Why not go to an exoplanet?

by Dawna Peterson

An exoplanet is not just a planet outside of our Solar System, but it’s a planet that holds new and debateable discoveries waiting to be found. Although we cannot directly view these planets, scientists infer that an exoplanet is there based on inductive reasoning such as the fact that they are able to detect shifts in the light coming from a star if there’s a planet orbiting it.

If we can conclude that these exoplanets exist, why not design a mission for astronauts to travel there? If we can infer that they are there, what’s stopping us from further exploring an exoplanet?

An exoplanet is a planet outside of our Solar System. The nearest exoplanet is approximately 4.42 light years away, 26 trillion miles from Earth, which is nearly 10,000 thousand times the distance from Pluto to the Sun. If we are able to go at the speed of light, 3.0 x 10^8, then this would only take us 4.42 years to get there. However, the current technology is only able to go 20,000 miles per hour, so it would take 142,000 years to reach the nearest exoplanet to Earth. Scientists have not yet developed an aircraft that has been able to even come close to traveling at the speed of light. 

This trip would require generations of people to live in space because of how long it will take, and we don’t have that many people that are willing to live their full lives in space. Think about the fact that living here on Earth will be nothing like living in space for your entire life. When going to space, one needs to carry light because the more weight that we put inside of the aircraft, the more energy needed to actually move the aircraft. We don’t need a lot of fuel to travel, but we do need it to actually get to the exoplanet. Because of the need to save space and energy, there can only be a limited amount of the things needed to survive. So, when things such as food, water, or fuel runs out there is no way to renew these things for the people in space. Scientists need to find a way to renew these important things and this is something that is stopping them from traveling to an exoplanet.

Technology regarding the aircraft itself and a person’s health becomes a huge problem when it comes to attempting to travel to anything outside of our solar system. Earth’s atmosphere usually protects us from the solar rays and cosmic rays. In space, astronauts no longer have that protection, so it’s important that the deeper we are into space the better protection we have to protect our technology and our astronauts. The problem that they face presently is the fact that statistically, a week in space’s cosmic ray environment will shorten an astronaut’s life by about a day. We can only guess how much shorter someone’s life will be with a generation of people needing to be in space for 142,000 years.

The cosmic rays during the trip to an exoplanet would do serious damage to most of our technology presently because of the high energies coming off of cosmic rays, especially if we would need to go to a quicker speed than ever before. Scientists do not yet know whether or not the deeper depths of space hold high energy rays or low energy rays. There is no real way to detect the energy of the rays that are in the path of traveling to an exoplanet.Therefore, it is quite difficult to know what they are actually preparing for when building an aircraft for an area not as well known. Whatever the energy of the rays are the technology still needs to be able to withstand these high amounts of cosmic rays for a distance that is almost 4.42 light years away. Our spacecrafts that we have aren’t able to withstand cosmic rays for this long amount of time and distance. There are ideas to advance this technology such as using hydrogen- rich plastics or adding an extra sheet of metal or aluminum on the aircraft.  There are ideas such that they would build the metal on an aircraft thicker but this still will make the actual craft heavier, and it wouldn’t be much of any help because metal can’t withstand high cosmic rays for a long period of time. In addition, it is believed that this would cause an increase to secondary radiation and cause an increase to the risk of radiation depending on the energy source itself. The longer scientists take to figure out a plan to advance the technology for space travel, the longer it will take for there to be a real mission to an exoplanet in the deeper depths of space, unfortunately.

When attempting to travel outside of our solar system to an exoplanet, there is so much time, money, and brainpower that needs to go into it. There are so many things that needs to be fixed before any expedition to space can happen. There are things such as the lives of people, the cosmic rays’ power in space, the fact that we can’t renew valuable resources, and the power of current technology that goes into it. Scientists still are thinking about ways to improve these things, so that maybe one day there will be successful mission to our nearest exoplanet.

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Telescopes in Space

by Karyn Dukes

If you are a person that is interested in astronomy as much as I am, you too have always wondered how astronomers know as much as they do about the earth and our galaxy, the milky way. I can’t get into all of the details, but I know that telescopes play a huge role in the contribution to the knowledge of our galaxy. The advancement of technology used to build telescopes has allowed astronomy to flourish into the field that we know today.

The well known physicist and astronomer Galileo is credited as the first person to point a telescope towards the sky and observe Earth’s moon and the solar system in such a manner. Although these telescopes were fairly simple to construct, they exhibited limiting factors such as their small field of view and the difficulty to find the right type of glass for the lenses. This was in 1609; the images from the telescope were blurry, but they were also useful because they were better than the human eye at making out characteristics of our moon such as its craters and mountains.

Telescopes had a humble beginning, however the telescopes of the twenty first century are much more advanced. They can view the outer reaches of space which would not be possible without the advancement of technology. The telescopes of today use electronic imaging devices. A couple of the telescopes used by astronomers are the active Kepler telescope and the  James Webb telescope (to be launched in the next couple of years). Inventions were made and specialized for the function of both of these telescopes. Both are space telescopes, which gives scientists the advantage of clearer pictures of other galaxies and exploding stars.

The Kepler telescope is named after 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler. Its goal is to discover and explore exoplanets. The mission itself launched in March 2009. Although there have recently been problems with repairing and keeping the telescope in superb condition, program managers have decided to keep Kepler in space and to continue the exploration of exoplanets. Kepler is an optical telescope that is used to search for earth-like planets in habitable zones as they pass in front of their star. 

The James Webb is an infrared optical telescope that will be used to search for signs of the early universe. This more recent telescope is named after the NASA administrator who crafted the Apollo program. The mission of the James Webb telescope is to discover the first stars that were formed in the first universe and connect the big bang to our galaxy. The telescope, additionally, attains the mission to explore and discover stars forming planetary systems. The telescope is hopeful to launch in 2018.

Telescopes are essentially the basis of astronomy – without them we wouldn’t know much of the universe. The more they advance, the closer we get to learning if there actually are other forms of life on planets in space.

Dark Energy: Taking Over the Universe

by Tatiana Burns

In the early 1900’s, we thought the universe stood still. However, that changed later on in the century. Now we believe that the universe is expanding rapidly its movement is called Dark Energy. Dark energy takes up about 68% of the universe, Dark matter takes up about 27% of the universe, and the other percent is the “normal” stuff. However, how is it we didn’t catch this in the early part of the century?

Albert Einstein had an equation to explain how and why the universe stood still. His equations came up with the idea that we lived in a static universe. However, there was a part that didn’t add up. Einstein called this part the fudge factor. Subsequently in 1929, Edwin Hubble realized that universe was actually expanding. Now Einstein’s equation was actually making some sense. The “fudge factor” was the universe expanding; however, when Einstein came up with the equation there was no evidence for the movement so Einstein just called it the fudge factor.

After Hubble realized the universe was expanding, it changed the way we viewed the entire universe. Then in 1998, two astrophysicists added more to this continuous discovery. The universe was actually expanding at an accelerating pace. So, not only were we wrong about  a static universe, or a universe that stood still, we were also wrong about how the universe was expanding. When Hubble first realized the universe was expanding, he believed the universe was expanding at a steady pace.

However, the question still remains, what happens to the universe if it expands to the furthest it can go? Does the universe break apart? Will that be the end for us? If the universe expands too much, will it slowly build itself back together? These are the questions scientist are yet to figure out the answers to, but sooner or later we will find out the answers.