Solar Engines: Could We Explore the Stars by Bringing Earth With Us?

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Deep-space exploration is the purview of science fiction and some cutting-edge NASA programs. While humans have launched probes deep into space, like the Hubble Space Telescope, the prospect of sending people beyond our own solar system remains staunchly in the realm of speculative fiction.

However, some physicists have postulated that one way humanity could explore the galaxy is by using the solar system itself as our spaceship.

One of the issues that astronauts have to consider when they launch into space is fuel and weight. Fuel is heavy, but you need a lot of fuel to reach escape velocity. This means that precise calculations are required to launch anything out of Earth’s gravitational pull, and it severely limits how much material can be sent up with astronauts to support their missions.

Exploring deep beyond the solar system would be time-consuming, difficult, and a logistical nightmare.

Solar Engine

In an earlier article, we discussed the possibility of a Dyson Swarm being used to power humanity’s activities for our foreseeable future, far into the unknowable depths of eons to come.

A related project that could be undertaken in the same manner would be the creation of a solar engine. A solar engine is a theoretical superstructure that is constructed close to a star and is capable of collecting the energy released by its host star for the purposes of powering a huge nuclear reactor.

Since stars themselves are already supermassive nuclear reactors, a solar engine would act as something of a wind vane, “catching the breeze” of a star, in a sense, in order to push it. Using the star’s own potential energy, a solar engine could be used to push a star in whatever direction its operators’ chose. This, in turn, would make our entire solar system a starship.

We All Fall For the Sun

All of the planets, asteroids, and comets that circle around the sun and comprise our solar system are actually falling. The sun’s massive gravitational pull has these massive celestial bodies locked into a spinning, spiraling, falling motion that we call “orbits”.

From our point of view, we’re rotating around the sun. However, if the sun were to suddenly begin moving in another direction, our fall wouldn’t be altered. Due to the massive gravitational pull of the sun, we’d just keep falling behind it.

The same is true for every other planet in the solar system. With the right trajectory, the sun moving through the galaxy wouldn’t cause any damage to the earth or other planets, as the system we’re a part of would just be falling in another direction.

This would allow humanity to explore the cosmos at a very fast rate of speed, thanks to the theoretical efficiency of a solar engine, while also solving any logistical issues relating to feeding and outfitting space explorers.

The closest analogy would be if your home was also a high-speed airplane that you could just take with you when you traveled. However, in this case, our destination isn’t some sun-kissed beach, but, instead, the vast cosmos that sprawl before us.