Let’s Launch Our Own UFO

Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) are a fact.  I think everyone I know has seen at least one so why deny it?

Of course, the problem with UFO sightings is in the evidence, or lack of it.  The best evidence produced so far is no better than the evidence we can see on ghost hunting programs.  You know, weird sounds, photos of enigmatic lights and vapors, fuzzy and shaky images.  Unrecognizable stuff, not evidence.  Just fodder for talk.

Then along came Oumuamua.  Remember the interloper from outer space that came whizzing into and out of our solar system? While most investigators have decided it is an asteroid with cometary properties (it apparently exhibits jets of outgassing that caused it to accelerate), at least one has a different take.  He even wrote a book, Extraterrestrial, The first Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.  That would be Avi Loeb, Harvard University’s chair of its Astronomy Department.  When someone with credentials like that takes a position you gotta at least listen.

Dr. Loeb hypothesizes that Oumuamua is a spacecraft sent to investigate our solar system.  While Dr. Loeb’s hypothesis is intriguing, we just do not have enough evidence to support it.  By the time it was discovered it was headed to the outer solar system and speeding up.  Hmmm, that does sound interesting.

Well, Dr. Loeb and a team had already been working out the requirements to send a spacecraft to Proxima Centauri when Oumuamua appeared. The net result has been an Apollo-like mission excitement. They call themselves Breakthrough Starshot!  Fittingly, this spaceship will be fitted with a sail, a Light Sail.  No doubt there are technological challenges, but we are getting closer each month to making it feasible.

Foremost is speed, it needs to get at least to 20% the speed of light to make the trip in the design team’s lifetime.  At that it will take 20 years.  To achieve this the team proposes a super thin reflective material, possibly using graphene as a base substrate.  The reflectivity will have to come as a breakthrough as well.  To prevent the sail from vaporizing in the 100 gigawatt laser conflagration it will have to reflect 99,999 out of every 100,000 photons that hit it. Can you imagine a telescope mirror with that reflectivity?

Speaking of 100 gigawatts, that requires an array of perfectly phased lasers consuming in a few minutes the amount of energy produced by all US nuclear power plants in a year!

Then there is the payload, called a StarChip.  Cameras, sensors, transmitters, power, navigation thrusters… enough to capture and transmit data during its high-speed flyby, but only weighing around 0.3 ounces.

When will we send it?  Is there anyone out there to go, OMG I saw a UFO!!…?

What’s in the Sky?

April 22; 12:30am till dawn; east:  The Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks but gets punked by a bright waxing gibbous Moon until it sets, around 4am.