Interstellar travel seems to be on the front page again for the scientific community. More and more new studies and theories appear giving us serious food for thought and enough reasons to dream of exploring the deep space. But even if we find a way to travel with the necessary speed, we will need proper interstellar navigation.
Scientists have been working in interstellar navigation systems for a while. For example, NASA has focused its studies on pulsars in an attempt to use them for the creation of a spacecraft-safe navigational map. This method, however, is unlikely to succeed for the time being.
Now, an astronomer from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany has suggested a groundbreaking alternative that is far safer and more precise than anything in the past. Astronomer Coryn A.L. Bailer-Jones has created a promising new navigation system for interstellar space travel that has the potential to be revolutionary.
The astronomer’s approach was different from NASA’s efforts, for example. Bailer-Jones’s interstellar navigation system is based on calculations on the position and light of stars. His model proved to be efficient in calculating accurate coordinates based on six dimensions, per three in space and velocity. In other words, the simulation saw the stars from the point of view of a traveling spacecraft.
What his interstellar navigation system will do is help spacecraft change the course in real-time in order to protect it from the dangers in space. This means that the spacecraft will not need help from astronomers on Earth to change its course but will be able to do it by itself thanks to this new system.
Of course, none of this has been tested with a real spacecraft but Bailer-Jones conducted simulations with already existing star catalogs. The results showed that interstellar navigation is now a real possibility.
One of the tests was conducted with only 20 stars which are really nothing compared to the billions and billions of stars in space. Nevertheless, the system was able to calculate the position and velocity of the spacecraft within 2 kilometers per second. For starters, this accuracy truly is impressive.
It should be noted that the purpose of this study was not high accuracy or to prove that interstellar navigation is completely figured out. The aim was to prove that it is actually possible and to lay the foundations of bigger projects.
This new system will be further developed in the future and what’s more, scientists have countless options. Perhaps this interstellar navigation system can be combined with NASA’s pulsar navigation system that is being developed, or with any other similar technologies. And perhaps this is the best choice. Combined efforts have a higher chance of success and with NASA’s funding, for example, results could come sooner than expected.
A preprint of Bailer-Jones’s research paper is currently available at arXiv and will soon be peer-reviewed.
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• Bailer-Jones, C. (2021, March 18). Lost in space? Relativistic interstellar navigation using an astrometric star catalogue.
• Starr, M. (n.d.). An astronomer just laid out a navigation system for interstellar space travel.
• WION Web Team. (2021, March 22). Astronomer makes navigation system for interstellar space travel.