Tiny Cardboard Aircraft Could Fly in the Skies of Mars

The nanocardboard is stiff enough to levitate but so light that just a beam of light can lift it up. Here, the wire helps highlight the brief flight of the super-light plate as the light beam sends it airborne. Credit: University of Pennsylvania.

What would be the best method for exploring planetary atmospheres, such as at Mars, Venus or even Earth? One group of researchers are developing tiny, levitating “nanocardboard” aircraft that could hover in alien skies. They would fly like dust floating in beams of sunlight – but intelligently, and with a purpose.

“It’s exciting because it’s essentially a new mechanism of flight,” said Igor Bargatin from the University of Pennsylvania. “We’re talking about a structure half an inch in size that can fly around without any moving parts.”

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