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Old October 21 2012, 01:14 AM   #13
Christopher
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Re: Alpha Centauri Bb: For Real

^We'll have the technology to image exoplanetary systems in detail long before we have the technology to travel there. The James Webb Space Telescope, which is under construction now and should be launched by the end of the decade if government funding holds up, would probably be able to detect planets around Alpha Centauri by imaging them directly. And there are ideas for more advanced telescopes that could achieve even more. By travelling out to the Sun's gravitational focus, the focal point of the Sun's gravity-lensing effect about 550 AU out, we could make the Sun itself into a huge telescope with such high resolution that we could make detailed maps of any planets around Alpha Centauri, maybe even discern individual objects the size of cars, although that's perhaps an optimistic assessment.

The problems to surmount in order to actually reach other star systems are exponentially greater than the problems to surmount in order to image them in detail from right here in the Solar System. Science fiction tends to gloss over the difficulties of space travel as a dramatic convenience, but we mustn't let it mislead us about the enormous obstacles that civilization as a whole would have to surmount to traverse the vast distances between stars.
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