Interstellar travel – Too long a shot?
While we prepare to send humans to our neighboring planet Mars (and hence hope to make it habitable), it is only going to be a temporary solution for space colonization.
In about 5 billion years, the sun will start expanding into a red giant, and in about 2.5 billion years from when that happens, our mother star will be big enough to engulf Earth. That’s the truth everyone needs to accept, but it’s not something to worry about. With nuclear weapons ready to annihilate people and the way we are digging our own grave by altering the nature, I feel 5 billion years is WAAAY too long after humans perish.
So our Sun will be the real DEATH STAR! (pew, pew, pew!)
However, let’s assume humans survive until then and the Solar system is no longer habitable. The nearest star system to our Sun (so far) is the Alpha Centauri system. It is home to Proxima Centauri, the closest known star to our solar system. Proxima Centauri is roughly 4.2 light years away – which means even light takes 4.2 years to traverse between us and Proxima Centauri. Orbiting this star is our closest exoplanet (a planet in another solar system), Proxima B.
Let’s do some quick (joking) math.
Light travels approximately 300,000 km every second. Hence in one year, light will travel 300,000 * 31557600 (seconds in a year) = 9,467,280,000,000 kilometers (9 trillion, 467 billion kilometers). Now multiply this value by 4.2 and you get the distance between us and Proxima B.
The value is 39,762,576,000,000 kilometres. Seriously why did we even start this math?
Anyway, considering it is 40,000 kilometers to go round the Earth, this is a lot of distance to travel.
Now, the fastest rocket we ever launched was the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006. It was launched into space with a final escape velocity of 58,536 km/h. Damn, that’s fast. But even at that speed, skipping the crazy math involved, it would take us about 679,284,133 years, or 679 million years to reach Proxima B.
So if we decide to send people to the nearest POSSIBLY habitable planet, we need to send in enough people so that they can reproduce in space, teach the future generation the ways of life and the science that took us so far, and grow enough food for all those years. Honestly, we will have better odds doing the same here on Earth and teaching people some sense why you should respect the fragile nature.
That is why space travel is not feasible at the moment. As the famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: The distance is not a problem – it’s just that humans are not invincible.
We have two options – discover space warp (using wormholes, maybe?) or go incredibly fast.
Option 1 – Space warm, it is possible to fold the fabric of space and time and create a portal between two points which would otherwise be many light years apart. This is still hypothetical, s we simply do not have the technology needed to achieve this. Hopefully future generations of humans figure this out!
Option 2 – go fast. But how fast? Assume that we send a few 20-year-old adults to space. We expect them to reach there until 40 (because we need to go there and reproduce in order to colonize, don’t we?) So that makes it 20 years of space travel. Don’t worry I’ll save you from the math again. It will require us to go at a speed of 1,988,128,800,000 km/year, or 226,825,876 km/h. That’s 226 million km/h in simple words.
Hence, space travel is a big question mark at this moment – since we don’t have enough technology to make it happen. Maybe if we survive global warming and all the abominations that we are creating for ourselves, and focus on inventing the unthinkable, we can accomplish this feat. We aren’t far away as well. All we need is enough energy, and nuclear energy is a promising source for rocket propulsion. Only time will tell which method succeeds. Meanwhile, let’s try our best to save us from ourselves.
Until next time!