Science News

Magnetic “sails” for travel to other astral systems

The aim of the ambitious Breakthrough Starshot project (which is supported by Russian Grand Master Yuri Milner) is to send a “mini” spacecraft to the Alpha of the Centaur at a speed of 1/4 to 1/5 of that light so that it gets there in 20 to 50 years. However, in addition to acceleration, there is also the issue of slowing down: The boat will slow down enough to collect data on the star and its planets as it passes – and the proposal of a theoretical physicist of the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt is the the use of ‘magnetic sails’ as space brakes for the purpose of slowing down the craft.

The Breakthrough Starshot and other similar ideas for the use of small-scale vessels are based on the use of innovative acceleration modes: In the case of the Breakthrough Starshot, this is the use of powerful lasers. However, slowing down is a difficult task, since such a small boat (just a few grams) can not be equipped with conventional braking systems, so Professor Claudiu Gros of the Institute of Theoretical Physics estimates that a slowdown could be achieved using magnetic sails – at least for relatively slow spacecraft.
“Slowly in this case it would mean a cruising speed of about 1,000 km per second, which is just 0.3% of the speed of light, but it’s about 50 times faster than Voyager spacecrafts,” Gross explains. According to his calculations, a magnetic sail is required: A large, extremely conductive loop, about 50 km in diameter, where a strong magnetic field is generated when current is being fed. In this magnetic field, ionized hydrogen will fall, gradually slowing down the craft. The whole idea, as Gross has shown, is functional, despite the very low particle density observed in the interstellar space (0.005 to 0.1 particles per cubic centimeter).

His research has shown that magnetic sails of this kind can slow down “slow” spacecraft, weighing up to 1,500 kg. However, such a trip would take many years – for example 12,000 years for the seven known planets of TRAPPIST-1. However, slower craft of the size of a car could be dispatched with the same laser that, based on the ambitions of the Breakthrough Starshot program, would allow shipments of just a few grams to the Alpha of the Centauri. Also, while thousands of years of missions do not make much sense, things are different in times where time is a secondary issue – like the “The Genesis Project” proposed by the same scientist in 2016, which would send simple, unicellular organisms (either in a mine or as a “plan” in a mini genetic laboratory) on other planets to create life there. For such vessels, what would have been important would not have been when they would arrive there, but that they could slow down and get into orbit around the target planet.

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— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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Rocket maker SpaceX raises another $100 million

(Reuters) – Elon Musk-led SpaceX has raised $100 million by selling shares, in an extension to a financing round earlier this year that raised up to $350 million, a regulatory filing showed on Monday.

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Identifying optimal adaptation of buildings threatened by hurricanes, climate change

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Turning carbon dioxide into fuel and useful chemicals

Turning pollution into fuel: A new method could be used to transform greenhouse gases into useful fuels and chemicals, right at the power plant.

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Studying whale and dolphin anatomy and behavior could offer insights into human evolution

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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Drilling Reawakens Sleeping Faults in Texas, Leads to Earthquakes

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— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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Antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could make tumour cells more sensitive to cancer treatment.

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High-speed quantum encryption may help secure the future internet

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Scientists Genetically Engineer a Form of Gluten-Free Wheat

Removing disease-causing proteins from the grain could make it safe for celiacs to consume

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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Imaging technique shows progress Alzheimer’s disease

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New discovery to accelerate development of salt-tolerant grapevines

A discovery is likely to improve the sustainability of the Australian wine sector and significantly accelerate the breeding of more robust salt-tolerant grapevines.

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The future looks bright: light pollution rises on a global scale

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The world is getting brighter, but scientists say that may not be a good thing.

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Black Hole Pretenders May Be Superfast-Spinning Pulsars

Unraveling the murky origins of these cosmic imposters could lead to breakthroughs in understanding the lives and deaths of stars

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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Seven Ways to Keep Discord off the Thanksgiving Table

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— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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How the Earth stops high-energy neutrinos in their tracks

For the first time, a science experiment has measured Earth’s ability to absorb neutrinos — the smaller-than-an-atom particles that zoom throughout space and through us by the trillions every second at nearly the speed of light. The experiment was achieved with the IceCube detector, an array of 5,160 basketball-sized sensors frozen deep within a cubic kilometer of very clear ice near the South Pole.

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Meet the Spiders That Completely Defy What We Know as Jet Lag

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— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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Think Hurricane Harvey’s Flooding Was Bad? Just Wait until 2100

Storms with much greater rainfall are predicted to hit North America by century’s end

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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Proposed cuts to US Malaria Initiative could mean millions more malaria cases

Cutting the budget of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) by 44 percent, as the US Congress has proposed, would lead to an estimated 67 million additional cases of malaria over the next four years, according to a mathematical model.

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Second HIV test helps prevent incorrect HIV diagnosis in infants

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Surfing for Science: Ocean Enthusiasts Could Help Gauge Coastal Warming

Researchers want to enlist surfers, scuba divers and anglers to monitor hard-to-reach areas vulnerable to climate change

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

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Scientists solve the mystery of America’s scuba-diving fly

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Physicists design $100 handheld muon detector

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Non-fearful social withdrawal linked positively to creativity

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