Space Exploration, Alien Life, and the Future of Humanity

#Space #AlienSpace Exploration, Alien Life, and the Future of Humanity : Less than a month ago, scientists confirmed the existence of a rocky planet roughly 1.3 times the mass of Earth named “Proxima b.” Although it orbits its star, Proxima Centauri, at about 5 percent the distance that currently separates Earth and our sun, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf that is much less hot and luminous than our star.

What’s exciting about this finding is that Proxima Centauri is only 4.2 light years away from us. As the lead author of the study, Guillem Anglada-Escudé, states, “It’s not only the closest terrestrial planet found, it’s probably the closest planet outside our solar system that will ever be found because there is no star closer to the solar system than this one.”

Furthermore, Proxima b falls within the “Goldilocks zone” around its star, meaning that it’s surface could contain water in the liquid phase. If it has an atmosphere, it’s surface temperatures could range between 86 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, although scientists aren’t sure Proxima b has an atmosphere.

There are also questions about whether is is “tidally locked” with its sun, and the effect of much stronger X-ray and ultraviolet flares that are estimated to be roughly 100 times those experienced on Earth.

Space Exploration

Nonetheless, Proxima b has generated quite a bit of excitement, and for good reason: it’s the most extraordinary discovery in an ongoing effort to identify Earth-like “exoplanets” throughout our galaxy and other cosmic neighborhoods. In addition, the discovery of habitable exoplanets elsewhere has direct implications for our species’ future survival in the universe.

As the former NASA administrator Michael Griffin put it 10 years ago, “human expansion into the solar system is, in the end, fundamentally about the survival of the species.” Stephen Hawking echoed this same idea when he claimed that “the human race [won’t] survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space.”

And similarly, the CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, more recently claimed that “there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.”

In concert with these statements, I would argue that of all the macro-strategies that have been proposed to mitigate existential risk, the colonization of space offers one of the best options.

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