It may not come as a surprise, but I’ve read my fair share of science fiction.
Many books often come up with exciting often physics-defying ways of creating space travel such as warp drives, sub-space, or portable black holes.
I’d never understood what a solar sail really was so had written it off as another of these “just-so” suspension of disbelief style explanations for space travel.
Space is vacuum, how can you “sail” in a vacuum.
So thanks Built on Facts (the latest sci-borg), for explaining the science behind solar sailing.
Light exerts a “push” force. You don’t feel it because here on Earth there are a lot of other forces that when compared to light make what little force it does exert on you insanely insignificant.
Out in space, the force is still very small. With a mega-sized sail that can be increased to “small”. Now, consider that force doesn’t equal velocity: it equals acceleration.
F = ma
That means it builds up, and without another force acting on it it will keep growing. Matt also highlights – this is free and clean energy.
I wonder how much a problem planets and other gravitational fields would pose to a solar sailor?
I really enjoy these sort of posts, such as Greg’s “Is blood blue?”. Slake my thirst for knowledge!