When future interstellar space travelers become weary of looking out their spaceship windows at the wondrous but unchanging cosmos that surround them, it would be nice if they could queue up their Netflix subscription to help pass the time. And now, thanks to new technology envisioned by independent astrophysicist Michael Hippke, that might be possible.
Hippke has devised a way to deliver an interstellar internet connection as far away as our nearest star neighbor, Alpha Centauri, reports New Scientist. And the technology to make it possible is already available to us.
Of course, with no one to take advantage of a Wi-Fi connection in Alpha Centauri at the moment (as far as we know), it might seem like a rather venial technology to conceive of, but establishing deep space communication will be important in the development of future probe designs. Hippke's method just made our immediate stellar neighborhood that much closer.
The method makes use of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, whereby the warped space around a massive object (like our sun) acts like a magnifying glass to strengthen a signal. Hippke calculates that a telescope about a meter across, placed at a point about 90 billion kilometers from the sun, could relay the signal with maximum efficiency.
“This is much easier than building the Hubble Space Telescope,” said Hippke.
By comparison, creating an instrument here on Earth capable of delivering such a strong signal would require an area of about 53 kilometers across, which is larger than the area of New York City.
The only hitch with Hippke's idea is the whole 90-billion-kilometers-from-the-sun part. Currently, the furthest that any spacecraft has ever traveled from Earth is "just" 20.8 billion kilometers away (and counting), a title belonging to Voyager 1. It took 40 years to get Voyager 1 out that far, and Hippke's telescope would need to travel over four times as far. Even so, it's not a method we would need to develop new technology to institute.
Of course, future Alpha Centauri tourists will still be over four light-years away, so their video streaming options would likewise be four years out of date. Even so, it's nice to know that some of the simple comforts we enjoy here on Earth might still be available to us when we've gone interstellar.