The Target: Alpha Centauri and Other Nearby Stars

  • Paul Gilster

Abstract

The first fictional journey to Alpha Centauri seems to have been made in Friedrich Wilhelm Mader’s 1911 novel Wunderwelten, translated into English in 1930 as Distant Worlds: The Story of a Voyage to the Planets. Mader’s huge spaceship was a sphere 146 feet in diameter that used obscure antigravity techniques to travel to Alpha Centauri at several times the speed of light. Other writers had attempted interstellar journeys, in particular the French authors C. L. Defontenay in Star ou Psi de Cassiopée: Histoire Merveilleuse de l’un des Mondes de l’Espace (1854), which also used antigravity in its explorations of the planetary system Psi Cassiopeia, and Camille Flammarion in Lumen (1872), a novel featuring a journey to Capella. But Mader’s starship Sannah was the forerunner of all of today’s science fictional journeys to the nearest stellar system.

Keywords

Solar Wind Solar System Main Sequence Planetary System Full Moon 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. p.32: “fourth millennium B.C. temples there”—As noted in Richard Hinckley Allen, Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning (New York: Dover Publications, 1963), p. 153 (reprint of the 1899 original). Also noted in “Sounds of a Star: Acoustic Oscillations in Solar-Twin ‘Alpha Cen A’ Observed from La Silla by Swiss Team,” press release from the European Southern Observatory, June 28, 2001.Google Scholar
  2. p.34: “cooler than the Sun.”— For a quick view of stellar types, see Robert Zubrin’s Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999), pages 231–33. For a more detailed study, see William J. Kaufman’s Universe (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1985), a textbook with much background information.Google Scholar
  3. p.34: “seven times smaller than the Sun.” —As reported by Robert Roy Britt in “Detailed Measures Taken of Closest Star System, Alpha Centauri,” posted on www.space.com on March 17, 2003.Google Scholar
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  17. p.40: “together with the whole system of life forms on which they depend.”—Stephen H. Dole and Isaac Asimov, Planets for Man (New York: Random House, 1964), 108. Dole’s RAND Corporation study is titled Habitable Planets for Man ( New York: Blaisdell, 1964 ).Google Scholar
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  25. p.44: “circling the star HD7o64z about every six years”—Press release, “Astronomers Find ‘Home from Home’-90 Light Years Away,” Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, July 3, 2003. See also Tariq Malik, “Celestial Soulmate? Jupiter-Like Planet Found in System Similar to Ours,” www.space.com, July 3, 2003.Google Scholar
  26. p. 44: “later extended by them with the discovery of a second planet.” —Press release, “UC Berkeley Astronomers Find Jupiter-Sized Planet Around Nearby Star in Big Dipper,” University of California at Berkeley, August 15, 2001.Google Scholar
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  28. p.45: “in the habitable zones around other solar systems”—Ralph McNutt, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, provided an overview of Terrestrial Planet Finder in his presentation “Space Exploration Beyond zozo,” given at the Military and Aerospace Programmable Logic Device International Conference, 1999, and available on the Web at http://ldabs.org/richcontent/MAPLDCon99/Presentations/Ao_McNutt S.pdf.Google Scholar
  29. p.46: “by examining their spectral signatures.”—For more on Life Finder, see University of Arizona astronomer Neville Woolf’s study for NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts, “Life Finder: Very Large Optics for the Study of Extra-Solar Terrestrial Planets.” Available at the NIAC Web site www.niac.usra.edu.Google Scholar
  30. p.46: “as a colossal interferometer that combines the image from each.”—From press release, “Powerful X-Ray Astronomy Telescope Should Lead to Black Hole Exploration,” University of Colorado at Boulder (September 13, z000 ).Google Scholar
  31. p.46: “the size of an automobile at the center of the Milky Way.”—For a detailed look at Cash’s x-ray interferometer, see his “X-Ray Interferometry: Ultimate Astronomical Imaging,” the final report of a Phase II study for NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts ( April, 2002 ). Both Phase I and II reports are available online at http://www.niac.usra.edu.
  32. p.47: “some scientists at Princeton who know how to do that.” —This and the following quotes from Webster Cash are from a telephone interview with the astronomer on August 29, 2003.Google Scholar
  33. p.49: “working with z-meter telescopes to examine infrared light.”—Betsy Mason, “Look of Life,” New Scientist 179 (July 12, 2003): 28.Google Scholar
  34. p. 50: “within a range of 21 light years.”—These figures are drawn from Gregory Matloff and Eugene Mallove in their essential Starf light Handbook (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1989), and adjusted for the discoveries in 1997, 2002, and 2003 of three more stars within the 21-light year range. The newly discovered stars were all M-class dwarfs save for a single white dwarf. Matloff and Mallove go on to explain their choice of a 21-light year zone: “A starship encountering a solar system 211y removed on the day of birth of an earth-bound astronomer would radio back initial scientific data that will be newly received just in time for the starchild to analyze for her senior thesis in college!” (p. 27).Google Scholar
  35. p. 50: “within a sphere with a radius of 70 light years.” —G. Vulpetti, “Problems and Perspectives in Interstellar Exploration,” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 52 (1999): 34.Google Scholar
  36. p. 50: “to create acid rain, ozone loss, and global winter.”—This theory was first suggested by astrophysicist Richard Muller and colleagues in an article in Nature. See M. Davis, P. Hut, and R. A. Muller, “Extinctions of Species by Periodic Comet Showers,” Nature 308 (1984): 715–17. The same issue saw an independent article proposing much the same theory: D. P. Whitmire and A. A. Jackson, “Are Periodic Mass Extinctions Driven by a Distant Solar Companion?” (pp. 713–15). Research on Nemesis has been summarized by Donald Goldsmith in his Nemesis: The Death-Star and Other Theories of Mass Extinction (New York: Walker and Company, 1985). See also Richard Muller’s Nemesis: The Death Star ( New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988 ).Google Scholar
  37. p.50: “by Edward Emerson Barnard, working at California’s Lick Observatory.”—E. E. Barnard, “A Small Star with Large Proper Motion,” Astronomical Journal 29 (1916): 181 – 83.Google Scholar
  38. p. 51: “and Groombridge 1618 (a K star 15 light years away).”—John H. Mauldin offers a good discussion of local targets in his Prospects for Interstellar Travel, from which these numbers are drawn. The book is Volume 80 in the American Astronautical Society’s Science and Technology Series (San Diego, Calif.: Univelt, 1992). The discussion on nearby stars begins on p. 139.Google Scholar
  39. p.52: “and grains of sand begin to look like torpedoes”—Charles Pellegrino, Flying to Valhalla ( New York: William Morrow and Co., 1993 ).Google Scholar
  40. p.52: “some scientists argue that Voyager 1 has already reached the termination shock, a view that is still controversial.”—Two papers published in late 2003 define the debate: see S. M. Krimigis et al., “Voyager 1 Exited the Solar Wind at a Distance of —85 AU from the Sun,” Nature 426 (2003): 45-48; and F. B. McDonald et al., “Enhancements of Energetic Particles Near the Heliospheric Termination Shock,” Nature 426 (2003): 48–51. The two papers come to different conclusions using the same data, suggesting that the shape of the termination shock may be more complicated than was originally supposed.Google Scholar
  41. p. 53: “measuring its impact upon the spacecraft’s skin with its plasma wave instrument.”—For more on interplanetary dust, see Eberhard Grun, Harald Kruger, and Markus Landgraf, “Dust Measurements in the Outer Solar System,” http://arXiv.org, astro-ph/9902036 v 1(February 2, 1999). For the specifics on Voyager’s dust measurements, see D. A. Gurnett et al., “Micron-sized Dust Particles Detected in the Outer Solar System by the Voyager 1 and z Plasma Wave Instruments,” Geophys. Res. Lett. 24 (1997): 3125–28.Google Scholar
  42. p. 54: “any entering ship will be blasted.” —Telephone interview with Stephen D. Howe, April 22, 2003.Google Scholar
  43. p.54: “—our solar system seems to be in a pocket of unusually sparse material).” —A. R. Martin writes about interstellar dust concentrations in “Bombardment by Interstellar Material and Its Effects on the Vehicle,” Project Daedalus Final Report (journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 1978 ): S116 – S121.Google Scholar
  44. p.55: “might have made the formation of life impossible.”—These speculations are from Mauldin, Prospects, 102.Google Scholar
  45. p. 55: “to protect the vehicle”—Martin, “Bombardment,” Sn9.Google Scholar
  46. p. 56: “during the few hours available for planetary observation.” —Alan Bond, “Project Daedalus: Target System Encounter Protection,” in Project Daedalus Final Report (Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 1978), 5123–S125.Google Scholar
  47. p. 56: “to deflect or destroy the object”— Matloff and Mallove, Startlight,170.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Gilster

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