This image shows a depiction of a solar sail, and in particular of the sail used by the Japanese IKAROS mission. The idea of a thin, light, large-area surface has traditionally been based off of “sailing” on particles and radiation emitted by the Sun. However, a similar concept would leverage a highly reflective surface to reflect directed laser light 180 degrees from the surface, enabling direct propulsion and large, continuous accelerations, with the goal of completing an interstellar journey. (Credit: Andrzej Mirecki/Wikimedia Commons)

Ask Ethan: Could the ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ project even survive its planned journey?

With advanced laser technology and an appropriate sail, we could accelerate objects to ~20% the speed of light. But would they survive?

For all of human history, embarking upon an interstellar journey has been a seemingly…

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Ethan Siegel

Ethan Siegel

The Universe is: Expanding, cooling, and dark. It starts with a bang! #Cosmology Science writer, astrophysicist, science communicator & NASA columnist.