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Stargazing: Star travel requires the speed we’ll need

Stargazing: Star travel requires the speed we’ll need

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While talking to a co-worker about NASA’s plans to send astronauts on a manned mission to planet Mars, the conversation took off on another tangent regarding the subject of manned stellar travel.

Travel among the stars is a very, very long way off and will never take place until our technology permits us to propel a craft into space at the speed of light.

It has been extremely difficult for the human mind to conceive travelling that fast and the only place its been seen is in the movies or on some television program such as “Star Trek.”

Light speed has been obtained in an accelerator chamber but has so far has been limited to extremely small particles, certainly nothing large enough to carry a human crew.

It takes light coming from our Sun eight minutes to travel the 93 million miles separating our two bodies and that is at a speed of 186,000 miles per second.

The Sun is, of course, the closest star to Earth, with the next in line being a star named Alpha Centauri in the constellation of Centaurus.

Because the major portion of this constellation lies below our southern horizon, the star is not always visible to us here in southwest Iowa.

As I mentioned above, it is extremely difficult for the human mind to grasp the true dimensions of space since we have nothing on Earth to measure it by.

Alpha Centauri lies at a distance of just over four light years from our Sun. In terrestrial miles, that is the number 25 followed by 12 zeroes.

Although the terms “millions and trillions” are used when referring to the national debt or the government’s new budget, not many can fathom such large sums, even less when applied to stellar distances.

I think most of us would agree that traveling at 18,000 miles per hour on Earth would be very exhilarating and mind boggling.

Imagine for a moment that we designed a spaceship that had the capability of maintaining that 18,000 miles per hour constant speed through space. Our trip to Alpha Centauri is only going to take us 150,000 years to complete the voyage.

Our spacecraft will have to have a least one female astronaut since it is going to require 6,240 generations of offspring to be born, live, procreate and then die before they reach their destination. And that is just to our nearest star other than the Sun.

I honestly believe it serves no useful purpose to try to figure the logistics in traveling the distances to the brightly shining stars that lie beyond.

In other stargazing news, get ready for the arrival of the year’s most prolific meteor display, the Perseids. They usually being their appearance on or about July 27 and reach their maximum in the second week of August.

You can expect to see some very bright meteors and possibly one or two fireballs during this meteoric display.

Camp Hitchcock, just north of Council Bluffs, usually sponsors a public observing session on or around Aug. 12 or 13. I’ll have more about that in a later column.

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