Have you ever wanted to travel to the distant reaches of the Milky Way? All aboard the IXS Enterprise! The next destination is Alpha Centauri; only a cool 4.65 light years away! Your trip will include full meal service and the best part is, we’ll be traveling so fast that hyper-sleep won’t be needed. Obviously, this isn’t a reality yet, but after two big announcements this week, travel to the far reaches of the Milky Way not only moves closer to the realm of possibility, but the incentive to make it happen has exponentially grown.
Gizmag tells us that a survey conducted by astronomers at Cornell University has examined 637 exo-planets and deduced that upwards of 100 million planets scattered around the Milky Way could contain complex life. Complex life in the Milky Way is defined as any animal above the microbial level which has established stable food chains such as animals found in various ecosystems on Earth. The astronomers did this by assigning what’s known as a Biological Complexity Index (BCI) value to each planet they examined. The BCI value is based on several factors of each planet such as the planet’s density, chemistry, distance from its star, and age. Inquisitr News delves further into the study’s calculations by informing us that the astronomers used Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) as a “low bar” estimate of a planet that would be capable of supporting life. Europa is unique in the Milky Way because it is the only other celestial body within our solar system that scientists believe could support life. It is covered on its surface by a thick layer of ice, but because of Jupiter’s strong gravitational pull, which heats up Europa’s core, it contains a greater volume of liquid water than does Earth.
In an exciting development that was illuminated during the course of the study, planets around the Milky Way with BCI values capable of supporting life are not all relegated the class of icy wastelands such as Europa. The study found a planet, located twenty light years from Earth, named Gliese-581c, which actually scored a higher BCI value than Earth! This means that if a technologically advanced civilization were observing both Earth and Gliese-581c from far away (and using the same formula for their calculations), they would place their bets on traveling to Gliese-581c to look for complex life as opposed to Earth. The primary issue preventing us from digging in a whole lot deeper is that twenty light years is a long way to go. Even while contained within the Milky Way, using current technology, it would take us 350,000 years to get there!
Hold on; we’ve just inched closer to a solution to the above problem. This week, NASA unveiled its most recent plans for an interstellar warp drive– which would make travel to Gliese-581c and other life sustaining planets within the Milky Way possible. NASA scientist, Dr. Harold White, stated that “faster than light” (FTL) travel is possible by using what’s known as the “Alcubierre Drive” (based on a principle developed by the Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre). The warp engine would work by bending space-time and would allow a space craft to cover large distances almost instantly. That trip to Alpha Centauri, using this principle, would be cut down to two weeks. Alcubierre’s theory involves using massive amounts of energy to bend space-time itself, resulting in the creation of a “warp-bubble” in which the spacecraft would travel. Alcubierre’s theory was published in 1994, but to date, no such engine has been built. However, renderings of what the design and finished product could look like have been released– and they fascinating.
Dr. White has published a series of milestones to be followed in order to make warp drive technology a reality. Even though, at this point, our ability for light speed travel around the Milky Way doesn’t exist, this week, the dialogue about how to make it possible and where to look when it is possible has taken a step forward.