The Voyager 1 spacecraft is expected to continue its mission until about 2025. Its radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) will no longer supply enough power to operate its scientific instruments. NASA is limiting the Voyagers’ processes to keep them operating until 2030. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched in 1977. They are identical probes that traveled across interstellar space to the edge of the solar system. They have been sending data back to Earth every day for nearly 45 years. Of all the missions humanity has ever launched into space, only five probes will leave the Solar System: Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and New Horizons.
All of these probes were sent out for different reasons but they just keep going because frictionless momentum in interstellar space. We did not plan to send out technological rocks but that is what they have or will become. Spaceships are not operationally immortal but they are physically very long lasting in space.
The United Nations estimates that there are at least three million shipwrecks on the ocean floor. These shipwrecks date back to when humans began traveling on the ocean and lakes. They include World War II destroyers, colonial Spanish galleons, and small abandoned dinghies. However, the wrecks and junk of space that gets up to speeds over solar escape velocities will just keep moving until they crash into something. Space wreck do not sink into an ocean, they just keep coasting in the same direction.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that there are 99,800 merchant ships worldwide. This number does not include warships, fishing vessels, or private pleasure craft. The actual number of vessels around the globe is much higher.
The world fleet consists of:
4.64% container ships
12.02% oil and chemical tankers
15,106 general cargo ships
12,258 bulk cargo carriers
7,350 crude oil tankers
7,027 ro-ro passenger ships
5,664 chemical tankers
2,031 liquefied natural gas tankers
There are about ten thousand large yachts and about 30 million mostly small recreational boats.
There are about twenty times more ocean shipwrecks than there are operational ocean going ships.
What will be the operational life cycle be of alien space craft, space stations, space junk and probes?
Only systems with molecular nanotechnology that are designed with self-repair and self-replication could potentially operate indefinitely. However, even those system might be rendered inert and inoperable if they passed to close to a sun going Nova, a large solar flare or a gamma ray burst.
Humanity has over 2 billion tons of garage every year and tens of billions of tons of emissions. We have just started into space and we have a lot of space debris. Humanity has tens of billions of tons of air and water pollution and emissions. A large space faring technological civilization would also have lots of garbage. They might also send out billions or trillions of probes. They could send them out like dandelion seeds. Did they design the probes to last forever? Maybe they were designed to do a flyby of nearby stars or planets. All probes that completed flyby missions become inert junk at some point and probably within ten to forty years of the flyby.
We are detecting interstellar meteors similar to CNEOS is at least ∼ 0.1 every year. This implies a local density estimate of i ∼ one million per cubic AU or 10^22 per cubic parsec. They estimate 7.59 × 10^34 IM1-like objects bound by the thin disk of the Milky Way. However, if objects with the properties of IM1 were targeted towards habitable zones containing planets, they estimate 7.59 × 10^18 such objects. IM2 had a similar inferred number density to IM1 and a velocity of 40 km s-1 relative to the Local Standard of Rest. They estimate 2.78 × 10^34 IM2-like objects, and the estimate would be decreased to 2.78 × 10^18 if such objects were targeted towards habitable zones.
The questions are:
What percentage of interstellar meteors are natural?
How many have technological origins?
How many are active and operational probes?
How many are inactive but were operational technology?
How many have biological life onboard?
The abundance of ISOs depends on their size and can be calibrated through future surveys such as the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) on the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. Data from the James Webb Space Telescope may identify the nature and 3D trajectory of more ’Oumuamua-like or other interstellar objects crossing through or trapped within the solar system.
The local detection rate of interstellar objects can allow for estimations of the total number of similar objects bound by the Milky Way thin disk. If interstellar objects of artificial origin are discovered, the estimated total number of objects can be lower by a factor of about 10^16 if they target the habitable zone around the Sun. We propose a model for calculating the quantity of natural or artificial interstellar objects of interest based on the object’s velocity and observed density. We then apply the model to the case of chemically propelled rockets from extraterrestrial civilizations. Finally, we apply the model to three previously discovered interstellar objects — the object ‘Oumuamua of unknown origin and the first interstellar meteors CNEOS 2014-01-08 and CNEOS 2017-03-09.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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