George Church, of Harvard University and the Wyss Institute, proposes the use of picogram to nanogram-scale probes that can land, replicate and produce a communications module at the destination to explore nearby stars. The new article is published in a special issue on “Interstellar Objects in Astrobiology” of Astrobiology.
“One design is a highly reflective light sail travelling in a long straight line toward the gravitational well of a destination star. Then it will be photo-deflected to the nearest non-luminous mass which is ideally a planet or moon with exposed liquid water,” Dr. Church explains.
“Most living cells on Earth are picogram-scale. But they perform functions like replication with only simple chemical inputs that all current human-made machines cannot,” says Dr. Church. Church thinks about things like acceleration and deceleration. He also thinks how to build communications devices that use some form of electromagnetic radiation. Temperature, chemicals and energy sources must all be in place for microbial replication to occur.
“Much work remains to be done to improve the theory, design and testing aspects of this proposal. Some of these can be done on Earth or within our home solar system,” Dr. Church concludes.
“This paper was inspired by the discovery of our solar system’s first large interstellar objects named Oumuamua and Comet Borysov. Because of its unusual shape and trajectory, some believe Oumuamua was an interstellar probe rather than a rock. Dr. Church’s article pushes this concept to its logical conclusion. It proposed tiny biology-inspired probes for interstellar missions. The field of Astrobiology has studied the natural exchange of objects between and missions to our solar system’s planets. It appears that we must now consider the exchange of objects between star systems,” said Chris McKay, Associate Editor of Astrobiology.
More information: George Church, Picogram-Scale Interstellar Probes via Bioinspired Engineering, Astrobiology (2022). DOI: 10.1089/ast.2022.0008