By Ray Villard
Computer simulations by a pair of researchers at the University of Edinburgh predict that a fleet of interstellar probes could explore the entire Milky Way galaxy within a fraction of the present age of Earth. This may seem like a tall order considering that our farthest interstellar spacecraft, Voyager 1, is still less than a light-day from Earth after being launched 36 years ago.
In the new simulation, however, alien probes only need to travel at 10 percent the speed of light to survey the entire galaxy within 10 million years. And, they could get a turbo-boost and save fuel by doing a slingshot off the gravitational fields of stars.
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The concept of self-aware and self-replicating probes traveling across the galaxy is nothing new, however; the idea goes as far back as 1960. It was promoted by SETI pioneer Ronald Bracewell as an alternative to listening for interstellar artificial radio signals. The idea of a machine capable of cloning itself goes back at least 100 years; mathematician John von Neumann detailed the operation of such a robot in 1949. . . .
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