Launch | Potential collision of nanocraft with planet

Breakthrough Starshot has no intention of colliding any nanocraft with any object in space. Even though an accidental collision between a nanocraft and another object is a remote possibility happens, the resulting effects must still to be examined.

A gram-scale nanocraft traveling at approximately 20% of the speed of light carries with it a kinetic energy equivalent to about 0.5 kilotons of TNT. If the nanocraft were to intercept an Earth-like exoplanet with a thick atmosphere, it would burn up in the atmosphere.

If it were to collide with a body resembling the Earth’s moon, it would create a small crater (on the order of 10m). NASA and others have collected significant amounts of data on the historic rates of asteroid collisions with the Earth, and determined that such collisions are frequent. Asteroids that deposit on the order of 1 kiloton of energy collide with the Earth about once a month.

Nanocraft-scale impact poses a very small chance of causing harm to any planet.

Comments (13)

  1. Breakthrough Initiatives :

    Apr 13, 2016 03:51 Melih Çalıkoğlu Posted on: Breakthrough Initiatives
    "I would suggest for a deliberative collision with a planet. Such an entry probe would enable us to analyze the atmosphere of exoplanets, and may be take a few picture of the surface features up close. If the problems with the speed would be solved by some kind of gravitational breaking procedure or may be using the light of the host star to slow down the craft that would lead to a possible successfull probing mission."


    See above for detecting the impact results.
    Gravitational breaking: Falling into the alpha Centauri system gravitational well will add kinetic energy and accelerate the probe, albeit by a tiny amount of the order of 1MJ as compared to the 2TJ of the probe. Of course a similar deceleration will take place during the exit from the solar system.
    Star light breaking: Alpha Centauri has similar properties to the Sun. Even if we are at the surface of the star the power on the sail is only about 1 GW and decreasing with the square of the distance, as compared to the constant 15 GW on the probe, resulting in a final velocity of the order of 3,000km/sec or 0.01c before being slowed down by alpha Centauri. Travel time close to 1,000 years.

    – Prof. Sasha Buchman, Breakthrough Initiatives

  2. Joshua West:

    Having anything on board that could potentially serve as a catalyst for a catastrophic atmosphere ignition would be ill- advised. I would point it at the Star if at all possible, safety for a possible them should be even more paramount. I think the main concern given the above statement is the elements we are bringing onboard, if we bring a heavy foreign element that catalyzes the wrong sort of reaction we could annihilate a planet's ecosystem. The nature of solar systems being lots of collisions and periods of heavy bombardment I am not concerned with bumping into the planet or even fire, but the residue of what's left. Catalysts speed up reactions. Keep a careful eye on the elements on board, not all of them bind with O2 Ie: burn up. If they all do, what compounds do they form with what's there? What are the repercussions of those compounds being present? These questions should be answered before making an ethically sound StarShot.

    Are there any effects at .2c that are seen in a particle accelerator that are not seen at slower speeds? What's probability of forming an element that was not originally present upon impact? The star is much older than our own, what does that say about the elements likely present on the surrounding planets?

    I think a lot of this needs to be looked at if we decide shooting an interstellar gun at a planet we might want to live on or did not see is a "good" idea...

  3. Breakthrough Initiatives:

    RE:
    "Aug 29, 2016 21:49Joshua WestPosted on: Breakthrough Initiatives
    Having anything on board that could potentially serve as a catalyst for a catastrophic atmosphere ignition would be ill- advised. I would point it at the Star if at all possible, safety for a possible them should be even more paramount. I think the main concern given the above statement is the elements we are bringing onboard, if we bring a heavy foreign element that catalyzes the wrong sort of reaction we could annihilate a planet's ecosystem. The nature of solar systems being lots of collisions and periods of heavy bombardment I am not concerned with bumping into the planet or even fire, but the residue of what's left. Catalysts speed up reactions. Keep a careful eye on the elements on board, not all of them bind with O2 Ie: burn up. If they all do, what compounds do they form with what's there? What are the repercussions of those compounds being present? These questions should be answered before making an ethically sound StarShot.

    Are there any effects at .2c that are seen in a particle accelerator that are not seen at slower speeds? What's probability of forming an element that was not originally present upon impact? The star is much older than our own, what does that say about the elements likely present on the surrounding planets?

    I think a lot of this needs to be looked at if we decide shooting an interstellar gun at a planet we might want to live on or did not see is a "good" idea..."

    Answer:
    We plan to stay at least 1 AU from the planet. So there little chance of us colliding with the planet. Most particle physics accelerators bring single particles very close to 1 C. Our goal of reaching a speed of 0.2 C is significant lmore modest and we do not expect to create any new products.

    - Avi Loeb, Breakthrough Starshot

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