Voyage to Pandora: First Interstellar Space Flight

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Voyage to Pandora: First Interstellar Space Flight 4.5
Pandora is the idyllic blue world featured in the movie Avatar. Its location is a real place: Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our Sun and the most likely destination for our first journey beyond the solar system.

Remarkably, it's anti-matter, the science fiction fuel of choice that could take us there. Normally, it's only created in powerful jets that roar out of black holes. We can now produce small quantities in Earth-bound particle colliders. Will we journey out only to plunder other worlds? Or will we come in peace? The answer may depend on how we see Earth at that time in the distant future.

The year is 2154. Our planet has been ruined by environmental catastrophe. In the movie Avatar, greedy prospectors from Earth descend on the world of an innocent hunter-gatherer people called the Na'vi.

Their home is a lush moon far beyond our solar system called Pandora. Could such a place exist? And could our technology... and our appetite for exploration... one day send us hurtling out to reach it?

In fact, the supposed site of this fictional solar system is one of our most likely interstellar targets, until a better destination turns up. Pandora orbits a fictional gas planet called Polyphemus. Its home is a real place... Alpha Centauri... the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus.

At 4.37 light years away, it's part of the closest star system to our sun. Alpha Centauri is actually two stars, A and B, one slightly larger and more luminous than our own sun, the other slightly smaller.

The two stars orbit one other, swinging in as close as Saturn is to our Sun... then back out to the distance of Pluto. This means that any outer planets in this system... anything beyond, say, the orbit of Mars... would likely have been pulled away by the companion and flung out into space.

For this reason, Alpha Centauri was not high on planet hunters' lists... until they began studying a star 45 light years away called "Gamma Cephei." It has a small companion star that goes around it every 76 years. Now, it seems... it also has at least one planet.

That world is about the size of Jupiter, and it has planet hunters excited. Perhaps two-thirds of all the stars in our galaxy are in so-called binary relationships. That means there could be many more planets in our galaxy that astronomers once assumed.

At least three teams are now conducting long-term studies of Alpha Centauri... searching for slight wobbles in the light of each companion star that could indicate the presence of planets. If they find a planet that passes in front of one of the stars, astronomers will begin intensive studies to find out what it's like.

One of their most promising tools will be the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2014 or 2015. From a position a million miles away from Earth, it will deploy a sun shield the size of a tennis court, and a mirror over 21 feet wide. The largest space telescope ever built, it will offer an extraordinary new window into potential solar systems like Alpha Centauri.

With its infrared light detectors, this telescope will be able to discern the chemical composition of a planet's atmosphere... and perhaps whether it harbors a moon like Pandora.

One prominent planet hunter predicted that if a habitable world is found at Alpha Centauri, the planning for a space mission would begin immediately. Here's that star duo as seen by the Cassini spacecraft just above the rings of Saturn.

To actually get to this pair of stairs, you have to travel as far as the orbit of Saturn, then go another 30,000 times further. Put another way, if the distance to Alpha Centauri is the equivalent of New York to Chicago, then Saturn would be just... one meter away.

So far, the immense distances of space have not stopped us from launching missions into deep space. In 1977, the twin Voyager spacecraft were each sent on their way aboard Titan 3 Centaur rockets. After a series of gravitational assists from the giant outer planets, the spacecraft are now flying out of the solar system at about 40,000 miles per hour.

They are moving so quickly that they could whip around the Earth in just 45 minutes, twice as fast as the International Space Station. Voyager I has now traveled over 110 astronomical units. That's 110 times the distance from Earth to the Sun... or about 10 billion miles. But don't hold your breath.

If it was headed in the right direction, it would need another 73,000 years to travel the 273,000 astronomical units to Alpha Centauri. When it comes to space travel, we've yet to realize the dream forged by rocketeers a century ago.

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💬 Comments on the video
Author

I'm pretty sure somewhere out there, far into space, my girlfriend exists.

Author — Alan Jay

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Our Objective: Spy on aliens

Currently: Aliens spying on us

Author — Lorenzo Rota

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November 2019 and James Webb yet to launch. Hope all goes well.

Author — Tuna Free Dolphin Meat

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If there were life on other planets, by the time we got their, it would be over. By the time we returned to 🌎 it would ne uninhabitable.

Author — Thom Anderson

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2019, STILL HAVEN'T LAUNCHED JAMES WEBB 😠😡

Author — Kellie Thornton

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If we are to get to distant worlds, we need to change the way we think...

Author — Epicnerd73

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9 to 10 billion people by the year 2040... holy cow! They say a woman is giving birth every 3.5 seconds, what we have to do is find this woman and stop her, or at least ask her to slow down.

Author — Carl Pen

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One day first we will return to the Moon, then we will be on Mars, then we will be on some Jupiter's moons and then we will arrive to some exoplanet. That is our fate.

Author — misticMarco

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When we find life on another planet would we kill it?

Author — dwayne carpenter

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I wish we could all get along on earth :( I believe that the discovery of life outside our solar system would galvanize the human race into uniting together and working hard to improve our precious little planet. We need to spread out into the solar system, it is there for us, let's take it. Begin something special, cast our cultural differences aside and come together as a species! I encourage everybody reading this to work hard to help pave the way forward!

Author — lukahead6

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It always amazes me how huge the universe is

Author — JoeyF Bank

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2019 and the James web telescope hasn't been deployed yet so much for 2014

Author — Sil Marillian

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"That dar' is true, laddie!"
I know this, however, I was just trying to make sense of what he might have been trying to articulate!

Author — The Crimson Fucker

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im so disappointed we don't have international moon base

Author — Ray Thompson

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This starts a bit slow... but WOW !!   It has managed to squash a HUGE amount of theoretical - and LOGICAL - physics into my brain... THANKS !! :)I'm gonna build that space ship... you'll see !!!

Author — Taxi Talk NYC

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Before we talk about traveling to other star systems and planets, let's first fix up ours and unite.
If we don't, once the technology for reaching the Moon, Mars, etc., a repeat of what happened when the Europeans found the Americas is going to happen, and potentially much worse.

Author — Kev Zhu

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I miss "How the universe works" at least there I was sure the voice over and people weren't robots. :(

Author — kairon156

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We can't approach space travel, from today's physics we know.

Author — cujoe Mblakka

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"If you sruvived the landing, you werent going fast enough"

-Old Kerbal Folklore

Author — Valiant The Odd

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Fascinating! I have been trying to follow the journeys of both Voyagers! Thank you for your uploads that open up even for laymen like me!

Author — Poodles rock