Stephen Hawking and Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner announced The Breakthrough Starshot project to get a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star at a distance of 4.3 light-years away from Earth. The project aims to do this with a travel time of only 20 years – 1,000 times faster than current spacecraft could cover that distance. The plan is to accelerate a spacecraft to 20% the speed of light using powerful lasers from Earth. The spacecraft would be made of a thin, tiny wafer weighing only a few grams with the communication abilities of a modern spaceship.
The likelihood of surviving the journey is low, so thousands of spacecraft would be launched to increase the chances that one makes it. The wafer will be able to send back data from completely unexplored regions of space, shedding new light on our nearest solar neighbors.
Read more at NPR.