The scientific world is still buzzing from news that a potentially habitable planet has been discovered orbiting the nearest star to Earth (other than the sun, of course). But the real question is, how can we actually get there?
The planet, called Proxima b, orbits the star Proxima Centauri about 4.22 light-years from Earth. For those of us not well-versed in light-year travel, that averages out to around 25 trillion miles from Earth. So, yeah, “close” is obviously relative when we’re talking about space exploration. But still, if we’re talking about the universe, Proxima Centauri is just around the corner.
It’s obviously not possible with current tech to load up an astronaut crew and shoot ‘em off for Proxima b, but that doesn’t mean we have no options when it comes to exploration. The plan? Sending miniature probes powered by light-powered beams and light sails to study the planet via the Breakthrough Starshot initiative. Scientists believe this tech can fly at around 20 percent the speed of light, meaning a probe powered by light beams could potentially reach Proxima b in around 20-25 years.
Of course, the actual technology for these light sails doesn’t actually exist in a feasible way, and researchers behind the Breakthrough Starshot initiative say it should take another 20-25 years to develop the tech. So we’re probably still around 50 years from getting a probe to Proxima b.
But now we have something to aim for. Or maybe in the meantime we’ll figure out warp drives (*fingers crossed*).