“Eventually we’ll have to get out of this solar system because our Sun is dying. If humans want to survive as a species they’ll have to get out.” Stephen Petranek, award-winning science writer – see his TED talk on the end of the world.
Many people want a colony on Mars as insurance against human extinction on Earth – usually from nuclear war to asteroid impacts.
But from the Sun dying?
In 5 billion years or so the Sun will expand and swallow the inner planets before collapsing into a white dwarf.
But in only 2.8 billion years life on Earth will end when the last of the hardiest microbes die off in the Sun’s brutal solar output. Humanity’s progeny will be gone long before then.
“Two new modeling studies find that the gradually brightening Sun won’t vaporize our planet’s water for at least another 1 to 1.5 billion years. Earth will suffer a “runaway greenhouse” in 600 million to 700 million years when we’d probably be best off living in undersea cities.
Realistically, how long have we got? Let’s choose a nice, round 500 million years. Let’s say all goes well – we adapt to global warming, we refrain from exterminating ourselves, and we grow into an admirable species. That species will not be Homo sapiens.
Five hundred million years is a long time. Looking backwards at history, the Cambrian explosion of life was well underway 500 million years ago when various fascinating wormy creatures lived in Earth’s oceans. It took over 400 million years for primates to originate (85 million years ago) and another 65 millions years for the Hominid family to emerge (20 million years ago). Another 15 million years passed before our own genus, Homo, emerged (3 million years ago – there’s no point in being too specific on timing – just round the numbers off), and you still wouldn’t want to bring Homo habilis home.
What does this mean? Five hundred million years from now, our descendants will be as different from us and we are from Hallucigenia.
How much do you care about these strange future creatures?
I once read a science fiction story where nuclear war destroyed most of the world, and a few people survived on barren Pacific atolls where they evolved into something like walruses. How much effort would you put into preserving that species?
Go to Mars, go to Europa or Titan. Aim for the stars. But don’t worry about the Sun exploding.
“Where are we going? Life, the timeless, mysterious gift, is still evolving. What wonders, or terrors, does evolution hold in store for us in the next ten thousand years? In a million? In six million? Perhaps the answer lies in…the Outer Limits,” The Sixth Finger episode.