The steady emission from decaying stars could one day help astronauts navigate through space
Navigating through the stars is a pain. There's no Google Maps, and GPS is worthless once you've left the Earth's atmosphere. But some clever scientists may have found a solution to allow a spacecraft to pinpoint its location with stunning accuracy... by using dead stars.
These dead stars aren't totally inactive — they give off steady X-ray pulses (hence their name, pulsars). The pulses are so steady, in fact, that they're as reliable as an atomic clock. By comparing the pulses received by a detector at a given position, a spacecraft could easily determine its location in space with pinpoint accuracy, possibly down to just 5 km.
The idea uses a similar principle as GPS positioning on Earth, but in this case, the dead stars would act as the satellites. Simple though the idea is, it's unlikely to find immediate use — scientists believe that miniaturizing the mirrors required for detecting the X-rays could be 15 or 20 years off. Still, the innovation would be invaluable: Current location estimates for NASA's Voyager satellites, gleaned from current tech, could be off by as much as 100,000 km.
[Image credit: NASA]
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