A stellar engine can move the entire solar system through the Milky Way galaxy and even visit neighbouring galaxies, to escape supernovas or inhabit distant exoplanets.

Key takeaways

  • A stellar engine could potentially move the entire solar system, allowing humanity to escape cosmic threats like supernovas and explore distant exoplanets.
  • Instead of building individual spacecraft for interstellar travel, the idea involves transforming our solar system into a massive, movable spacecraft.
  • The Shkadov Thruster, a theoretical design using the Sun’s energy like a solar sail, could gradually push the solar system through space, albeit very slowly.
  • Astrophysicist Matthew Caplan proposed an improved active engine design using materials from the Sun for thermonuclear fusion, capable of moving the solar system 50 light-years in about a million years.
  • The concept was popularized by a video from “Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell,” which explained how such cosmic megastructures could work and their potential impact on humanity’s future in space.

The passive solar sail system would be extremely sluggish, as described in the video: “At full throttle, the solar system could probably be moved by about a hundred light-years over 230 million years.” The content producer asked an astrophysicist if it was feasible to travel faster, which resulted in a paper outlining the design considerations for maximizing the acceleration of the star engine. Illinois State University’s Matthew Caplan has detailed a new stellar engine.

For the video, the astrophysicist designed an active engine based on a theoretical technique of space propulsion known as the Bussard ramjet. The engine would use materials from the Sun as fuel in thermonuclear fusion reactors, which would then send a jet of oxygen particles out of the solar system at around 1% of light speed. A second jet would emit hydrogen from a particle accelerator to propel the Sun ahead and balance the force of the first jet so that the engine does not collide with the ball of fire.

The stellar engine, dubbed the Caplan Thruster by the YouTube channel, has the potential to propel the solar system 50 light-years out in around a million years.

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