Yesterday, Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner made the mind-blowing announcement that they want to build a fleet of interstellar spacecraft that can travel at relativistic speeds—up to 20 percent the speed of light. But it’s not just about reaching our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, although that is the new Breakthrough project’s moonshot. The technology Hawking and Milner are proposing could revolutionize the search for alien life within our solar system.
“This basically opens the door to missions that are much less expensive and cumbersome, that will allow us to get information currently not retrievable,” Avi Loeb, chair of the Harvard astronomy department and a collaborator on Breakthrough Starshot, told Gizmodo. That “currently unretrievable” information could include the first solid evidence of extraterrestrial life.