Interstellar exploration is a vital part of space exploration that hopes to reveal the secrets of the cosmos. Well, spaceships that allow such visits don’t exist yet. However, an astrophysicist has envisioned the use of a “stellar engine” that will turn our solar system into a spaceship! It has been recently dubbed by the YouTube channel “Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell” as the Caplan Thruster. The stellar engine can push the solar system over a distance of 50 light-years in about a million years.
Via their beautiful video one can learn all about the so-called Caplan Thruster. It is said to use the Sun’s own energy to propel itself across the galaxy and beyond. It is named after the scientist who came up with the design. A nuclear astrophysicist, Matthew Caplan hails from Illinois State University. The proposed design was published in the December 2019 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Acta Astronautica.
The video explained the working of this cosmic megastructure with the help of The Shadakov Thruster, presented by physicist Leonid Shkadov. The Caplan Thruster has one big advantage over the stellar engine idea of the Shkadov thruster: it would be much faster. At full throttle, the Shkadov Thruster could probably propel us 100 light-years over 230 million years. On the other hand, the Caplan Thruster could move us 50 light-years in just 1 million years which happens to be the kind of speed that might be needed to escape a supernova.
One is an extremely thin parabolic solar “sail” or giant mirror, much like the “Shkadov thruster”. Caplan noted that metal foils of 0.2 micrometres are commercially available. The position of the mirror is crucial in order to avoid impacting the Earth’s temperature. The solar radiation reflected onto the giant mirror creates thrust and would slowly push the sun. With this “passive” method, the solar system could move as much as 100 light-years over 230 million years. Clearly explained through an animated explanatory video by the Kurzgesagt YouTube channel.
As far as hypothetical space megastructures go, the stellar engine is one of our favourites. A gigantic contraption built with the purpose of transporting our Solar System somewhere else is bound to catch the attention of pretty much anyone. God forbid if we ever need to move to a different cosmic neighbourhood. Humanity could colonize other parts of the Milky Way, or escape the galaxy altogether.