How a solar sail works

11 08 2008

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!

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19 08 2008
Websites tagged "solar" on Postsaver

[…]More popsts tagged solar (postsaver.org) […]

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