Dark power: Grand designs for interstellar travel
25 November 2009 by Marcus Chown
SPACE is big," wrote Douglas Adams in his book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. "You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is."
So what would it take for humans to reach the stars within a lifetime? For a start, we would need a spacecraft that can rush through the cosmos at close to the speed of light. There has been no shortage of proposals: vehicles propelled by repeated blasts from hydrogen bombs, or from the annihilation of matter and antimatter. Others resemble vast sailing ships with giant reflective sails, pushed along by laser beams.
All these ambitious schemes have their shortcomings and it is doubtful they could really go the distance. Now there are two radical new possibilities on the table that might just enable us - or rather our distant descendants - to reach the stars.
In August, physicist Jia Liu at New York University outlined his design for a spacecraft powered by dark matter (arxiv.org/abs/0908.1429v1). Soon afterwards, mathematicians Louis Crane and Shawn Westmoreland at Kansas State University in Manhattan proposed plans for a craft powered by an artificial black hole (arxiv.org/abs/0908.1803).
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
There's a great article today on the New Scientist site about possible propulsion methods capable of traversing interstellar distances. Not only is it an interesting topic to begin with but they include a shout-out to Arthur C. Clarke who used small black holes to propel interplanetary spaceships in his novel Imperial Earth (1975).