Tune In As Brad Pitt Speaks With NASA Astronaut on ISSNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend Stay on target When you think of exploring the stars, chances are your first thoughts are something along the lines of Star Trek’s Enterprise — a massive ship crewed by hundreds that travels the stars spreading good ol’ fashioned Federation values. But Breakthrough Initiatives, a research group focused on stellar exploration has a much more modest plan, and it’s already in testing.Last week, the group successfully launched its first batch of six experimental craft. Dubbed “sprites,” each one is a bit bigger than one square inch and only a few grams. But even with such a svelte frame, it manages to pack on antennae for communication, a processor, and an array of small sensors.Project “Breakthrough Starshot,” spalleras it’s known, aims to launch countless tiny spacecraft to Alpha Centauri — our nearest celestial neighbor. The idea is that if we can keep the craft really, really small, it will be far easier to get the machines up to appreciable speeds. Faster travel means we can reach the stars sooner. Yeah, we won’t be able to send rovers or people with this tech, but the hope is that we’ll learn enough about what lies beyond our solar system that the venture will be more than worth it.The sprites were deployed from an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and are now sitting in low-Earth orbit, gathering data for research. Eventually, the team hopes to get the craft smaller. Their final design will be called “StarChips,” and operate much the same way the sprites do; only these will be built to travel almost 20% light speed — fast enough to reach Alpha Centauri in just 20 years, compared to the tens of thousands it’d take with standard rockets.The venture has some big names behind it too, including astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. To get up to speed, the chips would get power from an Earth or moon-based laser. If it’s powerful enough and if the engineers behind the project can design a way to keep the Starchips from melting with all that energy aimed right at them, then we may very well have a viable candidate to the stars. The team will eventually want to add everything from more advanced cameras and sensors and navigational gear to tiny thrusters that will allow these little guys to steer themselves a bit. Plus, with each one costing only a minuscule fraction of their larger, rocket-powered brethren, we could send literally millions of them.We could lose most of them along the way (after all, we still know very little about what kinds of dangers may wait before the little fellas after they leave their relatively safe stellar neighborhood), and still get enough there to get some useful data. After the probes reached their target, we’d still need to wait another four years to hear back. And it’s worth wondering just how we’d be able to detect such a faint signal (again, the transmitters will be crammed into something barely larger than a postage stamp) in the first place, but our top minds are on it.At the announcement of the project last year, Stephen Hawking pontificated:“What makes human beings unique? There are many theories. Some say it’s language or tools; others say it’s logic or reasoning. They obviously haven’t met many humans… I believe what makes us unique is transcending our limits. Gravity pins us to the ground, but I just flew to America. I lost my voice, but I can still speak, thanks to my voice synthesizer. How do we transcend these limits? With our minds — and our machines. The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars. But now we can transcend it. With light beams, light sails and the lightest spacecraft ever built, we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.”Hawking has been notably critical of human attempts to make contact with aliens, fearing that we may repeat the grisly scenarios found on earth when two civilizations of different technological development meet. But the potential benefits that could be reaped from a project like this are well worth it. Let’s just hope we don’t accidentally alert the Reapers to our presence.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.
One of this year’s biggest games is just a few days away, and Prime members can now pre-order it at 20% off. If you’re looking for something to sink your time into during the holiday break, Star Wars: Battlefront II might just be your best bet. • Star Wars: Battlefront II for $47.99 (List price: $59.96 — Prime Only)Releasing roughly one month ahead of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedi, this shooter from DICE is a follow-up to the 2015 series reboot. And this time around, we’re not limited to multiplayer content or bot matches. Beyond the standard multiplayer modes we’ve come to expect, there’s a full-fledged story mode in there as well.And whether you’re interested in massive 40-player online skirmishes or two-player split-screen co-op, there’s plenty of flexibility here. And since whatever Visceral Games was making isn’t coming out anytime soon, this is going to be your best opportunity to enjoy a large-scale Star Wars game for the foreseeable future. Keep in mind, the discounted price is only available to Amazon Prime subscribers, so non-members will need to pay full retail. However, you can sign up for a free-trial of Prime, and get in on the pre-order goodness with no upfront membership cost. Just be sure to cancel before the trial is over if you’re not interested in a full-fledged Prime membership.Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the Amazon site for more information.Our commerce group sources the best deals and products for the Geek Deals posts. We operate independently of Editorial and Advertising and may earn a percentage of the sale, if you buy something via a link on the post. If you are interested in promoting your deals, please contact us at [email protected] more great deals head over to TechBargains.