Something of the comet ISON made it around the Sun, and there’s a possibility that a small cometary nucleus has survived in whole or part. The comet’s remnant will be rising before dawn in Earth’s skies in the coming days.
(Images from SOHO)
How soon could humanity launch a mission to the stars? That’s the question considered today by Marc Millis, former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project and founder of the Tau Zero Foundation which supports the science of interstellar travel.
By looking at the rate at which our top speed and financial clout are increasing, and then extrapolating into the future, it’s possible to predict when such missions might be possible. The depressing answer in every study so far is that interstellar travel is centuries away.
Today, Millis takes a different approach. He looks at the energy budget of interstellar missions. By looking at the rate at which humanity is increasing the energy it has available and extrapolating into the future, Millis is able to estimate when we will have enough to get to the stars.
To make his extrapolation, Millis looked at the amount of energy the US has used to launch the shuttle over the last thirty years or so, as a fraction of the total energy available to the country. He assumes that a similar fraction will be available for interstellar flight in future. He then calculates how much energy two different types of mission will consume.
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Comet ISON might still put on a spectacular show. If it stays intact as it passes the Sun, we may see several remarkably bright comet tails streaming upward from the horizon on the morning of November 29.
Image: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
my conversation skills
“I remember Fight Club played at the Venice Film Festival at a midnight screening. Edward Norton and I, after having a few drinks, were sitting next to the president who’s running the whole thing. We’re sitting up in the balcony. It’s subtitled and we’re the only fuckers laughing. It gets to one of Helena’s scandalous lines - ‘I haven’t been fucked like that since I was in grade school.’ - and literally, the guy running the festival got up and left. Edward and I were still the only ones laughing. You could hear two idiots up in the balcony cackling through the whole thing.”