To the stars
Astronomers recently announced strong evidence of an Earth-like alien planet around Proxima Centauri, the star closest to our sun, making it the closest exoplanet found to date. Though the star system is our cosmic neighbor, it is still located 4.2 light-years, or 25 trillion miles, away from Earth. At such distances, could we ever visit the newfound planet?
Even the nearest stars would takes tens of thousands of years to reach using conventional spacecraft, such as the robotic probes being used now to explore the solar system. These spacecraft are driven by a combination of chemical rockets, low-thrust ion drives and gravity-assisted trajectories — including so-called “slingshot maneuvers” around the sun or large planets that give them a big burst of speed.
But if we’re going to travel beyond our solar system, we’re going to need something a little faster than that — perhaps something like the giant Project Daedalus fusion rocket, shown here to scale with NASA’s Saturn V rocket in an illustration by graphical engineer and space artist Adrian Mann, whose work is featured in this countdown of futuristic space technologies. Here are seven ways that robots, or even human explorers, could visit the Proxima Centauri system or other cosmic neighborhoods.