Combining lasers and nanotechnology, scientists—including Stephen Hawking—have developed a way that might let us explore our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri:
Today’s fastest spacecraft would take 30,000 years to get to Alpha Centauri. To cut the time to just 20 years, the Breakthrough Starshot team plans to build small, unmanned probes that can carry cameras, power supplies and navigation and communications equipment while still weighing less than a smartphone.
Needless to say, this would represent an unprecedented breakthrough in humanity’s explorations of the cosmos (the farthest probe we have ever sent, Voyager I, took over 30 years to just exit the solar system).
I’m fascinated by the ways in which breakthroughs in our understandings of the universe will inspire artists in the coming generations. When you realize just how much our terrestrial environment has shaped the art and literature that humanity has created in its 10,000 or so years, you must realize that putting an entirely new star system into play, not to mention everything else that exists in the cosmos that we are just learning about, lays down an extraordinary new set of opportunities for artists and writers.
And also, who can fail to be inspired by the image of laser beams on a high, high mountain in Tibet propelling tiny probes all the way to a new star? Is that not an incredible, beautiful image?
Many of my favorite writers of the postmodern era have developed their visions in tandem with the technologies and discoveries at the forefront of science and civilization. What is happening right now in the sky is a challenge to writers and artists in this generation and those to come. I do hope many of us choose to take it.