OXON HILL, Md. — Future spacecraft could navigate by the light of dead stars.
Using only the timing of radiation bursts from pulsating stellar corpses, an experiment on the International Space Station was able to pinpoint its location in space in a first-ever demonstration. The technique operates like a stellar version of GPS, researchers with the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology experiment, SEXTANT, reported at a news conference January 11 during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
Known as pulsars, the dead stars emit beams of radiation that sweep past Earth at regular intervals, like the rotating beams from a lighthouse. Those radiation blips could allow a spaceship to find its location in space (SN: 12/18/10, p. 11). It’s similar to how GPS uses the timing of satellite signals to determine the position of your cell phone – and it would mean spacecraft would no longer have to rely on radio telescope communications to find their coordinates. That system becomes less accurate the further a spaceship gets from Earth.
Read the full article at ScienceNews.