Stephen Hawking is a very, very happy man right now

Stephen Hawking is a very, very happy man right now

The famed astrophysicist announced Breakthrough Starshot in April ... and then they got huge news.

Scientists are getting super excited about Proxima b, the closest possible Earth-like planet out of our own solar system, orbiting the closest start to us at just four light years away. And count Stephen Hawking among them, the famous astrophysicist who has launched a project called Breakthrough Starshot.

Funded with $100 million from a Russian billionaire, the project will involve sending a nanocraft probe weighing just a few grams all the way to Alpha Centauri, the closest star to us. They announced this initiatve back in April — imagine how excited they got when they found out that an Earth-like planet was orbiting their destination.

It’s a tiny spacecraft that won’t be big enough to send anything more than a few delicate instruments, but it could greatly enhance our understanding of the universe when it arrives. Sending humans there would be a lot taller order, taking anywhere from 20,000 to 160,000 years to get there based on our current technology.

Breakthrough Starshot would get there sooner — in just 20 years, using lasers to propel it at 20 percent of the speed of light.

“The rising power and falling cost of lasers, consistent with Moore’s law, lead to significant advances in light beaming technology,” according to the project’s website. “Meanwhile, phased arrays of lasers (the ‘light beamer’) could potentially be scaled up to the 100 gigawatt level. Breakthrough Starshot aims to bring economies of scale to the astronomical scale. The StarChip can be mass-produced at the cost of an iPhone and be sent on missions in large numbers to provide redundancy and coverage. The light beamer is modular and scalable. Once it is assembled and the technology matures, the cost of each launch is expected to fall to a few hundred thousand dollars.”

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