We all know the amazing capacity for sunshine to power our homes, cars, and devices, but did you know that it also has the capacity to move you through space? Bill Nye does and he is educating the world about it with The Planetary Society.
The science behind how light can provide momentum lies in what is called a solar sail. A solar sail is a paper-thin piece of mylar that is extremely shiny. This sail, when deployed, is bombarded by photons that make up light which, although they lack mass, still have momentum. This momentum is then imparted to whatever is attached to the solar sail driving it forward.
This may not sound like much speed, but in a vacuum a constant force will gradually increase the speed of the object. Unlike solar panels on earth that only function when the sun is out, the solar sail will function constantly.
Billy Nye’s idea is not just a pipe dream. In fact, he and the Planetary Society are putting it into action right now. Their goal is to help advance stellar exploration by putting this idea into practice. They even began a Kickstarter three weeks ago that has already quadrupled their $200,000 goal and still have a majority of the month of June to reach their stretch goals. You can read all about it on Planetary.org.
In their Kickstarter video, Neil deGrasse Tyson says that if he could, he would visit Pluto. If you were traveling through space on a solar sail, where would you go?