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Space Science

Nomad Planets: Stepping Stones To Interstellar Space? 244

Posted by Soulskill
from the cold-dark-rocks-make-good-stepping-stones dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Ian O'Neill suggests in an opinion piece at Al Jazeera that brown dwarves and nomad planets (planets not orbiting any star) could be a much needed stepping stone on our way to foreign stars. Quoting the article: 'In February, a fascinating paper was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society detailing calculations on how many "nomad planets" the Milky Way must contain after estimating our galaxy's mass from how much gravity it exerts on surrounding space. Scientists from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) had uncovered something surprising — there are likely many more planets in the Milky Way than stars. ... Louis Strigari and his Kavli team calculated that there must be 100,000 planets for every star in the Milky Way (PDF). That's a lot of planets! But how can this be? Every star can't have tens of thousands of planets ranging from Pluto-sized to Jupiter-sized. This planetary "excess" actually suggests the existence of planets that were born without a star — nomad planets. ... we need all the help we can get if we are to venture to another star, so these ultracool brown dwarfs could become much-needed "stepping stones" for future starships to refuel on their light-years of journey time. There may be the possibility that these sub-stellar objects may even become more desirable targets for interstellar travellers. After all, there may be dozens of these invisible objects between here and Proxima just waiting to be uncovered by the sophisticated infrared telescopes of the future; they'd certainly make for more accessible scientific curiosities.'"
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Nomad Planets: Stepping Stones To Interstellar Space?

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  • Dark matter? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:21PM (#39345861)

    Sounds like they're hypothesising that all the "dark matter" is actually made of planets, or did i miss something...

    Also - frist prost!!!

    • Scientists from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) had uncovered something surprising — there are likely many more planets in the Milky Way than stars.

      Why is that surprising? Our own solar system contains at least 8 times more planets than stars.

      • Re:Surprising? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by alienzed (732782) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:37PM (#39346013) Homepage
        It's surprising because this article claims there are 100,000 times more planets than stars, quite a ways off from 8x. Methinks we just don't know squat about physics on that level to make absurd estimations like this. I am not a physicist but so many theories being thrown around seem just as dense as the black hole at the center of our galaxy.
        • Re:Surprising? (Score:5, Informative)

          by khallow (566160) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:47PM (#39346107)
          The estimate while not based on a lot of evidence, does have a rational basis. The authors are using a power law model and estimates of large nomads (objects above the mass of Jupiter through to brown dwarf mass) from microlensing events to give a crude estimate for the population of planets down to Pluto size. It's shaky, but not unreasonable given that asteroids follow the same power law distribution, for example.
          • If human of Planet Earth can think of nomad planets being vehicles to cruise the universe, you think sentient aliens from other planets wouldn't think of he same thing?

            Perhaps they already are doing that

            • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @11:32PM (#39348697)

              If human of Planet Earth can think of nomad planets being vehicles to cruise the universe, you think sentient aliens from other planets wouldn't think of he same thing?

              Perhaps they already are doing that

              As I see it, there are a couple of big problems with nomad planets. Available energy is hard to use. The environment would probably be very close to 4K (the temperature of the cosmic microwave background). I guess that there would probably be some sort of fusion, fission, or gravitational resources available for many of these places. But I doubt much energy will be available without serious technology.

              Alternately, you might have life adapted to this environment with extremely slow metabolism (here, I include Earth nonlife examples such as electronics/integrated circuit systems and clockwork mechanisms). Such adaption has a price. The beam of a flashlight or the warmth of a human body even through an insulated suit might be lethal to them.

              But over a long enough time, there's probably a nomad planet traveling close to you at a decent rate of speed and traveling in a direction you want to go.

            • by sourcerror (1718066) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @11:40PM (#39348763)

              We must stop the bug meteors!

        • by eqisow (877574)
          Supermassive black holes (like at the center of the Milky Way) can be less dense than water because the Schwarzschild radius is directly proportional to the mass and density is calculated using the mass and the volume of the Schwarzschild radius. Smaller black holes are much denser.
      • by Shavano (2541114)

        Seem too low. The solar system contains only 8.2 planets. Why are so many planets in such a small volume of space?

    • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:36PM (#39346003) Journal

      Sounds like they're hypothesising that all the "dark matter" is actually made of planets, or did i miss something...

      DM cannot be made of planets because it cannot be made of atoms (it was not part of the plasma which filled the universe ~380k years after the Big Bang) nor does it have the same distribution as matter in a galaxy (rather than a disc it forms a spherical halo). The "gravitational effect" the summary misleading refers to is not the gravitational field of the galaxy but the local gravitational field of the object which bends light creating a lens effect. If the object passes between us and a distant star then the field will bend more light towards us causing the star to get brighter which is how you can detect them without seeing them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wvmarle (1070040)

        The summary indeed strongly suggests that these planets form (part of) the missing dark matter. So let's take that idea and run with it.

        Iirc, dark matter is thought to contribute something like 80% of the total mass in our universe - several times the mass of visible matter. Without looking up the actual masses I am quite certain that the mass of the sun is several orders of magnitude larger than the mass of the planets and asteroids in our solar system together. So based on just our solar system's composit

        • by sco08y (615665)

          So the chance of meeting one of those unbound planets should be pretty high.

          It takes 80 years for Haley's comet to traverse our solar system, and that's a distance of light-minutes. The nearest stars are light-years out.

          We found Pluto because it caused a wobble in Neptune's orbit... unless a planet was actually in our solar system we're not going to get any clues as to its existence.

          • by wvmarle (1070040)

            Nearest stars are light years out indeed. The nearest is something like four light years away.

            Assume there are 100,000 planets for our Sun, assume those to be in a four-light-year-radius sphere around us - volume some 270 cubic light years - there are about 400 planets in every cubic light year.

            That's when they're evenly distributed, with the Sun's gravity distorting anything. So near to us there will be a much higher concentration of those hypothetical nomadic planets nearer to the Sun.

            Halley's comet reach

            • by troon (724114)

              there are about 400 planets in every cubic light year

              Turns out a cubic light year is, well, mind-bogglingly big. I wondered how an average density of 400/ly would compare with the density in our solar system.

              • Neptune's orbital radius is 4.5 billion km
              • which is 0.0005ly
              • giving a solar system sphere volume of 5.23 pico-lyÂ
              • with 8 planets (still should be 9...) , that's a density of 15 billion planets per cubic light year

              Mind... blown.

    • Re:Dark matter? (Score:5, Informative)

      by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:53PM (#39346151) Homepage

      Sounds like they're hypothesising that all the "dark matter" is actually made of planets, or did i miss something...

      You missed the fact that the total mass of all these little objects is negligible compared to the amount of dark matter that needs to be accounted for. You also missed the fact that "Maybe it's all cold baryonic matter!" was the first thing the physicists thought of but when they went through the calculations they could not make the numbers work out.

    • by swamp_ig (466489)

      My understanding that MACHO (ie: brown dwarf and small planet) object dark matter has been pretty much ruled out by microlensing experiments. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MACHO [wikipedia.org]. Essentially if you stare at a distant star for long enough, you should see lots of gravitational microlensing (peaks in brightness) as all the small planets pass in front of the star.

      Any hypothesised large amounts of dark matter would have to be fine tuned carefully to get around this data.

    • by mbone (558574)

      No, they are not. There are nucleosynthesis limits [caltech.edu] that show that baryonic matter (us, stars, planets) are only a small fraction of the total dark matter (somewhere in the 4 to 10% range).

      Now, there also is "missing" baryonic matter (about a 50% difference between what we can see and what nucleosynthesis indicates), so it must be part or even all of that. Note that stars etc are only about 10% of the baryonic matter, so I would be surprised if the planets were more than another 5% or 10% to that total, and

  • by zill (1690130) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:21PM (#39345873)

    Al Jazeera that brown dwarves and nomad planets

    I see what you did there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:22PM (#39345877)

    When did a light year become a unit of time?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:25PM (#39345911)
    I don't think I'd want to stop at some random dwarf star. What is it you don't want on a long trip? Yes, to slow down and enter another gravity well. Doing so would make for a hell of a long trip. The time spent accelerating back along your path (people used to call it decelerating, but apparently that isn't a correct term), the fuel used escaping from the new gravity well, and the time and fuel used accelerating again. Worth it? Maybe if your design requires all that refueling. But the time involved is going to be the killer. It would probably triple (or more) the duration of the trip.
    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:38PM (#39346017)

      Yeah, I can't really think of how this would make sense either. You really shouldn't need a lot of fuel when you're in interstellar space, because you've already expended your fuel to build up velocity; you'll just need to keep half your fuel to slow down during the second half of the voyage. These aren't ocean ships here; there's little to no resistance in space, so your ship will continue at the same velocity until you start decelerating. Maybe they're worried about running out of supplies for the people on board (like with a generation ship), but betting your survival on some random brown dwarf or starless planet along the way having usable supplies (like water, oxygen, things to convert to food) seems rather idiotic; instead, you better have the technology for near-100% recycling of all the things humans need to survive, or not bother making the trip.

      And who ever said "decelerating" isn't correct any more? The same person who thinks light-year is a unit of time?

      • You really shouldn't need a lot of fuel when you're in interstellar space

        You might need fuel to keep the passengers alive, and that is assuming that we even develop a power system that can provide power long enough to even reach such a planet.

        • Any passenger that needs to be kept alive is too impractical for a journey such as that. Being alive implies dying, which means that the ship would need to be intergenerational. This introduces huge problems ethically. The only feasible approach is to send mechanical beings - these can be switched off and thus consume no power until they are needed, thus saving huge resources.
        • You really shouldn't need a lot of fuel when you're ________.
          This could be a new meme. Just fill in the blank
      • <pedantry>In relativistic terms, what we call "deceleration" is simply "acceleration" with the opposite vector (i.e. the other direction).</pedantry>
        It's absurd to say it's an "incorrect" term, though; we are allowed to have words for opposites, after all.

        But yeah: stopping at a brown dwarf or other nomad planet on an interstellar journey makes even less sense than pulling off the expressway and stopping at a gas station to walk around, when you were going 80mph and had a full tank of fuel (i.e.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          In relativistic terms, what we call "deceleration" is simply "acceleration" with the opposite vector (i.e. the other direction).
          It's absurd to say it's an "incorrect" term, though; we are allowed to have words for opposites, after all.

          It seems to me that it's actually a more useful term. "Acceleration" just means you're accelerating; you have to use extra words to specify more information such as the direction. With "deceleration", you're combining the fact that you're accelerating, and the direction (the

        • by ghostdoc (1235612)

          Well, you could use them as slingshot accelerators, much as current interplanetary missions use the solar system's planets.

          Which gives the slightly ridiculous possibility of interstellar travel being something like a vast game of snooker, slinging your craft around a few hundred nomad planets to build up speed then using a few hundred more to decelerate as you get close to your destination.

          • by tverbeek (457094)

            That's what I was talking about, using it for gravity assist.

            And your snooker game is pretty much exactly how interplanetary probes get where they're going within the solar system.

        • Well, you could just walk around there for one generation or 50, while the newly aquired fuel lasts. Then you are nearer another star, and move.

      • Accelerating and decelerating on an interstellar trip using only fuel you start with suffers from an exponential growth of fuel vs velocity. Look up the "Rocket Equation". If you send resupply robots ahead of the main ship, who mine these nomad objects and place fuel pellets or fuel tanks in your path so you can pick them up as you go, that turns an exponential fuel problem into a linear one. Yes, it takes work to accelerate fuel pellets, but less work than accelerating an entire ship with all it's cargo

      • If you find a planet traveling in the same direction and velocity you are traveling in, as you are going in you could land without needing much fuel to stop. Refuel on the planet, then take off again. You'll now be traveling twice as fast.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Sounds good, but it seems like the chances of finding a planet traveling in the right direction and speed are pretty slim.

        • If the planet is travelling at more than the escape speed from the galaxy, it won't be in the galaxy any more. If it travelling at less than this escape speed and your ship is travelling at the same speed, you're taking at least a couple of thousand years to get to the nearest star. (And this is all before considering the chances of finding such a fortuitously placed planet.)

          (Orbital speed of the sun around galactic center = approx 220 km/s, on approx circular orbit. Escape velocity = sqrt(2)*circular orbit

      • If you want the trip take less than a few lifetimes you wants lots of fuel, ideally enough to accelerate at 1g the whole way. That's a lot of fuel even if it is anti-matter.

      • by rachit (163465)

        How bout sending an unmanned daughter ship to rapidly slow down (high G forces), look around, pick up some needed minerals, and then rapidly speed up to catch the mothership? Granted, this might not make sense given today's technology, but maybe with ramscoops / fusion / who knows what rockets, this could work?

        You have to think outside the spaceship.

    • There's the possibility that an interstellar object would have position and velocity appropriate to provide "slingshot" acceleration toward another goal, such as has been used for planetary exploration. My guess is it isn't likely.
    • by LesFerg (452838)

      Actually my ship will have a force-field extending out half a light year ahead, which is incorporated into the mass-convertor. We won't need to slow down at all to pick a planet up for fuel. I heard some ethecists mention the need to stop and check for life forms but I'm not sure if they were going to be on board for the first trip.

    • This was my thought too. If you're going to reach the alpha Centauri system in under a thousand years, you need to be going faster than 1200 km/s. How do they propose to refuel from something they're passing at 1200 km/s? The alternative -- expending fuel to slow down, refuel, then expend fuel to get back to speed -- is more than a little self defeating.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:30PM (#39345947)

    Galaxies having a gravity apparently bigger than their visible mass is not news, but that this effect is caused entirely by planets is unlikely. The extraordinary numbers they got are not "surprising results", but rather proof that their initial assumption was wrong. There ratio of heavy elements is too low for that many planets to form.

  • by StefanJ (88986) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:42PM (#39346047) Homepage Journal

    I don't have the essay collection on hand, but Freeman Dyson suggested something like this a long time ago. He imagined space-adapted life spreading through archipelagos of interstellar objects.

    It might have been in the essay "The Greening of the Galaxy," in his collection Disturbing the Universe.

    • by Araes (1177047) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @07:04PM (#39346255) Homepage
      A similar concept, the colonization of trans-neptunian objects [wikipedia.org], and effectively colonizing in a ladder out of our star system and down into other ones by rock hopping is also quite old. Sagan and others were talking about this a long time ago.
    • So what, it would hardly matter since a human arriving at even the first "stepping stone" is likely be totally blind as a result of prolonged exposure to deep space, which causes severe permanent deformation of the human eyeball and degeneration of the optic nerve. This effect begins to occur on even much shorter trips, much less one into interstellar space. Dyson is a physicist, so its not surprising he doesn't know much about space biology.

      • by Surt (22457)

        That effect is caused by living in microgravity, not exposure to deep space. We have the technology today to build ships that do not require the crew to live in microgravity.

      • by StefanJ (88986)

        This discovery is brand new; you likely read about it a day or so ago, like I did.

        Yet you're judging Dyson and his ideas on that?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:48PM (#39346111)
    Well, the paper actually claims that there are between 2x and 100000x the number of nomad planets as there are stars. This kind of conservative claim is almost certainly right! Their ability to count on the press to distort their claims by citing only the upper bound and not the lower bound is canny and borderline unethical. Kudos to them for an excellent piece of press-release science!
  • Enough has been spent focusing on finding life outside out planet. Let's colonize space already! We can look for life once we get there.
    • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

      Enough has been spent focusing on finding life outside out planet. Let's colonize space already!
      We can look for life once we get there.

      Worked well enough for the crew of the Nostromo...

  • by Zocalo (252965) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @06:52PM (#39346149) Homepage
    Is that something to do with completing the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs?
  • One can imagine that the 'dust' between us and the center of the Milky Way (as well as the arms of all other galaxies) is in fact made up of hundreds of millions of billions of planets.
  • So it's grab a ride if it's heading your way which seems pretty bad since it's completely unsteerable and would be epically cold from no heat source. Plus the delta-V to land and take off from it.
    • by tftp (111690)

      Plus the delta-V to land and take off from it.

      If you can match speed with the planet then you don't really need to land on it. You are already moving as fast as the planet, and in the same direction. The only benefit of bothering to land would be in order to mine it for energy and for shelter.

      However what are your chances of finding convenient supplies of fissible or fusible elements on a random piece of rock? These are largely iron - which is the end of the line, not very usable for production of ener

  • by ShooterNeo (555040) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @07:14PM (#39346363)

    Here's the best starship concept I have come up with, based upon the assumption that there are no major undiscovered principles of physics. (aka no way to cheat basic material science or travel faster than light or cheat conservation of momentum, and relativity holds)

    Technology needed : with a form of nanotechnology known as "molecular manufacturing", you can produce anything of any size with control over every atomic bond. The only limits are materials and energy. You can also deconstruct any frozen object and determine it's molecular structure.

    For departing Sol, use mass drivers. Either build a gigantic mass driver that can accelerate the entire starship in one go, or give the starship a mass driver that can "catch" pellets of iron fired from a smaller one you leave back at Sol.

    Either way, you want to accelerate to the desired speed as rapidly as possible. This means hundreds or thousands of Gs of acceleration. The ship is mostly solid state at this point.

    At 90% of the speed of the light, the ship cruises until it gets close enough to the destination star. At this point, it reconfigures the matter about the ship into a bussard ramscoop and uses this as a brake to slow down. This way, you use free floating interstellar particles as the reaction mass instead of mass carried aboard the ship. Antimatter is used as a power source, the antimatter being burned inside a power reactor inside the ship. (antimatter does not work very well as a direct source of propulsion)

    The same nanotechnology used to construct the ship can also conduct perfect repairs and quickly respond to damage (given sufficient materials and energy). That way, during the many years of travel time when the ship is cruising through the space between the stars, you can repair damage from particle impacts. Also, the ship splits into dozens of pieces separated by thousands of kilometers, enough spacing so that if part of the ship collides with a large mass at 90% of the speed of light, the rest of the ship survives.

    Once at the destination star and decelerated to rest relative to the star, the ship finds a small asteroid or comet near the star. It docks with it and uses the asteroid/comet as raw materials to begin expanding infrastructure. The star provides an energy source. With exponential growth, each asteroid or comet consumed increases the infrastructure (aka a swarm of various types of robots) available, allowing bigger objects to be consumed. Eventually, there would be enough equipment built to start tearing down moons for raw materials, and eventually even planets.

    Once all the mass in the star system is consumed and converted into more robots, processors, etc more ships are built and sent off like seeds to more stars to continue the process.

    In principle, the entire galaxy would be nothing but dyson spheres within a million years or so.

    The ultimate Fermi paradox is why has this not happened yet. We are nearing the technological capability to do this. I think we will have molecular manufacturing within 100 years. Once we find a way to copy the complexity of human brains to far faster solid state circuitry, we will create super-intelligent beings who would have the ability to solve all the engineering problems within a matter of years. If the Singularity happens, then after that event this kind of expansion would be expected to start right away. Worst case scenario, within 1000 years this should start happening.

    • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

      The ultimate Fermi paradox is why has this not happened yet. We are nearing the technological capability to do this. I think we will have molecular manufacturing within 100 years. Once we find a way to copy the complexity of human brains to far faster solid state circuitry, we will create super-intelligent beings who would have the ability to solve all the engineering problems within a matter of years. If the Singularity happens, then after that event this kind of expansion would be expected to start right away. Worst case scenario, within 1000 years this should start happening.

      You're assuming a hyper-intelligent being would have the same motivation to build this that you have, and no better ideas. Also, Dyson Spheres around other starts would likely block signals of their intelligence, even if those signals were detectable by our technology, or recognizable even if they were detectable. Another solution to the Fermi Paradox is found in the Outer Limits episode "Final Exam."

      And none of this takes into account that we may all be a giant simulation, anyway.

      • Well my assumption is that if, say, 1000 years from now, 100 separate entities have the resources to start on this kind of expansion. You know, different corporations, political entities, group minds, whatever.

        Only one of them has to start it, and in another million years, the galaxy will be nothing but copies of that entity.

        Basically, over the long run, if life can replicate exponentially it will do so, because the variants of life that fail or refuse to do so are quickly swept aside.

        However, yes, this Fe

    • "We are nearing the technological capability to do this."

      BS. The molecular biology is nowhere near there and is unlikely to be for decades if not centuries, especially considering that even routine sequence alignments constitute an NP complete problem for even modestly sized proteins and nucleic acids.

      In contrast, what we do currently know about space biology strongly suggests that prolonged space travel is a contraindication for human life.

      • ? what does that have to do with anything. Molecular manufacturing won't depend on molecular biology, for the reasons you just mentioned.

    • by tftp (111690)

      Once all the mass in the star system is consumed and converted into more robots, processors, etc more ships are built and sent off like seeds to more stars to continue the process.

      It would be a sad story for inhabitants of that star system...

    • by FridayBob (619244)

      ...The ultimate Fermi paradox is why has this not happened yet. ...

      We could be the first civilization in our galaxy with such grand aspirations, but with so many stars and planets around the odds are very much against that. IMO a likely explanation is that what you propose is actually much harder than you think and therefore much less likely to ever happen.

      There are many serious obstacles that any such project would have to overcome before even a fleet of robots of our manufacture were ever to reach the closest nomad planet. Some obstacles are close to home, such as hum

  • by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @07:16PM (#39346383)

    Gravitational microlensing surveys have been looking for brown dwarfs and dim stars (sufficiently low luminosity they are not visible from Earth) in the galactic halo, but not enough were found to explain the mass difference (between luminous and non luminous galactic matter) to explain the observed galactic rotation curves. Planets around such low mass stars can also be seen (and have been seen, see the results by Microlensing Observations in Astrophyics [MOA] Project and associated collaborators - disclaimer I'm a former member). Depending on how small the planets are, they also could be detected (if you get very very lucky, due to the optical alignment required between observer, missing mass, and background luminous object). Given the constraints of the proportions of baryonic matter during the primordial nucleosynthesis (Big Bang/early universe) and the observed microlensing rate brown dwarfs are unlikely to account for the dark matter (AFAIK, I've been out of the game for a while). The baryonic constraints eliminated small rocks and gas clouds etc too. (I'm no expert on the nucleosynthesis calculations, however).

    It would not be unusual for someone to come up with a theory that didn't take into account the known observations. For example, during the 1990's the early gravitational microlensing surveys 'rediscovered' the fact that our Galaxy is a 'barred spiral' - something the search teams were not aware of at the start of their studies (although astronomers, a different type of scientist, did know this). So it would not be unusual for someone to be missing key observations that invalidate this 'many planet theory'. Fortunately for the microlensing surveys their observations and results lead them to the correct conclusion (barred spiral galaxy), which instilled confidence in their methods and results. It doesn't take away from the fact that what was already known by astronomers was not at the time commonly known amongst the astrophysicists/particle physicists who designed the early microlensing surveys. It wouldn't surprise me if this was also the case in the paper /theory being discussed in this thread.

    • The fine article says that this result is extrapolated from microlensing survey results.

      I have a peripheral connection with MOA myself. Phil Yock was my MSc cosupervisor (pre-MOA) and later I travelled to the telescope and helped with some setup, mostly of the computers. I also told them that I didn't think using "sleep 30" to control the exposure time was a good idea.

  • Interesting idea (not sure it's necessarily a *good* idea, but nevertheless worth consideration), but there's one issue I can foresee:

    How do you *find* the things?

    Planets don't emit light. They don't really do much of anything to draw our attention. It can be difficult to spot planets even in our own solar system - Neptune, far from the smallest planet, is invisible to the naked eye, and Pluto (a dwarf planet, I know) is extremely tricky for the amateur astronomer to observe due to its distance and, more im

    • You put a giant telescope on space, and use gravity lensing to detect them.

      Probably better done with a RF telescope.

  • I was taught in school, and thus assume to be the gospel truth, that planets are formed by a spinning disk of excess matter being thrown off by a young star. So where do nomad planets come from? And are they actually solid, or just mini-gas giants? After all, the galaxy is composed primarily of gas, with all the higher numbered elements being created exclusively within stars, right?

    I'm having trouble seeing how these planets could form at all, let alone be so ubiquitous.

    • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

      Those spinning disks may not be dense enough to ignite into a star, but dense enough to form these plants that wind up "going rogue", is my understanding. I could be wrong. Or maybe the stars were destroyed in a war. You never know.

  • finding a pink colored pebble shaped like a heart on the ocean floor
  • by wbr1 (2538558) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @07:57PM (#39346753)
    ...use the planets as the ships. Supposing a random distribution sunless planets, there should be plenty nearby. It would require less of a human built ship to reach. The planet itself could then be slowly pushed out of its orbit with its own huge mass drivers that use the mass of the planet itself as propulsion mass. If enough waste heat is generated in this process, it could bu used to power living areas and agricultural areas. Then speed no longer matters. You are on your new planet and simply park it in an appropriate orbit at the target star and begin terraforming it.
  • it's called Fleet of Worlds

    after a while technical civilizations start noticing that a star is more of a liability than an asset, so they just... get rid of the star.

  • With all the resources that only a civilisation like Magrathea might have, we could build our own Rama cylinder! w00t!

    Step One: Find a big chunk of floating planet.
    Step Two: Reconfigure the resources
    Step Three: ???
    Step Four: Profit
    Step Five: Let your next generation prodigy meet the humans who got to whichever star or another in two weeks.
    Step Six: What? You're probably dead now anyhow. Great time to be a joke.
    Step Seven: This step intentionally left blank.

  • Traveling between stars requires a lot of speed. The best (known) way is gravitational slingshot maneuvers around a large object. And stopping at the other end requires the same. So you Can't stop at some rock, you literally don't have the fuel to manage it.
  • Why stepping stones? Let's just blow up a few nukes on the planet surface, and use the planet itself as a spaceship!

    "What do you think, Helena?"

    "Oh John, those poor aliens need our help!"

    "So be it. Victor, can you reprogram Computer to land this planet on a planet?"

    "Oh I don't know, John. Maybe we should go down in an Eagle instead?"

    "Good thinking. Alan, lift-off in 5 minutes!"

  • want to play "Spaceward Ho!"

The greatest productive force is human selfishness. -- Robert Heinlein

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