Billionaires to fund nano-tech search for alien life with tiny craft traveling at one-fifth the speed of light

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Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner just announced a bold new initiative to visit Alpha Centauri — the second-closest star to Earth — within our lifetimes.

Lasers would propel the nanocraft at 20 percent the speed of light.

Lasers would propel the nanocraft at 20 percent the speed of light.

“For the first time in human history we can do more than just gaze at the stars, we can actually reach them,” Milner told a crowd at One World Trade Center in New York City on Monday. Milner and Hawking announced “Breakthrough Starshot” … [to the] star located some 4.37 light-years (25 trillion miles) away from Earth. It’s the closest star to our home world besides the sun. …

To reach that system, Starshot aims to use tiny robot ships that are smaller than a cell phone, slightly larger than a postage stamp. Milner said Starshot will start out as a $100 million proof-of-concept to design, build, launch, and propel a small fleet of “nanocraft” to Alpha Centauri in about 20 years’ time from launch. (In addition to Milner and Hawking, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg is on Starshot’s board of directors.)

Nanocraft are tiny robots with several-meter-wide “Lightsails,” which powerful lasers will propel away from Earth. The small scale of these devices means that it should be relatively easy to build thousands of nanocraft, launch them toward Alpha Centauri, and have them beam back their discoveries.

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