Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One day we’ll live in space – here’s how it works

Eventually we might have to go and live on other planets. Luckily, we have a vague idea of how we’re going to make that possible.
In the words of aviator and poet John Gillespie Magee Jr., we’ve always wanted to slip “the surly bonds of Earth”. To rise away from the dirt where we began and take to, as in Magee’s case, the air, and finally the stars. But we’ve been naive as to how good we’ve had it. Sure, the Earth is terrifying: storms, waves, solar radiation – even oxygen, vital to life, is a powerful carcinogen. But this is as good as our solar system gets, believe me.

It’s for that reason that – rather than seeking an Eden on other planets – “planetary engineers” are looking to bring Earth’s atmosphere to the rest of the universe. Carl Sagan, the famous physicist, called this a “Nobel” endeavour, and thought about how we could make Venus our second home. Buzz Aldrin advocates the colonisation of Mars. Ultimately, the idea is that we can extend biological life to the rest of our solar system and beyond by making the environments of other planets and moons similar to Earth’s. We call this terraforming, or ecopoiesis.

The need is there. Some of the world’s most renowned scientists are saying that it’s too late for the Earth, that we’ve pushed the environment too far and only the most efficient retreats from industry can prevent a runaway destabilising of Earth’s atmosphere. (By the way, there are plenty who also plead ignorance.) Plus, the Earth almost certainly has a shelf-life – in the next billion years the sun’s supply of hydrogen will mean our solar systems’ centre will go into a state of flux – both in terms of heat and gravitation pull – meaning Earth could fry in a Red Giant or freeze as it spins away from its current orbit.

It’s better to hedge our bets with as many occupied planets as we can get our hands on, right?

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