View to the future and exploration of our Galaxy

Figure 9.1 is a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy (M-31), a galaxy within the neighborhood of the galactic cluster that includes the Milky Way, our Galaxy. The Milky Way is some 100,000 light-years in diameter, with its central bulge about 20,000 light-years in depth. That central bulge contains the very massive black hole that drives the kinetics of the Galaxy [Science News, 2005]. In Chapter 8 we have seen that our Solar System is on one of the spiral arms some 32,000 light-years from the center, and there is a group of stars (about seven) that are within 10 light-years of our sun. Beyond that local group, our galactic stars are much more distant. So even if we travel at the speed of light, our nearby star neighbors are up to a 20-year round-trip away. Can we overcome such distances, or are we bound to our Solar System, or at most our nearby stars? That is the question that dominates our view to the future, after the somewhat pessimistic conclusions in Chapter 8.

Researchers can now theorize quantum physics approaches to traveling at fractional light speed, and even at greater than light (superluminal) speed. The validity of some of these theories is now being established by NASA Glenn Research Center. Earth's Galaxy contains up to 100,000 million stars. The Earth is about 32,000 light-years from the center. Without super light speed, the Galaxy is isolated from our ability to explore it in any realistic time frame. Except for our very nearby galactic neighbors the Galaxy is off-limits without superluminal speed. The distances are almost not comprehensible. At 1,000 times the speed of light, it would take 32 years for us to reach the Galactic center. Yet some researchers think that to consider superluminal speed is no more daunting than the past century's researchers considering supersonic travel: although they need to be sifted, there are indeed concepts that appear to be based on solid physics. Many of these are presented at the annual International Astronautics Federation Congress. Some will be discussed in terms of what might be possible. As already pointed out in Chapter 8, and shown in Figure 9.2, we are nowhere near having the capability to

Figure 9.1. Andromeda Galaxy (from the GALEX/JPL website). Current systems

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