Spaceships could travel at speed of light, say Harvard scientists

Spaceships could eventually be travelling through the universe at practically the speed of light, two Harvard scientists have claimed.

Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb, who are both professors at the top US university, have said that, in theory, supernovas could be used to propel crafts to that speed.

They have suggested that if an incredibly advanced spaceship was built that could exploit the power of these natural phenomena, humans could achieve what is believed to be impossible.

Similar to a sailboat, it is thought that humans could effectively create a solar sail or magnetic sail that could propel a craft to the speed of light.

They would use the electromagnetic radiation emitted by a supernova (the super-powerful explosion of a star) to create the thrust that would power the spaceship.

This relies on the electromagnetic radiation to create pressure against a highly-reflective sail, generating a push that means engine fuel would not be needed.

This is because the energy and brightness produced by a supernova are the same as what a billion suns would create in a month.

Their study – entitled 'Propulsion of Spacecrafts to Relativistic Speeds Using Natural Astrophysical Sources' – says this could be possible if the technology is developed in years to come.

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Lingam, the lead author of the resulting research, explained: “We developed mathematical models to determine the maximum speed that is attainable by light sails and electric sails.

"The maximum speeds varied depending on the propulsion system utilised as well as the astrophysical objects in consideration."

But there are some major hurdles that would need to be overcome if a plan like theirs could ever be feasible in the future.

This includes the issue of predicting supernova, which are not only incredibly rare, but also nearly impossible to accurately forecast.

The closest experts have come to predicting them is within a range of a million years.

Also, a craft would need to be built that could deal with the friction coming from the ambient gas surrounding the star that is about to explode.

And finally, it is almost certain that this theoretical mission would be using an unmanned spaceship as it seems out of the realms of possibility that humans could survive reaching relativistic speeds.

  • Space

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