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Space Science

Nomad Planets: Stepping Stones To Interstellar Space? 244

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 @07:21PM (#39345861)

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

    Also - frist prost!!!

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

    by alienzed ( 732782 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @07:37PM (#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.
  • by Araes ( 1177047 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:04PM (#39346255) Homepage
    A similar concept, the colonization of trans-neptunian objects [], 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.
  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:14PM (#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 SplashMyBandit ( 1543257 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:16PM (#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.

  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @11:45PM (#39348359)

    The starship isn't a robot, it's crewed by sentient entities.

    Here's the roadmap :

    1. We develop molecular manufacturing. That, simply put, is a small machine that can place a single atom at a time over and over again like a 3d printer. The machine is small enough that it itself can be produced by itself. Cells do this 24/7 with far more kludgey methods than our tech will use. (vacuum chamber + low temperature + supply of pure substrate + energy supply)

    2. We then develop a machine that can cut a 3d object apart to determine it's structure, produced using meolecular manufacturing technology. Sort of a gigantic array of trillions of atomic force microscopes working in parallel.

    3. We cut apart preserved and frozen human brains using this machine to get a true mapping of of human mind. With exact knowledge of how the brain's particles are connected, building artificial hardware to mimic it will be practical.

    4. These artificial simulations of once living persons will run at thinking speeds constrained by the hardware, which will be probably millions of times faster than slow and inefficient human cells. If YOU could think for the apparent equivalent of a million years per earth year, you could probably learn every skill any human has in the first few millenia, then ???

    This is called super-intelligence. Now, it is assumed that if someone had this kind of time and intelligence, they could turn it to revising themselves, creating an even smarter version of themselves, and so on. This explosion of increasing intelligence (til you hit some limit defined by physical laws, most likely) combined with exponentially increasing machinery is called the Singularity.

    Anyways, with these kinds of resources, building starships would be child's play because you in fact would have practically infinite time, energy, and materials.

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