2020-08-04

It takes 6 months to go to Mars and 70,000 years to go to Proxima Centauri. What kind of energy can help humans break through the solar system?

By yqqlm yqqlm

Since the day humans saw the sky, they have flew up to see what kind of world it is. Especially after the establishment of modern astronomy and even astronautics, after having the basic capabilities of space exploration, they are more full of yearning for other planets. However, when we really started space exploration, we discovered how limited our capabilities are.

Of all the probes launched by humans, Voyager 1 is the farthest one, which is only 22.3 billion kilometers away from us. This number may seem surprising, but it is still very far away from Proxima Centauri and it will take 70-100,000 years to reach it. In space, human detectors are slower than turtles.

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(picture Explanation:In 1997, the Cassini probe took off. The current human rocket launches are still completely dependent on chemical fuels)

We don’t have to be too disappointed. Although the current probes are still very slow, we At present, we have mastered 4 methods that can achieve even more amazing speed. However, these methods are still immature. Once one of them can achieve a breakthrough, the day we fly out of the solar system is just around the corner.

Nuclear powered rocket

Although human detectors have begun to try to use nuclear The method of fission generates electricity, but it is still only a concept to use nuclear energy to power the entire rocket. At present, liquid hydrogen is more common for rocket fuel, and methane and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine are also used. In short, we still rely on chemical reactions to power the rocket.

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(Picture Explanation:The National Ignition Facility of the United States specializes in the study of artificial suns, which can control nuclear fusion)

We know that the energy provided by such a reaction is very limited because its energy source is only produced by the recombination of chemical bonds Poor energy. And 99.95%of the energy of an atom is concentrated in the nucleus. If we can use this energy, it will greatly increase the speed of the rocket. Yes, this is a nuclear reaction.

According to Einstein’s mass-energy equation, the energy released by the reaction of 1 kilogram of chemical substances is approximately equivalent to the mass of 1 milligram, and if neutron bombardment of uranium is used to make it fission, the equivalent of The energy of 955 mg mass is almost 1,000 times that of chemical fuel. It is easier to understand the huge gap between the power of TNT explosives and atomic bombs when you think about it.

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This is just nuclear fission. If we can use nuclear fusion to provide energy, the power that the rocket can get is even more impressive. Think about it, nuclear fusion is the basic principle of a hydrogen bomb! If 1 kg of hydrogen is fused into helium, the energy we get will be equivalent to 7.5 grams of mass, which is amazing! If we can use the principle of nuclear fusion to accelerate the rocket, the acceleration time it can obtain will far exceed all current fuels, which will allow us to reach Proxima in hundreds or even decades.

However, our nuclear fusion is not yet mature enough to achieve a controllable nuclear fusion reaction. This is also a problem that countries all over the world are trying to overcome. Not long ago, the media just reported the construction of the first nuclear fusion reactor in mankind, which is expected to be completed in 2025. However, such a huge reactor certainly cannot be used in rockets. As for when the rocket can be used in small nuclear fusion reactors, it is currently unknown. Some people think it will wait until 2100.

Antimatter

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The principle of mass-energy equation is also used. Antimatter has a much higher energy conversion rate than nuclear fusion. Or we can say in exaggeration:For antimatter, it doesn’t matter what energy conversion rate, because its principle is to convert all matter into energy, with a conversion rate of 100%.

The principle of antimatter is very simple. A pair of opposite matter will be annihilated together and become energy completely. Only 1 gram of antimatter and the same amount of matter are completely annihilated, and 1.8×10^14 joules of energy will be produced, which is equivalent to three Hiroshima atomic bombs, which shows how powerful its power is. If we can use this energy on the rocket, the thrust generated will be quite amazing.

However, our understanding of antimatter is still relatively limited, and we cannot really use antimatter in practice at present. The main difficulties are concentrated in three aspects:

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(Picture description:European Center for Nuclear Research Antimatter Factory)

  • How to create stable and neutral antimatter;
  • How to combine antimatter with normal The substances are separated to achieve precise and long-term control;
  • The mass production of anti-matter enables it to be used by humans in practice.

At present, the first two problems have been resolved to a certain extent.

In the antimatter factory of CERN, scientists have tried to combine antiprotons with positrons and successfully created antiatoms, achieving a historic breakthrough. At the same time, they were able to use magnetic and electric fields to confine these prepared antimatter in a location far away from ordinary substances, making it stable for about an hour.

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(picture description :Antimatter rocket hypothetical picture)

At present, the only thing we cannot overcome is mass production of antimatter. People have always ridiculed that antimatter is the most expensive substance in the world, and it takes at least hundreds of billions of dollars to produce one gram. If one day we realize mass production of antimatter, we will be more comfortable with antimatter preservation by then. Then, the antimatter rocket must not be too far away. It will help us explore this universe with shockingly powerful thrust.

Dark matter

Compared with antimatter, dark matter is even more mysterious. No one knows what dark matter is, only that it accounts for about 85%of the mass of the universe.

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(picture description :Although we don’t understand the essence yet, we know that dark matter is widely distributed in the Milky Way, and even appears in the solar system)

Some people think that the essence of dark matter is also a boson, and it is very Special:it is its own antimatter. They believe that although the probability is not high, in rare cases, they will annihilate themselves, thereby providing a lot of energy to power the rocket.

In the universe, many distant galaxy centers have amazing gamma-ray bursts. Different scientists have given different opinions on the source of these gamma rays. Some of them are analyzed according to the theory we just mentioned, and believe that this powerful energy comes from the annihilation of dark matter. If we use it on a rocket, it can also achieve a leap in speed. At the same time, since dark matter can be seen everywhere in the Milky Way, we don’t need to replenish energy, we can use local materials and continue to accelerate.

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And if it is really possible to not carry fuel, then human Space exploration will achieve more”impossible.” The rocket can accelerate indefinitely without exceeding the speed of light, which greatly expands our exploration range.

However, this idea is still just an idea. It firstly relies on the properties of dark matter and must satisfy the conjecture we mentioned above. If dark matter is proved to not have this property, then everything mentioned above is meaningless. Even if we prove that dark matter has such properties, we still need to solve some other problems, such as:

How to promote the annihilation between antimatter;

How to guide the direction of energy release , To ensure that the rocket is advancing in the direction we need;

How to effectively control the rate and scale of the reaction so that the rocket can operate in accordance with our requirements.

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Solar sail

The concept of solar sail is hundreds of years old It was mentioned earlier that after seeing the comet, the famous astrophysicist Kepler discovered that the sun has a power to make the comet’s tail flutter to a certain side, thinking that this can help human tools travel through space.

In the past few years, the famous physicist Hawking once strongly supported the breakthrough star project, which is also based on the solar sail, hoping to achieve an amazing speed of reaching Proxima in 20 years. According to reports, it can even make the detector reach 20%of the speed of light or even faster.

Now we know that the power source of the solar sail comes from a force called light pressure. Because the sunlight will not break, so the solar sail can continue to fly. In order to obtain greater thrust, the solar sail must be large enough, even reaching a diameter of several hundred meters or even several kilometers. Fortunately, the celestial bodies in the universe are very far away, so there is no need to worry about what celestial bodies the solar sail will hit.

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(picture Note:At present, the power model that is most likely to be close to the speed of light-solar sail)

At present, countries all over the world are also trying to develop solar sails. For example, at the beginning of this year, China’s Tianfan No. 1 successfully achieved Expanded, but there is still a long way to go before the real use. In addition, the American Planetary Society’s Light Sail 2 was launched in June last year, and related experiments are currently being carried out.

The difficulty of solar sail is how to make such a huge sail and how to realize its operation through effective folding and unfolding methods. It is currently unable to carry people, because strong acceleration will cause the human body to collapse. In addition, after accelerating to close to the speed of light, how the solar sail decelerates is also a problem. At the same time, we must also have more advanced materials to make it thinner in order to obtain a lighter mass to achieve greater speed.

For now, graphene is the best choice. However, it is still unknown when humans will be able to produce graphene widely and in batches and apply it flexibly.

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(Picture Description:Conceptual image of solar sail)

Summary

The dream of mankind is The stars and the sea. We hope to be able to rush out of the solar system and take a look at the universe outside. For human beings now, it will take half a year to get to Mars so close. But I believe that with the continuous breakthrough of human technology, we can really go to Proxima to take a look.

At present, nuclear fusion power and solar sails seem to be the first to be realized. As for whether there will be more innovative technologies in the future, it is unknown. If humans can really break out of the solar system, which celestial body do you want to visit first?