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Monday, August 29, 2016

Biggest Discovery of the Century: What Does it Mean?

Some HUGE news that broke last week. Scientists have discovered what may be an Earth-like planet in the habitable zone orbiting the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, a small red dwarf sun about 4.25 light years away.

Promptly named Proxima b, the planet is only about 1.3 times the size of Earth and appears to have conditions that may allow it to have liquid water. That's exciting! So now it seems not only are there potential New Earths out there, but one may be practically on our doorstep.

We've gone from "are there even other planets beyond our solar system?" to "we've found a planet or two!" to "we've found thousands" to "we've found an Earth-like planet orbiting the nearest star!" in a very short time on the scientific time scale. That totally gives me goosebumps!

But what does it really mean that we've found a potentially habitable planet that's very close to Earth?

First of all, define "very close." Proxima Centauri is only a little over four light years away, but that, as the name implies, means we'd have to travel over four years at the speed of light to reach it. We can't even begin to approximate light speed, so how long would it take to get there with our current propulsion systems?

First, a reality check. Remember it took the Voyager craft about 40 years just to reach to edge of our own solar system.  That's like taking 40 years just to reach the door of our house, and still having to travel a mile down the road to the nearest neighbor.

So, if by "current propulsion systems" we're talking about the speed of the New Horizons probe that reached Pluto, we're talking around 54,400 years to reach Proxima b. (And New Horizons was relatively quick. The space shuttle would take about 165,000 years!)

We might be able to "soup up the engines" and cut that timeline down in the next few decades with dynamic new types of drives, but even reducing the transit time by 75% is still 13,600 years. That goes so far beyond the concept of "generation ship" that it's laughable. We're talking about sending people on a journey for 540 generations!

Even reducing the trip to 13,600 is still a span of time greater than all of recorded human history on Earth. And living in the weightless environment of space, by the time the five-hundred-fortieth generation reached Proxima b the chances are the passengers may have lost the ability to even tolerate the gravity of the planet.

So what does this discovery really mean? I think it suggests two major things.

1) If we're ever going to get there, we need to start developing some form of propulsion that can get us there at least 10 times slower than the speed of light, or in about 54 years. Propulsion that can approximate half light speed, or about eleven years travel time, would be much more ideal. And, of course, if we can develop a viable way to "fold" space (ala Dune) or a hyperdrive system (ala Star Wars) or warp speed (ala Star Trek) or flashpoint (ala my upcoming Pets in Space story...teehee) that would defy "normal space" and allow us to arrive in a few hours or days, that's the ideal scenario.

2) We need to develop a reliable form of artificial gravity. The toll of weightlessness on a human who has spent less than a year in space is so dramatic, I can't envision astronauts traveling or orbitting in space for any significant amount of time and not developing major health issues. Muscle atrophy, loss of bone mass, circulation problems, eye problems, the list is long and debilitating. The gravity conditions that our species evolved in must be recreated in order for such a mission to succeed.

Though it's true initiatives like Starshot involving laser beams pushing nanoships that, if successfully developed, could reach Proxima b in about 20 years, that's not getting us into the colony business. As Larry Niven, author of Ringworld, once said, "The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program. And if we go extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!"

Now that we know space may be teaming with other Earth-like planets, we need to focus on the means that will realistically allow us to go there. Unless, of course, we prefer to sit back and continue our armchair space exploration until our time on this world runs out.

Read more here:
Gizmodo: New Earth-like Exoplanet Could be Discovery of the Century
Gizmodo: There May be an Earth-Like Exoplanet Less Than Five Light Years Away
Space: How we could Visit the Possibly Earth-like Planet Proxima b

 
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MY NEWS

This past week, I was informed that my SFR novel, Inherit the Stars, is a finalist for the 2016 Aspen Gold Award.

I won't find out the results until later this year, but I have all my fingers and toes crossed for a second award for my novel.

Meanwhile, they sent me this way cool graphic to share.

So purdy!


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PETS IN SPACE ANTHOLOGY UPDATE




It's only a little over six weeks until the debut of the Pets in Space Anthology on October 11 with pre-orders becoming available in only about four-and-a-half weeks!

Our exciting new SFR anthology is getting ready to roll out toward the launch pad!

Meanwhile, I'm starting to think about swag and I could use your input. What type of swag or prizes do you love to get? Custom mugs? Tshirts? Notepads? Bookmarks? Mousepads?

How about some of the more unusual offerings? Postage stamps? Stress reliever/hand exercisers? Hand fans?

Have any unique swag ideas to suggest?

I'm all ears. Please post in comments below. I'll share your ideas or requests with the other Pets in Space Anthology authors.

If you missed the news about the meet-and-greet with our cover model, Vikkas Bhardwaj, you can read about it in my last blog (with photo!) here. Just scroll down to the Pets in Space Anthology Update.

Take it from a sci-fi icon at the Star Wars Celebration:
Have a great week!

Laurie

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