall, and expecting to accelerate. It shouldn't work, and yet it does seem to. If this winds up being something real, and being scaleable, it means we won't need fuel (the majority of the weight of any spacecraft) to go to other worlds, just electricity. It would revolutionize space exploration, and might make human colonization of the solar system (and maybe one day other stars) something much more practical than it is now.

To give you an idea, if the EM Drive works, it's said it can make the Earth-Mars trip in 70 days (vs. the 6 months it would take with today's technology). Honestly, I wish I'd read about this when I was writing the "rules" for my Orion Spur series, I would've used its future version.


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