Thursday, February 23, 2017

Other worlds are beyond our rreach

For all the folks excited about the discovery of planets orbiting stars other than our sun, or those folks who are hoping to live long enough to join the crew of the Starship Enterprise, please curb your enthusiasm. Getting to exoplanets is a lot more difficult than just calling out, "Warp speed!"

Take the latest discovery, touted by NASA in a press release complete with artist renderings of the surface of these planets that have not been actually seen by the human eye but only surmised because of the planets' darkening of their star's light. Before you buy your tickets to travel to these new worlds, know that this solar system is 40 light years away. That's 235 trillion miles! It takes light from that star 40 years to reach Earth. Given that accepted science contends that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, and current space vehicles travel just a few thousand miles an hour, sending a space capsule to these new planets could take longer than modern man has existed on this planet. Even supposing that great advances will be made in interplanetary speeds, a capsule traveling at half the speed of light would take 80 years to arrive in the solar system and another 80 years to return. Anyone want to volunteer for that assignment?

Some science fiction dreamers suggest that we are wearing out good ol' Earth, and we should find us another place to homestead for the survival of the species. But even sending a manned craft to Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor, risks killing all crew members from exposure to interplanetary radiation. That's a problem that hasn't been solved even for "short" trips in the neighborhood. If astronauts can't survive a two- or three-year trip to Mars, how would they survive an 80-year trip to exoplanets?

These "astronomical" distances even present a problem for the highly touted efforts to contact extra-terrestrial life in other solar systems. Any speed-of-light communications we might receive and reply to would require a response time of many years, even centuries. Would civilization and technology last that long?

Rather than focus on the fascinating but rather pointless search for exoplanets and intelligent life beyond our solar system, humanity would be better served concentrating on repairing the damage being wrought on Earth, the only place in the universe we know is capable of supporting human life — if we don't destroy it. 

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