Scientists and laymen alike shake their heads at the possibility of populating and colonizing within star systems. Many wonder, how would we populate other star systems with technology available today. But the reason for their doubts is simple: stars are really, really far away. Not only are stars much further from our solar system, but they are light-years away from one another, too.
Let’s take a trip
Our closest galactic neighbor is Alpha Centauri. A three star system bound together by gravity. Alpha Centauri A and B are two bright, closely orbiting stars with a distant, dim companion, Proxima Centauri.
Our own star, the sun, without which life on Earth would not be possible is about 864,938 miles (1.392 million km) in diameter. Now, let us shrink it to the size of a grapefruit.
If you wanted to get from your grapefruit-sized Sun to a grapefruit-sized Alpha Centauri system, you would have to travel about 2,500 miles, which is about the distance from coast to coast on the continental United States.
And that’s just to the Sun’s closest neighbor!
The simple math based on the distance of the stars and the speed at which our technology currently allows us to travel calculates that it would take more than 140 thousand years to travel from earth to the nearest star system, which is located roughly 4.24 light-years from earth.
How do we know it would take this long? Well, to put it simply, one (1) light-year is approximately 6 trillion miles. The total trip would include 25.44 trillion miles, or nearly 1.3 billion hours, which equals roughly 155 thousand years.
Do you know any 155 thousand-year-olds? I didn’t think so.
Even the most powerful and modern nuclear propulsion technology would be far too slow to complete a mission over the course of a lifetime. The mission would have to be far more advanced and complex than just a fast enough vessel.
In order to successfully populate a star system, scientists would need to carefully pre-colonize tens of thousands of people to board the vessel that would be bound for the stars. The reason you would need such a large group is because a larger population will ensure more hereditary diversity and good health among the generations as they traveled and continued to recreate.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be specifically bred just to complete a mission like populating the star system? Your life would be completely contained to a spacecraft, and with no choice in the matter, you will continue to reproduce until you die.
You, your parents, and your great, great, great grandkids, will all never see further than the walls of the spacecraft. While some may think it’s “cool” to have this experience of a lifetime, when you know no other than what’s around you, is it cool or is it torture?
Unfortunately, there is no way for scientists to test a theory like this before sending tens of thousands of people on their way to the stars. To create an entire population within a space ark for the sole purpose of recreating and reaching the stars can be extremely tedious and quite possibly, a waste of time.
While it is necessary to have such a large number of individuals to continually create a population that will travel through the mission, with numbers this large come many other situational variables that could eliminate or destroy the mission. Unplanned occurrences can include mechanical failures, wars between the population, death-threatening diseases, and more.
Just look at the population on planet Earth. Yes, the population is much more vast, as well as the space underneath them, however it seems that containing a population to a particular vessel could only aggravate issues like terminal disease and vast disagreement. A single war could destroy tens of thousands of years of reproduction. Discouraging, huh?
When it comes to the technology necessary to successfully transport humans to the nearest star system, unfortunately, this technology has not yet been created. As previously mentioned, even the most powerful technology that exists today would be weak in comparison to what is necessary to travel as far and as quickly as we would have to.
Astronomers and scientists have calculated based on theoretical developments of interplanetary ion engines – which do not yet exist – that it would take roughly 81 thousand years to travel the distance from Earth to the nearest star system 4.24 light-years away.
While this cuts down on the time we previously calculated significantly, it still assumes over 2,700 human generations would pass, utilizing a non-existent technology.
In order to achieve the above, experts suggest special extra-powerful ion thrusters would need to be developed. These would have the capacity to propel a spacecraft for the entire length of the trip, and possibly cut down on the travel time.
Why we need to think about this
Sooner or later all stars meet their death. Our own sun will too. When it consumes all hydrogen fuel in its core it will meet its fate. Scientists have calculated that our sun will end expanding and extending out beyond the orbit of Mercury and Venus. Earth will be vaporized in the intense heat.
This will not happen anytime soon, just in around 5 million years which incidentally is also the age of our planet, Earth.
However there are many other dangers to our solar system that might create the need for us to leave. On July 14, 2010 we learned that our sun is passing through an interstellar energy cloud which excites/energizes the sun. Rogue black holes are very difficult to spot and scientists calculate that there a few in our vicinity.
When can I buy the one way ticket
The answer to the burning question, how would we populate other star systems with today’s technology? is… we wouldn’t. While we have seen or heard of this type of travel and colonization occur in some of our favorite sci-fi films and books, the concept remains just that: a work of science fiction.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of this 4.24 light-year-long tunnel. Experts believe we are still in the stone age of space travel. This means that in decades and centuries to come, with the incredible speed of technological advancement, there is a possibility for a mission to the star systems. Until then…